. 5
( 7)


Family Solidarity

exchange. More women than men had regular contact with their parents,
and the help exchanged between the generations was most extensive in
the mother-daughter relationship. The quality of the emotional bond
between parent and child in the past had continuing direct effects on
the frequency of contact and the amount of help exchanged. The help
parents gave to children tended to be more instrumental (advice, job
leads, money), whereas the help children gave to parents was more per-
sonal, hands-on care giving. Income had a strong impact on help between
generations: the higher the income of parents, the more extensive was the
help they gave to adult children. The exchange of help varied according
to the stage of the life course. Much help was given to young adults; as
the young adults matured, this help diminished, whereas children kept
giving support to their parents. As parents grew older they received more
support, particularly from their daughters. Apparently there is a decline
in the reciprocity in the exchange of support between generations over
the course of life.

Intergenerational Solidarity: Values and Beliefs

Which beliefs exist on the obligations of the younger to the older gener-
ations when the latter are in need of care and help? The Euro-barometer
surveys on public beliefs about elderly people provide a good interna-
tional overview (Walker 1996). One question posed in these surveys con-
cerns the extent to which one agrees with the statement that working
people are obliged to contribute to a decent living standard for elderly
people by means of paying taxes or other ¬nancial contributions. Walker
(1996), who interprets the answers to these questions in terms of solidar-
ity, concludes that there is a remarkably high level of solidarity; a strong
agreement with the statement is found among 60.1% of the Danes, 45.9%
of the British, 45.7% of the Spanish, 42.4% of the Dutch, 41.2% of the
Portuguese, and 40.7% of the Irish. Somewhat lower percentages are

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 7.1. Beliefs about Solidarity of the Young with the Aged, 1997
(% agreeing)

18“44 45“64 65“79
If the costs of retirement pensions rise, older people
should pay more taxes. 17 20 20
If the costs of the health care system keep rising, older
people should pay their own contribution. 66 49 40
If insuf¬cient jobs are available, older and younger
people are equally entitled to have one. 81 77 72
If the number of older people requiring help increases,
particularly the young should provide more care. 59 56 67

Source: Dykstra (1998).

found in Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany, with the
lowest percentage of 25.9% found in France (Walker 1996).
In the Netherlands the Dutch Demographical Institute (NIDI) has
investigated beliefs about assistance for elderly people requiring care
(Dykstra 1998). A large majority, 93%, thinks that the government has the
prime responsibility when caring provisions for elderly people in need
of physical or ¬nancial assistance are concerned. Another 65% are of the
opinion that aged people should, in the ¬rst place, appeal to the govern-
ment when they need care and only afterward ask their children for help
if necessary. Table 7.1 presents an overview of beliefs about solidarity of
the young for the aged.
A minority of both the younger (17%) and the older age groups thinks
that in case of rising costs of the pension system, the elderly should start
paying more taxes. However, younger people do think that the elderly
should assume some ¬nancial responsibility for the rising costs of the
health care system. When asked for their opinion about being entitled
to a job in times of economic scarcity, more of the younger than of the
older age group think that both young and old are as much entitled. Also
a relatively large number of young people, 59%, are willing to assume
some responsibility for elderly people requiring care.

Family Solidarity

Caring for Family

What people think or believe does not always correspond to how they
actually behave. It is much easier to say that one feels solidarity toward
older people than it is to behave according to that feeling. What pic-
ture arises when we look at concrete care and support provided to older
people? How do the recipients of the care experience that support and
which motives are underlying the behavior of the caregivers?
Figures of the European Community Household Panel of 1994 show
that adult children, particularly women, provide a large share of the
informal care given to older generations (Dykstra 1997). About 10% of all
European adults between thirty-¬ve and sixty-four years of age provide
unpaid care to members of older generations on a daily basis, about 14%
of women versus 6% of men. In the Netherlands about 13% of all adult
women, in particular those between forty-¬ve and ¬fty-four, provide
informal care to aged people, an ample half of them spending more than
four hours daily.
Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997) have examined the conditions
under which parents receive support from their children, using a sample
of 1,122 Dutch men and women between ¬fty-¬ve and eighty-nine, who
required care. A distinction between informal and formal care was made,
and people with and without a partner as well as divorced or widowed
people were included in the sample. The results are shown in Table 7.2.
Aged people with a partner are in the ¬rst place receiving help from
their partners. With respect to intergenerational solidarity it is interesting
to observe that 15% to 20% of the aged people who still have a partner re-
ceive help from their children. Children apparently are the second source
of help but, for people who need help and do not have a partner, they
are the ¬rst source to rely on. This applies much more strongly to people
whose partner has died than to divorced people. Apparently, a divorce may
have long-term consequences for the relationship with children. It is far
less self-evident for children of divorced parents to provide informal care

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 7.2. Sources of Help for Men and Women Aged Fifty-¬ve and Older, Having
Children, and Requiring Daily Practical Help (%)

First Ever Ever
Marriage Widowed Divorced

With (marital) partner, receives informal care from
Partner 63 63 54 47 73
Other members of the household 5 5 3 3 12
Children living outside the home 25 25 23 0 15
Other family members 4 3 6 3 0
With (marital) partner, receives formal care 18 26 20 18 42
Without (marital) partner, receives informal care from
“a “a
Members of the household 8 7 0 3
“a “a
Children living outside the home 47 53 13 23
“a “a
Other family members 6 11 0 10
“a “a
Without (marital) partner, receives formal care 54 50 50 46
Too few cases.
Source: Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997).

and help than it is for children whose parents are still married. Divorced
fathers, of all categories, receive the least support from their children. On
the other hand, children from a possible second marriage have a more
important share in caring for their once divorced fathers than is the case
for their divorced mothers. As to the relationship between informal and
formal care, Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997) conclude that those
who receive little informal care do not seem to appeal for formal care
more frequently. On the contrary, the most frequent users of informal
resources are at the same time using formal resources to the largest extent.
Several investigations suggest a relationship between social class and
intergenerational solidarity. Kulis (1992), for instance, points to certain
common ideas with respect to solidarity and social class: it is often thought
that lower-class people offer each other mainly practical and instrumen-
tal help, whereas the middle and higher social strata would more often

Family Solidarity

exchange emotional and ¬nancial support. In a large-scale survey Kulis
distinguished between instrumental, economic, and social help. He found
that, contrary to existing beliefs, middle-class parents offered more in-
strumental help to their children than lower-class parents did; the same
applied to ¬nancial and social-emotional help. From a secondary analysis
of the data of the Dutch research into gift giving already mentioned in
earlier chapters, a class-bound difference in gift-giving patterns appeared
to exist between a “friends culture” and a “family culture.” More highly
educated people appeared to give more to friends, whereas the lesser-
educated gave mainly to family. This was the case for all kinds of gifts,
material as well as nonmaterial, including care and help (Komter and
Vollebergh 1997).
Finally, it is important to pay some attention to family solidarity in the
context of the immigration society that many Western European coun-
tries have become over the past decades. In their research among legal and
illegal immigrants in the Netherlands, Engbersen and Burgers demon-
strate substantial patterns of mutual care and help (Komter, Burgers, and
Engbersen 2000). A special form of family solidarity among members
of minority groups is the continuous ¬nancial support in the form of
regular remittances provided to family members who have remained in
their native country. In times that are increasingly characterized by im-
migrants™ transnational activities and border-crossing ties and loyalties
(Snel and Engbersen 2002), it can be expected that transnational forms
of family solidarity will increase rather than diminish.

