From Organic to Segmented Solidarity

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Themultifariousness of solidarity precludes any general statement about

an increase or decline of solidarity. As the American historian Thomas

Bender said, “How many times can community collapse in America?”

(1978: 46). Among the many manifestations of solidarity some will always

be decreasing, and others increasing in significance or level, making

it impossible to give a final assessment on the level of solidarity in a certain

society. A phenomenon like solidarity is therefore mainly interesting in

its qualitative aspects and dimensions. Just as Durkheim saw a transformation

in solidarity from mechanical to organic solidarity in the course

of the nineteenth century, a similar change can be perceived at the turn

of the twentieth into the twenty-first century.

An essential change compared with solidarity in Durkheim’s times

is, of course, the rise of the organized, formal solidarity of the welfare

state.Whereas in cases of illness, unemployment, or poverty nineteenthcentury

citizens had to fall back on charity and other forms of mutual

assistance and care, at the beginning of the twenty-first century in most

Western welfare states (the European more than the American) there exists

a reasonably well organized social safety net for those who are not

able to care for themselves or provide for their own livelihood. This has

diminished the pressure on informal solidarity and thus increased the

independence and freedom of citizens. But, in addition, changes have

occurred in informal solidarity itself, which cannot be accounted for by

the availability of the organized solidarity of the welfare state. In this

book we have, for instance, seen that due to various societal transformation

processes informal solidarity has become more individualized,

abstract, and global, whereas, at the same time, many traditional forms

of solidarity have remained. Despite the great variety of expressions of

solidarity, a trend may be observed. As noted in Chapter 8, motives

based on self-interest and reciprocity have become more prominent in

some forms of solidarity, like the assistance offered to people sharing

one’s fate. This development is possibly related to the increased emphasis

on the self and the new assertiveness. We saw the same emphasis

return in the developments of civil solidarity, which we tentatively interpreted

as indicating a decline in people’s capacity to take the imaginary

position of another person. On the other hand, we observed that

the anonymous solidarity of writing a bank check has increased: autonomous

citizens decide themselves if and to which charity they give

money, regardless of what others do. Key words are autonomy and independence,

or – put differently – ast rengthening and reinforcement of the

self vis-`a-vis others. Although this does not necessarily mean that others

are less recognized, this combination does occur, as we have seen in

Chapter 8.

This tendency toward growing independence and fortification of the

self indicates that the basis of modern solidarity has fundamentally

changed. In Chapter 5 we saw that in Durkheim’s view the interdependency

of citizens for the provision of their needs was the foundation

of organic solidarity. In the course of the nineteenth century societal

roles and tasks had become more differentiated and, at the same time,

functionally more interwoven. The relationships between citizens were

characterized by mutual dependency, and forms of social organization

were interconnected. At the start of the twenty-first century this interdependency

is clearly declining. An important domain where the decreased

interdependency becomes visible is work, as Sennett has observed. Indeed,

in large, bureaucratic institutions the organizational conditions are

not particularly favorable to interdependency and mutual commitment,

and feelings of social connectednesswill seldom arise.Recognition of personal

value is often rare in these settings. One is an anonymous particle

doing one’s job more or less independently from other particles.

As a consequence of the individualization process, the better social

provisions and the increased wealth, modern citizens’ societal opportunities

and possibilities have increased in a range of domains – education,

mobility, relationship forms, and procreation, to mention just a few –

and have therefore contributed to their greater autonomy. Due to these

developments the significance of people’s mutual dependency as a basis

for solidarity has greatly diminished, despite statements on the growing

impact of the “network society.” Seen fromDurkheim’s functionalist perspective

solidarity had an apparent survival value: the continuity of the

community was dependent on it. This situation has clearly changed at

the end of the twentieth century. Individuals inWestern societies are no

longer uniting in solidarity because they need one another for their survival

(here thewelfare state can provide solace) but because they choose to

do so themselves. Personal considerations have partly replaced perceived

group advantages as determinants of solidarity. Solidarity has become

less based on the mutual recognition of desires and needs, and more

on voluntariness. As a consequence, solidarity has also become more

noncommittal: individuals no longer express their solidarity because they

have to, but because they feel free to do so.

Not only have individuals become more independent in their activities,

but also the larger segments of society like family, neighborhood,

and church – the “organs” in Durkheim’s terminology – have come to

function more independently from each other due to processes of differentiation

and increasing scale. As a consequence cities, villages, quarters,

and neighborhoods have become hybrid and fragmented. Families can

do without aneig hborhood if they like, and neighborhoods do not need

families. There is a growing diversity of organizational forms that people

use to give shape and meaning to their lives. This applies, for instance,

to the variety of religious affinities, each with their own place to pray,

but also to the fields of leisure and social services. For all these fields the

principle holds: everyone to his or her own liking. The mosque and the

Protestant church exist alongside each other in the same neighborhood,

each serving their own group of believers. Similarly, alternative and regular

circuits of health care services lead their own independent existence,

and on each conceivable domain – sports, volunteer work, theater, film,

music – there is a multitude of organized and nonorganized opportunities

to spend one’s free time.Many sorts of labor have become less tied

to a specific urban or regional area. Worldly contacts, whether oriented

to work or of a private nature, have become context-independent and

can, in principle, be realized from behind any desk with a computer. The

different, formal and informal, organizational frameworks of human activity

have become less interwoven. They no longer form an “organic”

whole from which solidarity arises automatically, as it were, but have

become independent, autonomously functioning segments.

In brief, both individuals and forms of social organization in which

individuals function have come to stand apart. The basis of solidarity is

no longer organic in the Durkheimian sense but has grown independent.

One might therefore describe the ongoing change as a transformation

fromorganic to “segmented” solidarity: separate, autonomous segments,

connecting (if at all) with other segments no longer out of necessity and

mutual dependency but on the basis of voluntariness. The segmented

solidarity differs both from Durkheim’s mechanical and his organic solidarity.

Whereas the “homogeneous segments” of mechanical solidarity

were based on mutual likeness and congruence between individual and

group identity, the segments on which contemporary solidarity rests are

not homogeneous anymore but characterized by diversity and plurality.

We still have families, neighborhoods, and churches, but their internal

variety is greater than ever. Also the connection between the various social

segments has become more loose and less “organic” as we have seen.

As in Durkheim’s times it is not the case that segmented solidarity

has entirely substituted organic solidarity. The distinction is analytical

in kind, and in reality forms of organic as well as the old mechanical

solidarity can still be observed. Family solidarity, for instance, is still alive

and kicking as we saw in this book, and in particular wheremutual assistance

and care within immigrant communities in Western societies are

concerned, elements of need and survival are still strongly involved. But

generally speaking, in contemporary solidarity the aspect of voluntariness

has come to supersede that of necessity. The question is, of course,

what are the survival chances of a society that rests predominantly on segmented

solidarity. The answerwill unfold in the course of the twenty-first