Toward a TheoreticalModel of Solidarity

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In the preceding sections I have argued that four dimensions are quintessential

when trying to understand the various forms of solidarity.

These dimensions provide the organizing principle in Figure 9.1, which

comprises the different positive and negative manifestations of solidarity.

Before explaining the details of the theoretical model, I want, first,

to make a remark on ritual. In Chapter 5 the significance of ritual for

solidarity was demonstrated.We saw how the rituals of the religious sacrifice

and the shared meal served to create bonds between humans and

gods and among humans. In contemporary society rituals still fulfill important

functions to maintain social bonds and solidarity. In addition to

the rituals surrounding gift giving there are numerous ritual elements in

collective manifestations of solidarity. Ritualism and the use of symbols

serve to unify groups, communities, clans, and nations by providing a


of the other



Motives Reciprocity Solidarity

Recognition of the





Fellow citizens



















figure 9.1. Four dimensions of solidarity.

collective identification. The reason why ritual has not been included in

Figure 9.1 is that it does not differentiate in any meaningful way between

the various social units on the social distance continuum. Whereas the

ways of expressing ritual will be different in the various social units –

family rituals are different from the ritualism present in the dynamics of

a group or a nation – ritual as such is an aspect of most forms of solidarity.

Let me briefly recapitulate the dimensions.

First, recognition of the other’s human worth is more likely to occur

among family, friends, and neighbors than among fellow citizens and

strangers. In larger entities like groups, communities, tribes, and nations

the recognition of otherness becomes less likely, in particular as ideological

rigidity and group loyalty increase and the threat to self-determination

is felt more strongly. The second and third dimensions are social distance

and the related solidarity motives. The combinations in Figure 9.1 are

ideal types because in practice many exceptions will occur. For instance,

affectivity and equality will be most common among near relatives and

friends, but considerations of power and instrumentality cannot be excluded.

Think of a personal relationship based on power inequality or

on mere personal profit seeking and self-interest. Inversely, motives of

affection and equality are not the exclusive prerogative of family and

friends but can also be present in larger social units. But, in general, instrumentality

and power are the more likely motives to occur in groups,

larger communities, tribes, and nations. The relationships among fellow

citizens and strangers fall in between: equal exchange is possible, but

self-interest and power may motivate their actions as well.

The fourth dimension is reciprocity. Reciprocity as exemplified in the

gift is more likely within the small units of family, friends, and neighbors

where it contributes to establishing the social ties of solidarity. The

personal character of the emotions involved and the concrete expression

of these in the gift are typical for small-scale social units. Although gift

relationships may occur on a larger scale as well, as in big companies giving

gifts to political parties, their potential in bringing about social ties

is different from the small-scale interpersonal gift giving, and the underlying

motives will reflect more self-interest, instrumentality, and power

needs than within the smaller units. Although gifts may be impersonal

and abstract, the prototypical gift is personal and concrete. Also sacrifice

can be personal and take place in the context of a concrete relationship

with another human being, but the abstract and anonymous sacrifice

in the name of certain group ideals is more characteristic of larger-scale

social units.

It has been said before: all solidarities have strengths and weaknesses.

Large-scale group solidarity may be useful to develop a group identity,

to make one’s presence felt, and to attain political and social goals. The

power of small-scale solidarity relies on the direct and reciprocal commitment

and responsibility, becoming expressed inmutual respect and help.

The risks of small-scale interpersonal solidarity are selectivity and exclusion,

whereas large-scale group solidarity can lead to the annihilation

of personal autonomy, oppression, and bloodshed. Solidarity, like gift

giving, while being indispensable to social life, is never entirely without


What could be the value of this theoretical model when looking at

contemporary solidarity? Let us choose two problematic examples: civil

solidarity (Chapter 8) and the relationship between autochthonous and

allochthonous citizens in Western societies (this chapter). Figure 9.1 informs

us that anonymous fellow citizens and strangers do not belong to

those categories of humanbeings towardwhomsolidarity is easily felt and

expressed. Still, this solidarity in particular should be promoted, in the

first case because the decline in the level of public respect causes serious

concern, in the second one because our society faces the immense task

of developing a new social connectedness allowing the autochthonous

and the allochthonous to live together in harmony and mutual respect.

Avoiding the negative aspects of strong internal group solidarity will be a

major issue. One of the many lessons we can learn from Durkheim is that

forms of societal organization have an impact on solidarity.When looking

for solutions for shortcomings in today’s solidarity, the gift model

may offer a possible direction because it implies a social contract that ties

people together through the morality of mutual obligation. It becomes

important, then, to find those forms of societal organization that allow

the gift model to unfold the best of its powers.