The Troubled Side of Family Solidarity

An interesting ¬nding is that a high level of intergenerational solidarity
does not necessarily coincide with the psychological well-being of aged
family members (Mutran and Reitzes 1984) and in some cases may even
threaten it (Roberts, Richards, and Bengtson 1991). Under certain condi-
tions, such as strong ¬nancial pressures, high family solidarity generates

Solidarity and Selectivity

mental tension caused by obligations that are too much and too heavy
and by too strong an appeal to one™s time and resources. In a small-
scale qualitative investigation among older men and women in London,
Gail Wilson (1993) found also that intergenerational solidarity is not
self-evidently experienced as something positive. Often there is a lack of
reciprocity (old age restricts the possibility to return help and care), caus-
ing feelings of dependency. Receiving and accepting help and care is not
without problems in this case. Moreover, the care may be experienced as
a form of control “ is the house kept clean enough, does one eat regular
meals? Many young people experience the care they provide to their aged
parents as a burden. Several aged respondents from Wilson™s research
remarked that when the young offer a lot of help, “love declines and duty
takes over” (1993: 639). Also Janet Finch argues in her book Family Obli-
gations and Social Change (1989) that women™s motives to care for their
aged family members may be rooted in a form of “prescribed altruism,” a
strongly felt inner norm of being obliged to demonstrate solidarity with
aged family members. These inner obligations to intergenerational soli-
darity are, of course, strongly connected to the gendered division of labor
and care that still survives in our society.
Various studies on aging and the family discuss the possible nega-
tive consequences of intergenerational solidarity, the ways the caregiver™s
psychological well-being may be threatened (Ryff and Seltzer 1995, 1996),
or the impact stressful events may have on the quality of parent-child
relations (Suitor et al. 1995). Family support can become troubled by
con¬‚ictive aspects of relationships (House, Umberson, and Landis 1988;
Bengtson 2001). People may control their relatives or express all kinds of
relational demands, thereby burdening the relationship. As Boszormenyi-
Nagy and Spark have argued convincingly (1973), feelings of loyalty, sol-
idarity, and mutual trust are dependent upon the silent bookkeeping of
giving and receiving among family members. This silent bookkeeping
may be transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents try to make
up for shortcomings in their own upbringing by giving their children

Family Solidarity

what they missed themselves; children again compensate for the imper-
fections they experienced. In reality family ties are often a mixture of
(longings for) love and disappointment or anger, feelings of dependency,
and a desire for autonomy “ in short, they are essentially ambivalent
(Luescher and Pillemer 1998). Troubled or ambivalent feelings underly-
ing family ties may be an important cause of a later lack of solidarity, or
of a solidarity characterized by insincerity, insecurity, and stress.
In the Netherlands Ali de Regt (1993) has signaled the sense of obli-
gation that many young people feel toward their parents. Often these
feelings are aroused when paying their parents a visit, or helping them
in case of illness. As a consequence of their increased ¬nancial resources
parents nowadays are caring for their children during a much longer pe-
riod than was the case in the past when children went out to work at
a much younger age. Formerly existing expectations of children caring
for the physical and material well-being of their parents have become
less compelling, but the new ¬nancial dependency of children may con-
tribute to their feeling obliged toward their parents. Although affection
will in many cases be involved in the relationship between parents and
their young adult children, these feelings are not self-evident (they per-
haps never were) and will often be mixed up with forms of “prescribed
There are some empirical indications of a gender difference in caring
motives: daughters would be more often driven by altruistic motives
whereas among sons feelings of obligation, expectations concerning in-
heritance, and the frequency of existing contacts would prevail (Dykstra
and de Jong-Gierveld 1997). More generally, feelings and motives prove
to be strongly related to the category to whom help and care are provided:
feelings of moral obligation are predominant when help is given to family
but help to friends is more often accompanied by feelings of affection,
regardless of gender (Komter and Vollebergh 1997).
The evidence suggests that the existing concern about the level of con-
temporary family solidarity is not justi¬ed: neither in the United States

Solidarity and Selectivity

nor in certain European countries has a signi¬cant decline in the level of
help and care provided by adult children to their parents been observed,
and people™s beliefs reveal a clear awareness of their own obligations to-
ward the older generation. Small-scale, in-depth studies such as Wilson™s
are still scarce, but it is exactly this type of study that could shed light
on the more problematic aspects of family solidarity (Johnson 2000). In
distinguishing the motives for caring for family members, there seems to
be a subtle balance between reciprocity, affection, and obligation.

Macro- and Microsolidarity

Most welfare states are based on a silent contract between generations,
with the younger generation contributing ¬nancially to the care needed
by the elderly (Walker 1996). Through the payment of taxes and pre-
miums and by means of social policy, the government provides for the
material and physical support required by aged people when they are not
able anymore to earn their own living or to care for themselves properly.
Western and Northern European countries have a relatively generous
system of pensions and additional forms of (partly) subsidized govern-
mental support for the elderly compared with the United States “ home
care, district nursing, adaptations to the homes of the disabled, meals
delivered at home, to mention a few examples. In view of this situation
it is not surprising that many aged people living in Western and North-
ern Europe prefer the institutional, state-provided care over an enduring
dependency on their own children (de Jong-Gierveld and van Solinge
The micro- and macrosocial dimensions of intergenerational relations
are not completely separate phenomena; in fact, they are interdepen-
dent in several ways. First, characteristics of welfare-state social policy
for aged people “ in particular, the liberality and accessibility of caring
arrangements “ have an impact on care provision within families. For
instance, cuts in governmental elderly care may cause a stronger appeal

Family Solidarity

to informal caregivers, implying a higher workload for them. Similarly,
changes in the level of the pensions may have an impact on the ¬nan-
cial and physical dependency of aged people upon their family members.
These developments are often unintended side effects of governmental
policy. A second in¬‚uence of the state upon microsocial, intrafamilial
caring arrangements is the social construction and embodiment of tra-
ditional family ideals in which women are still playing an important role
as informal caregivers. In many Western countries governments are hes-
itant to intervene in too direct a way into the caring potential of families
because they fear that an overly generous governmental supply of care
will eliminate spontaneous care provided within families (Walker 1996).
A paradoxical effect becomes visible here: whereas the traditional family
ideal is declining rapidly, the principle of governmental nonintervention
acts as a reinforcement of traditional family relationships.
But the in¬‚uence also goes the other way around: microsocial arrange-
ments are re¬‚ected in macrosocial policy, or in the use that is made
of macrosocial arrangements (Esping-Andersen 1999). The nature and
quality of the relationship between parents and their adult children may
have an impact on the willingness of the children to provide care to their
parents and, therefore, on the extent of the appeal that is done to for-
mal caring arrangements. Also the extent to which adult children and
their parents have access to formal, state-based arrangements and facili-
ties will in¬‚uence the balance between formal and informal care within
a particular family. Financial resources as well as knowledge of formal
opportunities to obtain the necessary care and support are some obvious
determinants of the actual use that is made of public bene¬ts.
What, then, is the nature of the relationship between the macro- and
the microsocial contract between generations? The idea that a decrease of
caring provisions by the welfare state will lead to an increase of informal
care has been propagated by politicians at a time when European welfare
states are being economically restructured: family care as a substitute for
state-based care. The substitution thesis may also work the other way

