Solidarity and Selectivity

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In Part II of this book the focus shifted from the various meanings associated

with gift giving to the classical anthropological and sociological

theories on solidarity and to some concrete cases of solidarity. In particular,

Part II drew attention to some negative aspects of solidarity.

In Chapter 5 we observed that compared with the overwhelming attention

the aspect of reciprocity has received from the gift theorists, in

sociological theory it is clearly undervalued. A second, returning theme

concerns motives for solidarity. The anthropological theories proved to

offer a broader range of possible motives than the work of the classical

sociologists: from the “pure” gift given to close relatives, through

equivalent reciprocity, to forms of exchange based on self-interest. Anthropologists

point to another important motive that may be involved

in creating and maintaining social order: power. Gifts can serve as instruments

of power, status, and honor and be used to fortify one’s own

position and to protect oneself against the risks implied in ties with rivals.

The theory of the gift revealed the same four motives to engage in

social relationships as had already been discussed in Chapter 1. A final

theme relevant to our subject matter is ritual. The symbolism involved in

ritual, the awareness and recognition of the identity of the other, and the

shared norms and common emotional mood required by the ritual all

contribute to reinforcing social bonds. Just as the participants of the Kula

ritual who did not comply with the conventions of the gift ceremonials

were sanctioned by social disapproval and excommunication, also in our

own society not abiding by the symbolic codes of rituals is to disturb the

bond of alliance and community.

Chapter 6 brought a new element into the picture, that of “negative solidarity,”

solidarity acting as a principle of selection or exclusion. Although

there is no reason for serious concern about contemporary solidarity as

expressed in charity, volunteer work, or informal care, there are some

inherent failures of solidarity. Empirical data about gift giving show that

those who givemuch also receivemuch, whereas poor givers are poor recipients

aswell.AMatthew effect is atwork, benefiting the most generous

givers and disadvantaging those who are already in poor social and material

conditions. Reciprocity ties people together but may simultaneously

act as a principle of exclusion. Empirical data on informal care suggests

that primarily family and close relatives profit from this care. Solidarity

is selective in that relatives and family are preferred above those who are

farther away in social distance. Philanthropic particularism, the inherent

tendency of voluntary initiatives to favor those with whom one identifies

most, again echoes the negative side of solidarity.

In Chapter 7 family solidarity was investigated in more detail. Family

solidarity has traditionally been considered the prototype of Durkheim’s

mechanical solidarity, the small homogeneous community firmly rooted

in shared values and characterized by a natural propensity to display solidarity

toward its members. In our individualized society this solidarity is

assumed to be in decline, or at least to have become less self-evident. Empirical

data presented in this chapter, however, suggest that the broadly

felt concern about the vitality of family bonds and intergenerational solidarity

is not warranted. People are still willing to contribute, financially

or otherwise, to the care needed by the elderly. In particular, women are

still providing a substantial amount of informal care, especially to older

generations. A solid base for family solidarity has remained but there

are also signs that the motivation for family solidarity is predominantly

based on “prescribed altruism,” an inner obligation to care, rather than

on feelings of affection and identification.Moreover, family ties are often

ambivalent and based on contradictory feelings.