Solidarity and Selectivity

around and is often expressed as a fear: the more the state cares for its
citizens, the fewer citizens will care for each other. An alternative way
to understand the relationship between the macro- and the microsocial
dimensions of intergenerational relations is the complementarity thesis,
which holds that higher levels of formal care go together with higher
levels of informal care.
Empirical research done so far offers a varied picture: in some welfare
states the substitution thesis is con¬rmed, whereas in others the comple-
mentarity thesis seems to hold (Knijn and Komter 2003). A straightfor-
ward answer to the question of which thesis is the most valid in general
is not to be expected. The reason is that the nature of the relationship
between the macro- and microsocial contract seems to depend on the
liberality of the particular welfare state and of the speci¬c domain that is
studied (childcare, informal care, intergenerational transfers, etc.).
In the Netherlands several empirical studies corroborate the com-
plementarity thesis (Komter et al. 2000). For instance, the ¬ndings of
the previously mentioned study by Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997)
demonstrate that the most frequent users of informal resources are also
using formal resources to the largest extent. The main focus of the recent
book by Arber and Attias-Donfut (2000) is the exchange of material and
nonmaterial support between adult generations within a framework of
the interaction between the public and private domains. They report a
German study by K¨ nemund and Rein (1999) who used data from a large
comparative survey of older people in four Western countries and Japan.
The study shows that “the most important forms of solidarity with re-
gard to older people take place in those countries where social policies
are generous to the welfare of older people” (Arber and Attias-Donfut
2000: 13). These ¬ndings con¬rm the notion that public aid reinforces
private aid rather than substituting for it. Other research results reported
by Attias-Donfut and Arber also show that the rise in public caring provi-
sions during the past decades has not resulted in any reduction of informal
care within families. From their own study on three-generational families

Family Solidarity

in France, based on a representative sample of multigenerational families,
the same picture arises. The authors conclude: “The complementarity of
public and private forms of support has been shown for different cat-
egories of transfers. Whether these transfers are for ¬nancial help for
young adults or care given to the eldest-generation members, the results
are the same. In all cases, public bene¬ts increase the recipient™s chances
of an additional and complementary form of support from members of
their family lineage” (Arber and Attias-Donfut 2000: 65). In short, public
transfers reshape and sustain family solidarity (Kohli 1999).

Family Solidarity: Solid but Ambivalent

Beliefs about extrafamilial, state-based intergenerational solidarity gen-
erally show a high level of solidarity. In the Netherlands as well as in many
other European countries, there is a high consensus about the desirability
of working people™s ¬nancial contribution, through taxes or otherwise,
to a decent standard of living for aged people. The Dutch grant a very
important role to the government when it comes to provisions for elderly
people requiring care or help. The majority of the Dutch think that the
government is primarily responsible for elderly care and that children™s
role is only secondary. In daily reality, however, children still provide in-
formal care to older family members to a substantial extent. The Dutch
level of informal care provided by adult children, particularly women,
to older generations is no exception to the levels found in other Euro-
pean countries. Despite fears to the contrary, the state of actual family
solidarity in the Western world is still very solid.
Although family care is still provided on a large scale, the motives
underlying the care offered to aged (in-law) parents are based on inner
obligation “ a kind of “prescribed altruism” “ rather than on feelings of
affectivity and identi¬cation. Recipients may experience the care offered
to them as problematic. For instance, the parents™ psychological well-
being may not be served best when their own children are the caregivers.

Solidarity and Selectivity

The care and help may be felt as a form of control, and the diminished
reciprocity when the recipient is older may cause feelings of dependency.
Inversely, caregivers frequently experience the care as a heavy burden in
terms of the time and the resources they spend on it.
Whereas the concept of family solidarity seems to direct our attention
automatically to positive feelings of connectedness and altruistic acts of
helping, we should bear in mind that the nature of family ties is funda-
mentally different from that of other social ties in that they are given,
not chosen. Family solidarity cannot be isolated from the more negative
aspects of care provided to family and from the deeply ambivalent nature
of family ties in general. On the one hand, the bonds between family
members are still solid in terms of the amounts of care and help that
continue to be exchanged; on the other hand, family ties may be troubled
or con¬‚ictive and be experienced as a burden.


Contemporary Solidarity

Changing Solidarity

In some areas of our public life a shared sense of civility seems
to have been delegitimated as a binding norm we can reliably
invoke; that is, not merely that people behave uncivilly, but that
the charge “That was uncivil” carries little or no weight. So I
think there is a decline in civility and that this decline matters.
(Lawrence Cahoone 2000b: 145)

Contemporary solidarity is different from what it has been in earlier
times. Broad societal changes have had an impact on the forms and man-
ifestations of solidarity: the individualization process, the decline of reli-
giosity in Western societies, the economic reforms that have taken place
in many welfare states, changing patterns in family life, changing gender
roles, the development of the information and communication technol-
ogy, and, last but not least, the migration processes occurring throughout
the world. As a consequence of immigration new religious and political
identities present themselves to the inhabitants of the Western world,
giving rise to new questions and concerns about solidarity. These soci-
etal changes do not necessarily cause a decline in solidarity, as is often
assumed. In certain domains solidarity may increase; in others it may
merely adopt a new shape. In this chapter, I brie¬‚y examine some of
the main dimensions that may be involved in the transformation in
solidarity: individualization, diversi¬cation, and globalization. Mainly

Contemporary Solidarity

cultural critics have re¬‚ected on these societal transformations, but their
conclusions only incidentally extend to the consequences for social ties
and solidarity. This is understandable because it is almost impossible
to connect broad societal changes causally to changes in solidarity. The
societal changes are too complex and solidarity is too multifarious to
allow clear causal statements. In the second part of this chapter I address
some changes in contemporary solidarity and, where possible, support
these with empirical data.
A ¬rst and overriding societal change is the individualization process.
This development has its starting point in the nineteenth century (al-
though its roots go back to a more distant past) and has been re¬‚ected
on by classical sociologists like Durkheim and Simmel. In their view one
of the consequences of individualization is that solidarity would become
more abstract. With the modernization of society people would come to
participate in an ever larger number of partly overlapping social circles.
This would enlarge their individual possibilities to choose; loosen the
former tightly knit ties of family, neighborhood, and church; and weaken
the formerly existing solidarity patterns.
A second and related development is diversi¬cation: of identities, pref-
erences, convictions, and commitments. It is assumed that the former
continuity and stability of human identity are disappearing, and that the
sharing of beliefs, roots, or traditions with fellow human beings is be-
coming less self-evident. Although modern individuals are more capable
than ever to assert their own selves, they are at the same time experiencing
a growing insecurity about what is going on in society, socially, culturally,
and materially. The presence of an increasing number of “strangers” in
modern Western societies adds substantially to this uncertainty. Hospi-
tality toward strangers, once a moral obligation and a daily practice all
over the world, has lost its former meaning as an expression of solidarity.
The third change concerns the globalization process, the widening of
political, economic, technological, social, and cultural borders allowing
for worldwide interconnections between organizations and people that

Changing Solidarity

create new possibilities and exigencies for solidarity. One manifestation
of this development is the new communication technology, in particular
the Internet, which creates new networks between millions of people.

Changing Society, Changing Individuals

Individualization and Social Ties

The individualization process has emancipated humans from the web
of mutual dependencies existing within the traditional community. The
individual has been freed from the ascribed, inherited, and inborn de-
termination of his or her social standing, which is now ruled by self-
determination. Choice and change of identities have replaced the former
determination. Growing autonomy and freedom have resulted from the
individualization process, but there is another aspect as well. In the words
of the indefatigable commentator of postmodernity, Zygmunt Bauman,
“the other side of individualization seems to be the corrosion and slow
disintegration of citizenship” (2001: 49; see also 1997, 1998). Individu-
als tend to be skeptical of the common good or the “good society,” and
individual troubles do not easily add up to a common cause anymore.
In Bauman™s view modern individuals are increasingly sel¬sh, cynical,
and indifferent to long-term life projects. He perceives signs of an over-
whelming feeling of disorientation and loss of control over the present
world, resulting in a fading of political determination and a disbelief
in the effectivity of collective or solidary action. In Western Europe one
can indeed observe an increasing dissatisfaction with the welfare state and
politics as such. The institutions of the welfare state are the object of grow-
ing resentment. The traditional efforts of the welfare state “ providing
support to those who, for whatever reason, are not able to support them-
selves “ are sensed as “normal,” and the millions of people who, thanks
to these provisions, are able to live a decent life are not heard about.
As welfare has transformed into being a right instead of a favor, people

Contemporary Solidarity

seem to have lost their interest in the welfare state. At the same time
in many countries a substantial resentment about the political inef¬-
cacy can be observed; in the Netherlands the main concerns are health
care, education, and public transport. This resentment, however, is not
an exclusively Dutch phenomenon but is broadly felt in other Western
European countries as well (Misztal 2001).
Various commentators have pointed to a decline of people™s involve-
ment in long-term commitments, whether in work or with other people.
Social bonds and partnerships would be increasingly regarded as things
to be consumed, not produced. Bauman, for instance, observes rather
gloomily that the human bond “is not something to be worked out
through protracted effort and occasional sacri¬ce, but something which
one expects to bring satisfaction right away, something that one rejects
if it does not do that and keeps and uses only as long as (and no longer
than) it continues to gratify” (Bauman 2001: 157).
In the same vein Beck (1986) argues that in our individualized society
contemporary social relations are subject to high risk and are therefore
facing high levels of uncertainty. The nuclear family as the last form of
synthesis between generations and genders has disintegrated, and indi-
viduals have become increasingly burdened with the responsibility for
their own fate. The individualization process has resulted in a growing
confusion over the stability and duration of marriage. The result for the
individualized citizens is that their life patterns and careers are increas-
ingly fragmented.
Another cultural critic, Richard Sennett, describes in his book The
Corrosion of Character (1998) how radical changes in the way work is
organized have in¬‚uenced the individual™s sense of identity and experi-
ence of self. Whereas in the past the world of work was hierarchical and
rigid, nowadays it has become less embedded in hierarchical relations and
more ¬‚exible. Whereas the former work ethic asserted the self-disciplined
use of one™s time and the value of delayed grati¬cation, the contempo-
rary organization of work requires short-term teamwork, adaptability to

Changing Solidarity

circumstances, and risk taking. As a consequence contemporary citizen™s
ability to develop a sense of sustained purpose and longer-term commit-
ments would be threatened. In Sennett™s view the new economic order
and the way work is organized are undermining interdependency “ one
of the main conditions for the coming into being of social bonds. The
organizational structure of large-scale institutions obliterates the mutual
dependency and reciprocity among those involved. The anonymity and
bureaucracy of these organizations diminish the sense of mattering as a
person, whereas it is only in direct interaction with others that people can
feel they are needed. Feeling super¬‚uous may lead to a lack of respon-
siveness and mutual trust and is thereby a potential threat to solidarity,
according to Sennett.
The picture arising from the views of these cultural critics “ from both
the United States and Europe “ is that in the new society feelings of being
rooted to a certain place or of being bound together by collective interests
have diminished and, in many cases, even got lost. People™s capacity to
initiate relations of trust have decreased, whereas at the same time trust
is seen as an important condition for solidarity (Misztal 1996; Putnam
2000). Within organizations the mutual dependency between individuals
has diminished. Institutions that formerly were capable of binding people
together, such as the family, the neighborhood, religion, or the nation-
state are in decline (Turner and Rojek 2001). Social ties have lost their
predictability and have become more transitory.

The Assertive Self

Solidarity is not merely based on mutual dependency and the capacity
to trust other people but on a more fundamental capacity as well: the
capacity of putting oneself in the imaginary position of the other. Long
before George Herbert Mead (1961 [1934]) formulated his theory of the
development of the inherently social nature of the self “ the self as the
mirror of other people™s beliefs and attitudes “ Adam Smith, in his book

Contemporary Solidarity

The Theory of Moral Sentiments (2002 [1759]), offered a similar account
of the way in which we learn to judge our own conduct and sentiments:
by comparing our behavior with that of other people.

The principle by which we naturally either approve or disapprove of our own
conduct, seems to be altogether the same with that by which we exercise the
like judgments concerning the conduct of other people. We either approve
or disapprove of the conduct of another man according as we feel that, when
we bring his case home to ourselves, we either can or cannot sympathize with
the sentiments and motives, which directed it. And, in the same manner, we
either approve or disapprove of our own conduct, according as we feel that,
when we place ourselves in the situation of another man, and view it, as it
were, with his eyes and from his station, we either can or cannot entirely enter
into and sympathize with the sentiments and motives which in¬‚uenced it.
We can never survey our own sentiments and motives, we can never form
any judgment concerning them; unless we remove ourselves, as it were, from
our own natural station, and endeavour to view them as at a certain distance
from us. (128)

Imagining ourselves in the situation of a fair and impartial spectator
enables us to form a balanced judgment. But that requires our having
spectators. If a human creature grew up into some solitary place without
any communication with fellow human beings, it would be impossible to
think about his own character, sentiments, or conduct. “Bring him into
society, and he is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted
before” (129).
Being able to sympathize and identify with the predicament of an-
other person is a key precondition to solidarity. Only a self that mirrors
the imagined viewpoints of others is capable of solidarity. Solidarity pre-
supposes the double capacity to assess and appraise the self as well as
to recognize the other, and it is conceivable that the individualization
process has contributed to a change in exactly this respect. On the one
hand, the self has become more uncertain and disoriented, rendering
the appraisal and recognition of self as well as other more dif¬cult. On

Changing Solidarity

the other hand, a characteristic of individualized citizens is their in-
creased assertiveness. Since the 1960s, when the traditional structures of
authority in family, education, work, and politics came under attack, the
growing emphasis on personal autonomy, self-realization, and freedom
of choice is assumed to have resulted in a much more assertive life-style
(van den Brink 2001). The permissiveness of the 1960s, re¬‚ected in the
socialization of children, would have created larger egos and a dimin-
ished capacity to imagine oneself in the position of another person and
to feel responsible for the consequences of one™s actions. According to
Christopher Lasch (1979) this resulted in a growing narcissism and an
increased vulnerability to infractions on immediate impulse satisfaction.
This might explain why some people™s tolerance for insigni¬cant incon-
veniences in public life seems to have shrunk to zero: having to wait
at a counter or a red light or having to show your ticket on the train
may already be felt as a narcissistic offense and therefore an occasion for

Diversi¬cation and Uncertainty amid Strangers

Modern Western societies are increasingly multicultural and diverse in
terms of ethnicity, sexual preferences, religious convictions, and cultural
tastes. The set of shared, collective meanings is diminishing, and there is a
growing diversity in social and cultural commitments. The individualized
individual is faced with both a growing ¬‚uidity and fragmentation of his
or her identity and an increased tendency to self-assertion and the sup-
pression of other identities. The growing uncertainty of modern citizens
makes the presence of the many “strangers” entering Western societies
as refugees or immigrants potentially threatening. Strangers mean a lack
of clarity: one does not know their habits and preferences, so suspicion
is the most likely response to them. As long as they can be con¬ned to
their own quarters, it is easy to avoid them, but in this era of immigra-
tion, strangers are far too numerous to hold them at a “safe” distance.

Contemporary Solidarity

Strangers have become a stable and irreversible part of our social world
(Bauman 1997).
An almost prototypical form of solidarity is hospitality toward
strangers. In the ancient virtue of hospitality, caring for the needs of
the stranger was considered an inevitable obligation toward fellow hu-
man beings: there was a “general human obligation to hospitality” (Finley
1988: 101). The Bible ordains hospitality to strangers as a holy plight. In
Homer™s Odyssey the rule of hospitality was to welcome a guest in your
home, offer him food and shelter, and only afterward ask questions about
his person and mission. Hospitality was regarded as equivalent to the fun-
damental recognition and acceptance of “otherness,” of plurality in the
world. As such it can be seen as the basis of morality “ “to be moral is to
be hospitable to the stranger” (Ogletree 1985 [1946]: 1).
Contemporary hospitality has retained its obligatory character in many
countries all over the world, particularly Third World countries, Asia,
the Mediterranean countries, and Eastern Europe. When we lose our way
in the Greek countryside and knock on the door of some small farm-
house, in nine out of ten cases you will be received in the most cordial
way and be served the best food available in the house. The meaning
of hospitality in these parts of the world is still related to reciprocity
and mutual exchange: just as strangers may need you, you might need
them at some other time, and therefore you should offer them hospitality
(Pitt-Rivers 1968; Herzfeld 1987). However, in modern Western welfare
states the original meaning of hospitality has changed. With the rise
of welfare and individualism, strangers do not “need” one another any
longer as they used to in ancient times. Whereas in the 1960s many
Western welfare states started using foreigners as workers because they
needed cheap labor, four decades later many of these workers have be-
come “super¬‚uous”: we don™t need them anymore. Another category of
strangers, the refugees and the immigrants, need Western welfare states
to secure shelter and a decent way of living, while a growing number
of autochthonous people feel uneasy about the in¬‚ux of strangers. The

Changing Solidarity

former reciprocity in the interaction between strangers and indigenous
people has clearly been lost. Hospitality has become depersonalized and
commercialized and has lost its original moral meaning of being obliged
to take care of the needs of your fellow human beings, whoever they may
be. An opposite development is that as a consequence of the increased
global networks people have become less “strange” toward one another.
The reciprocity of the classical hospitality has been substituted by new
manifestations of worldwide connectedness.

Globalization and the New Society

Globalization, the growing interconnectedness of the world, includes
many domains: the electronic transformation in communication and
information (between universities, between nations and actors like po-
litical and military representatives, between companies doing business,
etc.); the growth of a unifying, global culture, the development of a world
economy, mass transport systems, a world system of tourism, and global
social movements such as the human rights movement, the environmen-
tal movement, or the women™s movement (B. Turner and Rojek 2001).
The new society has been variously labeled as a “network society”
(Castells 1996) or a “risk society” (Beck 1986), to mention just a few in¬‚u-
ential contemporary approaches. In Castells™s view the new information
technologies by means of their pervasiveness and ¬‚exibility have created a
universally integrated social world. He argues that transnational linkages
of information, ¬nance, and communication make the traditional con-
ception of the nation-state obsolete. Instead, the network society emerges
as the primary unit of sociological analysis. Networks differ from the old
sociological units of the small group or the community in that the lat-
ter refer to exclusive and closed linkages, whereas the new networks are
dynamic, inclusive, and open. The network society not only has a major
effect on the development of capitalism and commerce but also invades
the worlds of politics and culture. While it enables cooperation on a much

Contemporary Solidarity

wider scale and allows for instantaneous forms of reciprocity, many of
the institutions constructed around the democratic state and around the
contract between capital and labor have lost their meaning to individual
people (B. Turner and Rojek 2001). Not only political institutions but
also the sphere of work and production seem to be losing its force to bind
citizens in solidarity.
The fact that information has become instantaneously available
throughout the globe has enormous consequences. Bauman presents an
interesting analysis of the impact of the changed role played by time
and space for social cohesion. The former small-scale communities were
“brought into being and kept alive by the gap between the nearly in-
stantaneous communication inside the small-scale community . . . and
the enormity of time and expense needed to pass information between
localities” (Bauman 1998: 15). Nowadays, intracommunity communica-
tion has no advantage over intercommunal exchange, as both are in-
stantaneous. Bauman describes how traditional societies were organized
around the unmediated capacities of human bodies: “Con¬‚ict was chin-
to-chin. Combat was hand-to-hand. Justice was an eye-for-an-eye, a
tooth-for-a-tooth. Debate was heart-to-heart. Solidarity was shoulder-
to-shoulder. Community was face-to-face. Friendship was arm-in-arm.
And, change was step-by-step” (Bauman 1998: 17). All this has changed
fundamentally with the advance of the means to stretch these interactions
beyond the reach of the human eye and arm.
Although most globalization literature is concerned with money, labor,
and markets, care can also become globalized. As care is a core aspect
of solidarity, the phenomenon of what Arlie Hochschild calls “global
care chains” is extremely interesting from our perspective. These chains
are composed of “a series of personal links between people across the
globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring” (Hochschild 2000:
131). Women are usually making up these chains, although men may
participate in them as well. The global chains usually go from poor to

Changing Solidarity

rich countries. They often connect three sets of caretakers: “[O]ne cares
for the migrant™s children back home, a second cares for the children of the
woman who cares for the migrant™s children, and a third, the migrating
mother herself, cares for the children of professionals in the First World.
Poorer women raise children for wealthier women while still poorer “ or
older or more rural “ women raise their children” (136).
The globalization process creates new possibilities for solidarity but
may also result in new forms of inequality, thereby putting new strains
on solidarity. One paradoxical effect of globalization is that immediate
reciprocity has diminished to the extent that justice, war, and democracy
are not produced in face-to-face encounters any longer, while a new type
of immediate, virtual reciprocity over the long distance has come into

Changes in Contemporary Solidarity

In the foregoing section a rather pessimistic tone has sometimes re-
sounded: some of the authors cited seem to have a particularly keen eye
for developments pointing to a decline. As Alan Wolfe (2000) has rightly
pointed out, statements about a supposed social decline are problematic
for various reasons. First, there is a problem of de¬nition: what counts
exactly as social decline? Second, there is a problem of measurement: in
many cases it is very dif¬cult to know whether certain acts are increasing
because we do not have points of comparison with earlier periods. Third,
generalization is problematic: on the basis of anecdotal information con-
cerning particular behavior, generalizations are made about the state of
society. Complaining about the moral quality of modern society might
lead to excessive criticism of contemporary culture. Moreover, accounts of
social decline always carry the risk of ignoring other developments that are
of a qualitative rather than a quantitative nature. Solidarity may change
in quality or nature, instead of being in decline. These considerations

Contemporary Solidarity

tempted Wolfe even “to want the word decline banished from the litera-
ture. At least among social scientists notions of decline cause a reversal of
the proper way to examine a hypothesis” (2000: 130). Now we shift our
attention to more empirically based changes “ in traditional solidarity,
local and global solidarity, and civil solidarity.

Traditional Solidarity

Since Durkheim™s account of the change of mechanical into organic soli-
darity, the supposed decline of the binding force of family, neighborhood,
and church “ sources of mechanical solidarity par excellence “ has been
much discussed. It is certainly true that the extent to which mutual sup-
port was traditionally exchanged within families and neighborhoods has
diminished, although, as we have seen in Chapter 7, a ¬rm basis of familial
solidarity has survived (Hareven 1995). In many European countries most
people still believe that the younger generation should contribute, ¬nan-
cially or otherwise, to a decent standard of living for older or ill family
members, and informal care is still supplied on a large scale. As noted
in Chapter 6, traditional forms of solidarity “ giving time to volunteer
work and providing care to people outside one™s own household “ are still
very much alive in the Netherlands. According to recent Dutch ¬gures
no substantial decline of received informal care has occurred between
1979 and 1999, although this was expected as a consequence of women™s
greater labor participation (SCP-Report 2002). The abstract and anony-
mous solidarity of giving to charity and to humanitarian goals is even
increasing in the Netherlands, as we have seen. The decline in religiosity
in Western society has undoubtedly diminished its binding force. In 1960
24% of the Dutch population said they were irreligious, but around the
turn of the century this has increased to 60% (SCP-Report 1998, 2002).
In the Western world new forms of spirituality and collective belief have
arisen, but these are often more individualistic and exert a lesser group
pressure compared with earlier forms of religion.

Changing Solidarity

In the political commitment of Dutch citizens a double tendency seems
to be at work. On the one hand, the membership in traditional forms of
political organization such as political parties and labor unions has been
declining steadily “ but seems to be on the rise again since 2003 “ and
citizens are voting less often. This trend is also visible in other European
countries (Zoll 2000). Whereas in 1965 9.7% of the Dutch still belonged to
a political party, this share has been reduced to 2.4% in 1996 (SCP-Report
1998). At the beginning of the 1980s 39% of the population was a union
member, but at the end of the 1990s this has declined to 30% (SCP-Report
2000). On the other hand, citizens indicate that their political interest
has grown (van den Brink 2002). They increasingly agree with certain
democratic liberties. Also political solidarity as expressed in participation
in action groups or demonstrations has increased since 1977 (Dekker
Finally, collective expressions of solidarity without explicit political
aims still occur regularly and may even be increasing; Durkheim (1964b
[1895]) called these events “social currents.” In 2002 the Netherlands has
been alarmed by the politically inspired murder of the populist, right-
wing politician Pim Fortuyn. The public expressed its emotions of sorrow
and anger in large marches, while carrying candles and ¬‚owers. Other
examples are the “White Marches” in Belgium, expressing compassion
with the victims of child abuse and murder by Marc Dutroux, and the
silent marches to mourn the victims of public violence. Contemporary
citizens have not so much become less politically engaged but express
their commitment differently (de Hart 1999; van den Brink 2002).

Local and Global Solidarity

Looking at local forms of solidarity, a multitude of new types present
themselves. One fascinating example is the Local Exchange Trade Sys-
tem, or LETS. In LETS participants exchange services and goods without
paying each other money. Instead one can “earn” and “pay” by means of

Contemporary Solidarity

exchange points. After the system was initiated in Canada in 1983, it has
since begun to grow worldwide. In Europe LETS ¬rst developed in Britain
during the 1990s. At the start of the new millennium in Britain about ¬ve
hundred systems are operating. In the Netherlands by 2000 there are
about one hundred systems, each system consisting of twenty-¬ve to ¬fty
participants. Dutch research has demonstrated that within one system
yearly three hundred transactions take place, and 10,800 units are trans-
acted (Hoeben 2000). Reciprocity, or delayed reciprocity, is an essential
element in LETS: I do something for you and, although you may not
do something in return immediately, at a future moment somebody will
do something for me. The idea of reinforcing community by exchanging
goods and services is crucial to LETS: exchange is promoting social con-
nectedness and stimulates the community feeling that is believed to be on
the decline in modern society. Reciprocity, solidarity, and connectedness
are key concepts in LETS.
Several other forms of local and informal solidarity have arisen in
Western society. To say that these forms are completely new would not be
correct, as they have always existed. However, their number seems to have
increased and their focus may be new. We can think of the well-known
self-help groups, having their origins in the United States, and spreading
all over Europe since the 1970s. Since the 1980s and 1990s new forms of
reciprocal aid have been initiated in the Netherlands and in many other
countries (Zoll 2000), of which the buddy system “ homosexuals helping
fellow homosexuals having AIDS “ is the best known. Former psychiatric
patients, delinquents, handicapped, or chronically ill people help others
who share their fate. An interesting aspect of the way aspirant buddies are
trained is the explicit recognition of the element of self-interest involved
in providing support and help to a partner in misfortune (Komter 2000).
The underlying idea of these projects is that solidarity is not effective
anymore when an exclusive appeal is made to the altruism and sel¬‚essness
of volunteers; only when it is clear that they have something to gain from
providing help themselves will they make their contribution to solidarity.

Changing Solidarity

Thus the reciprocity aspect of solidarity “ always a part of it but remaining
implicit for long “ is made explicit and visible.
Another relatively new form of solidarity, also based on reciprocity, is
located in the daily interaction among citizens in their own neighbor-
hoods. In some of the big cities in the Netherlands the local authori-
ties have initiated projects aimed at improving the quality of life within
particular urban, often multiculturally populated areas, characterized by
high levels of unemployment, poverty, poor housing conditions, crim-
inality, and mutual distrust. By creating the material and institutional
conditions enabling citizens to invest in the quality of their own imme-
diate surroundings, the local authorities hope to promote mutual reci-
procity and solidarity. Enabling people to make their own choices and
to realize their autonomy is viewed as a promising strategy to enhance
mutual trust and foster community feelings. For instance, in Rotterdam,
a project called City etiquette aims at enhancing public courtesy and mu-
tual respect, and in the city of Gouda the authorities have proclaimed the
“ten city rules” with a similar purpose.
Also on a global level solidarity takes on a new shape. The era of global-
ization and the new means of communication open up new possibilities
for developing shared interests, forms of community, and solidarity in
transnational social movements (Smith, Chat¬eld, and Pagnucco 1997;
Cohen and Rai 2000). Examples are international nongovernmental or-
ganizations, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and the Friends of the Earth.
World summits are organized on the environment, social development,
and population issues. On the Internet worldwide chat and informa-
tion exchange create new alliances and partnerships. New interest groups
manifest their political views, or other convictions and programs, and
initiate new appeals to solidarity. Due to the diversity and rapid develop-
ment of these new forms of global solidarity, it is impossible to formulate
a general assessment of their impact. But it is beyond doubt that the new
global solidarity has created unprecedented possibilities for developing
new identi¬cations and social ties.

Contemporary Solidarity

Civil Solidarity

For a long period of time the concepts of civility and civilization re-
ferred to “the self-image of the European upper class in relation to others
whom its members considered simpler or more primitive” (Elias 1978:
39). Civilization was thought of as the privilege of the elite, and civilized
behavior was viewed as the distinctive characteristic of the upper classes.
In the nineteenth and the ¬rst decades of the twentieth century those
at the bottom of society, the poor and the unemployed, were the object
of initiatives aimed at their “civilization.” Against this background it is
understandable that in the 1960s talking about civility was seen as tanta-
mount to being a snob or a reactionary. With the growth of democratic
culture and the rise of a more informal style of behavior during the past
decades, the concepts of civilization and civility lost their elitist stigma.
Civility came to be understood as the “the civil treatment of others and
respect for their sensibilities” (Misztal 2001: 72). Nowadays an increasing
concern with civility can be observed. Civil society, modern citizenship,
and the respect toward fellow citizens are thought to be diminishing.
In the United States the decline of civility is bemoaned by scholars like
Bennett (1993), Carter (1998), Lane (2000), and Putnam (2000).
Coming back to Alan Wolfe™s warnings about talk of decline and prob-
lems of de¬nition, it seems worthwhile to study the notion of civility in
some more detail. One of the meanings of civility “ manners, politeness “
can be traced back to the seminal work on the civilization process in
Western societies by Norbert Elias (1978). He showed that this meaning
of civility has its origins in medieval courtesy, the behavior required at
the court. In the course of the civilization process the former external
social constraints were converted into self-control and self-regulation of
spontaneous impulses. Self-control emerges here as an important aspect
of civility, in addition to manners. However, civility has deeper meanings
than the rather super¬cial one of courtesy and manners. Edward Shils
(1991), for instance, considers civility an essential virtue that implies our

Changing Solidarity

recognition of the humanity of self and others and a willingness “ based
on an awareness of mutual dependency “ to develop communality with
others. Respect and care for fellow citizens are important elements in this
conception (see also Dekker 2000). Conceived this way the concept of
civility is closely related to solidarity. Indeed, various scholars conceive
of civility as a form of solidarity, taking shape in concrete local settings
in which citizens interact with one another (Cahoone 2000a; Misztal
2001). According to Virginia Straus (2000) civility and civil society are
founded on a minimal dignity for all citizens: “Civility in civil society
means regarding others as members of the same inclusive collectivity
and respecting them as such. Even one™s enemies must be included in
this same moral universe. In addition, civility describes the conduct of
a person who has a concern for the good of the whole society” (Straus
2000: 230).
Because of the similarity between the concepts of civility and solidarity,
in what follows I use the concept of “civil solidarity,” which comprises
the following four characteristics: self-restraint, or the control of sponta-
neous impulses and of the desire for immediate grati¬cation; good man-
ners, or not being rude; being aware of other people as fellow human
beings and treating them accordingly; and willingness to subordinate
private concerns to public interests.
If we look at solidarity thus conceived, a variety of behaviors indeed
seems to indicate a decline of civil solidarity in either one of these mean-
ings, or a combination of them. The increase in (criminal and other)
violence is perhaps the best illustration. As in most other European coun-
tries, in the Netherlands statistical data unequivocally point to an increase
in criminal violence during the past decades (SCP-Report 2000). Two
decades after 1975 the number of violent crimes has increased by a fac-
tor of three; in the same period also physical ill-treatment shows a rise.
In particular, violence by youthful perpetrators has increased. Vandalism
has quadrupled between 1975 and 1995 (van den Brink 2001). The amount
of destruction has increased since 1990, both in the perception of citizens

Contemporary Solidarity

themselves and in police records. There is more aggression in schools, in
traf¬c, in the of¬ce of the general practitioner, in hospitals, and in social
service departments. At Columbine High School in the United States and
also in Erfurt in Germany, pupils cold-bloodedly shot their teachers and
fellow pupils to death out of anger and frustration toward the school. To
explain this type of violence, we might again refer to the overwhelming
centrality of the need for self-recognition in modern citizens. As a con-
sequence the vulnerability to narcissistic offenses, and thus the tendency
to respond with aggression, have risen considerably. Unfortunately no
longitudinal data are available to substantiate the assumptions about the
grown ego and the assertive self. Dutch data from a research done in 1997
do, however, show that citizens think personal qualities such as indepen-
dence and standing up for yourself are more important than being able to
take the imaginary position of other people and to cooperate with them
(SCP-Report 2002: 60). If we add to this the numerous special issues of
newspapers and weekly magazines about public impertinence that have
appeared in the Netherlands over the past years, we can conclude that the
need for recognition and assertion of the self has become a predominant
motivation among many contemporary citizens, leaving no room for the
recognition of others.
Modern traf¬c, with its anonymity and high potential for developing
aggressive feelings, is another domain where the diminishing civil soli-
darity can be observed. Raising the middle ¬nger as an expression of one™s
anger and contempt for other people, tailgating and honking incessantly,
ignoring the red light oneself and being angry at others who start driving
when the light is green, obstructing ticket control in public transport by
becoming violent “ all these examples show a decline in civil solidarity.
An extremely disconcerting development is the increase in the number
of people who drive on after having caused an accident. Figures from
the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs show that between 1990 and 1999
the number of police warrants related to driving on after an accident has
doubled. We can only guess at the motives of the perpetrators: lack of

Changing Solidarity

consideration for the victim and alcohol abuse are candidates, in addition
to the relatively low chance of being caught anyhow.
A relatively new phenomenon connected to the spread of the cell phone
is the habit of conducting overly loud private conversations in public, for
example, in trains or other public spaces, thereby preventing other people
from continuing their silent reading, thinking, or sleeping. Although not
as aggressive as the earlier mentioned examples, this practice nevertheless
shows a lack of civil solidarity as we have de¬ned it earlier: the possible
needs and wishes of fellow citizens are ignored.
Yet another sign of declining civil solidarity is the disrespect shown
in dealing with public space: leaving rubbish in public parks and on the
streets instead of using the dustbin, or urinating in public instead of
using the public rest room. In many big cities, and not exclusively in the
Netherlands, the signs of pollution and neglect of the public space are
clearly visible.
It must be emphasized at this point that these developments should be
seen in the historical context of the second half of the twentieth century.
The supposed decline of civil solidarity only pertains to the period since
the 1950s. We should have no illusions whatsoever about civil solidarity
in former ages when robber bands were terrorizing the countryside and
the big cities were far from safe and clean.

Transformed Solidarity

Signi¬cant changes have occurred in contemporary solidarity. At the
beginning of the twenty-¬rst century the traditional mechanical solidar-
ity of family, neighborhood, and church has diminished, but not com-
pletely disappeared. The signi¬cance of religion has diminished but new
forms of spirituality have come into being. Family solidarity still has ¬rm
roots, as is shown in substantial intergenerational solidarity. The solidar-
ity of informal care and volunteer work remains at the same level in the
Netherlands, as in most other European countries. The abstract solidarity

Contemporary Solidarity

of donating to charity and membership of humanitarian organizations
is yearly increasing. The political engagement of Dutch citizens shows a
double tendency: less commitment to traditional political organizations
and a growing involvement outside these organizations. Also collective
solidarity manifestations without political goals seem to be increasing.
Many new forms of solidarity have made their appearance. Participants
to the Local Exchange Trade Systems, now rapidly spreading over Europe,
are establishing social connectedness and community feelings by mutu-
ally exchanging help and services. Furthermore, many self-help groups
and groups offering reciprocal aid have arisen as people sharing a com-
mon fate provide support for each other. In big cities local authorities
encourage citizens to contribute to the livability of their own neighbor-
hoods. Also global solidarity is increasing: new social movements and
new interest groups exchange services and create social bonds through
the Internet. There are indications of a decline in civil solidarity, at least
since the 1950s.
On the basis of the ¬ndings presented in this chapter it has become
clear that it is impossible to speak in any general terms about a decline
or an increase in contemporary solidarity. Some forms have diminished,
others have remained at the same level, and yet others have increased.
Moreover, a multitude of new forms of solidarity has come into existence.
It is interesting to note that Michael Schudson has reached a similar con-
clusion in his book The Good Citizen (2000). He shows that in the United
States the decline in citizenship as supposed by Putnam and others is
only partly true. On certain dimensions of citizenship there is an increase
instead of a decline. We can conclude that solidarity has diversi¬ed, with
regard not only to the types that can be distinguished but also to pat-
terns of increase or decrease. The number of new solidarity initiatives
is hopeful and does not warrant a gloomy picture about contemporary
solidarity. One speci¬c domain of solidarity, however, that gives rise to
some concern is civil solidarity, which can determine the quality of the
public domain and of social life to a large extent.


Solidarity and the Gift

Not satis¬ed with a society fashioned by uncoordinated indi-
vidual efforts, one of humanity™s greatest accomplishments is
to translate egocentric community concerns into collective val-
ues. The desire for a modus vivendi fair to everyone may be
regarded as an evolutionary outgrowth of the need to get along
and cooperate, adding an ever-greater insight into the actions
that contribute to or interfere with this objective.
(Frans de Waal 1996: 207)

The classical sociological question about the bases of social order is of
great current interest. In our times there is a concern about the fate
of solidarity and social ties similar to that at the end of the nineteenth
century. In both eras signi¬cant social transformations were presumably
affecting the “cement of society.” In the preceding chapters we returned
to the works of the classical anthropologists and sociologists, as well as to
more modern theories. Once again the classics proved invaluable to our
understanding of the complexity of the current “problem of order.”
It is remarkable that so few attempts have been made to bridge an-
thropological and sociological theories on social ties and solidarity. In
the same period that Durkheim described the transformation from me-
chanical to organic solidarity, anthropologists conducted detailed ¬eld
studies about the origin of human societies in diverging cultures: from
North American Indian tribes to the Maori tribes in New Zealand and the

Contemporary Solidarity

inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands. Whereas the sociologists empha-
sized the shared values and norms and the new forms of mutual depen-
dency that the modernizing society brought about, the anthropologists
conceived of solidarity as the consequence of patterns of reciprocity be-
tween individuals, arising from the exchange of gifts and services.
In this chapter we investigate what the conditions are under which
contemporary solidarity comes into being and has positive or negative
consequences. In addition, an attempt is made to understand and explain
the essence of the transformation solidarity has gone through. But ¬rst,
we look back upon the preceding chapters, in order to see where their
main conclusions have brought us.

The Gift: Meanings and Motives

In Part I of this book we studied the basic meanings on which gift exchange
is founded. In Chapter 1 things were analyzed as developing meaning in
the context of social interaction and mutual communication between
people. Things evoke various emotions in people. Human beings expose
things to an “exchange of sacri¬ces” by exchanging them with others.
The value and meaning of things is derived from their “sacri¬ce” in
exchange rituals. Four broad categories of meaning, based on Alan Page
Fiske™s models of social relationships, are affectivity, with solidarity and
friendship as keywords; asymmetry and power inequality, in which one™s
status or power in relationships with other people is emphasized; equality
between those involved in a relationship; and instrumentality, with self-
interest, competition, and struggle as central notions. By focusing our
analysis on gifts as one important category of things, we con¬rmed the
four broad-meaning categories by some empirical data on gift exchange.
An important element in gift giving is the concept of sacri¬ce; in a gift not
only is an object sacri¬ced but also the identity of the giver or recipient
may be sacri¬ced in the exchange.

Solidarity and the Gift

Chapter 2 addressed the social and psychological patterns of giving
and receiving. The principle of reciprocity proved to be effective in the
“archaic” societies studied by anthropologists and also in gift exchange in
a Western society (in this case the Netherlands). The mutual recognition
of the identity of giver and recipient is the precondition for gift exchange.
Reciprocal recognition of other human beings, of their general human
worth as well as of their individual person and identity, seems also to
be the moral basis for solidarity, even though this is not stated explic-
itly in theories on solidarity. Fiske™s four relational models can again be
recognized in some empirical data about motives to give. Although not
completely covering all the motives reported, affectivity, equality, power,
and instrumentality again prove to be basic motivational dimensions of
gift giving. Gifts can be both positive and negative; they can create as well
as disturb or undermine social ties.
In Chapter 3 we saw that the cycle of gift and countergift is sustained
by means of gratitude. Gratitude has a spiritual, magical, or religious
layer expressed in the mainly non-Western idea that people are part of a
natural cycle and should give back to nature what riches they have taken
from it. In a second layer, gratitude is conceived as a moral virtue and an
important aspect of character. The third and fourth layers consist of the
social and cultural meanings of gratitude: gratitude as the moral basis
of both reciprocity and social bonds, and of community and a shared
culture. In theories on social ties and solidarity the concept of gratitude
is notoriously absent, even though gratitude is the core of the reciprocal
moral obligation involved in many instances of solidarity. Family soli-
darity, for instance, is often inspired by a generalized sense of gratitude
(also called delayed reciprocity): my parents have raised me and given me
so much; now it is my turn to care for them. And, at least as common,
the lack of gratitude due to the parents™ failure to contribute to one™s
own well-being can turn into anger and resentment, and act as a forceful
motive to refrain from solidarity.

Contemporary Solidarity

Chapter 4 focused on the gendered meaning of gift giving. Because
women are the more generous gift givers, the analysis considered the still
existing power inequality between men and women that results from the
difference in their disposable material and nonmaterial resources.
Women and men bene¬t alternatively from women™s greater generosity.
On the one hand, men may derive certain bene¬ts from being less in-
volved in gift giving than women: they are less constrained by the obli-
gations connected to the “gift work” while at the same time receiving
numerous gifts themselves. For women, the risk of gift giving (remember
that not only material gifts but also nonmaterial ones were included in
the analysis) may be to lose their own autonomy and identity by being
overly self-sacri¬cing. On the other hand, women™s greater share in gift
giving may yield them some substantial advantages. Through their gift
giving women are the prime intermediaries in creating and af¬rming
social ties, which, presumably, result in social capital. Women are more
accustomed than men to express their concern for other people in con-
crete acts of benevolence, and this can act as a boomerang so that they will
proportionally receive concern and benevolence in return. Women play
a signi¬cant role in the production and maintenance of the social texture
of our society. In some of its manifestations, then, solidarity is clearly

Solidarity and Selectivity

In Part II of this book the focus shifted from the various meanings as-
sociated with gift giving to the classical anthropological and sociological
theories on solidarity and to some concrete cases of solidarity. In partic-
ular, Part II drew attention to some negative aspects of solidarity.
In Chapter 5 we observed that compared with the overwhelming at-
tention 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

Solidarity and the Gift

offer a broader range of possible motives than the work of the classi-
cal sociologists: from the “pure” gift given to close relatives, through
equivalent reciprocity, to forms of exchange based on self-interest. An-
thropologists point to another important motive that may be involved
in creating and maintaining social order: power. Gifts can serve as in-
struments 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 ri-
vals. The theory of the gift revealed the same four motives to engage in
social relationships as had already been discussed in Chapter 1. A ¬nal
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 sol-
idarity,” 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 give much also receive much, whereas poor givers are poor re-
cipients as well. A Matthew effect is at work, bene¬ting the most generous
givers and disadvantaging those who are already in poor social and mate-
rial 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 pro¬t 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 identi¬es
most, again echoes the negative side of solidarity.

Contemporary 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 ¬rmly rooted
in shared values and characterized by a natural propensity to display soli-
darity toward its members. In our individualized society this solidarity is
assumed to be in decline, or at least to have become less self-evident. Em-
pirical data presented in this chapter, however, suggest that the broadly
felt concern about the vitality of family bonds and intergenerational sol-
idarity is not warranted. People are still willing to contribute, ¬nancially
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 identi¬cation. Moreover, family ties are often
ambivalent and based on contradictory feelings.

Contemporary Solidarity

Whereas the ¬rst seven chapters highlighted various classical and more
modern theories on gift giving as well as solidarity, in Chapter 8 the fo-
cus was on changes in contemporary solidarity. Various cultural critics
have propounded rather gloomy views about the consequences of the
individualization process for contemporary citizenship. Individuals are
thought to be less committed to politics as an institution and to the
attainments of the welfare state; they are assumed to be less able to en-
gage in longer-term projects and relationships, and their life course has
become more fragmented. As a consequence of individualization and
the increased diversity of social and cultural identities and involvements
people™s uncertainty about their own identity and place in the world has
grown. This uncertainty may increase still more, due to the arrival of
“strangers” in many Western societies. In addition, the 1960s has created

Solidarity and the Gift

a self that is more assertive than ever before and that tends to reinforce
itself above other selves. Against these possibly negative developments,
new opportunities to form social ties and develop solidarity have been
created by the globalization process. In the second part of this chapter
the attention shifted to more empirically based changes in solidarity in
Western societies. The picture proved varied: some forms of traditional
solidarity have diminished but others are on the rise, and also new forms
of solidarity can be observed. It is therefore impossible to speak in general
terms about a decrease or increase of solidarity. The many new initiatives
and the solid base of many traditional forms of solidarity do not give
rise to gloominess about contemporary solidarity, as we concluded in
Chapter 8. The observed decline in civil solidarity, though, does warrant
some concern.
At this point, we return to the central question of this book: how can the
combined insights derived from the theories on the gift and on solidarity
contribute to our understanding of both the positive and the negative
manifestations of contemporary solidarity? From the anthropological
and sociological literature four relevant dimensions emerge: recognition
of otherness, social distance, motives for solidarity, and reciprocity.

Solidarity and the Gift

Recognition of the Other

The anthropological theory of the gift can be considered a theory of
human solidarity, as we have seen. The principle of reciprocity underlying
gift exchange proved to be the fundament of human society. It contains
the moral basis for the development of social ties and solidarity because its
implicit assumption is the recognition of the other person as a potential
ally. The social and cultural system on which archaic societies were based
rested on the mutual acceptance of the other as a partner in gift exchange.
Recognition of the other as a human being proves to be an essential


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