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based on the subjective feeling of togetherness, Weber speaks of commu-
nal relationships. This feeling may stem from affection or from tradition,
but it is essential that more than the mere feeling of togetherness is in-
volved. “It is only when this feeling leads to a mutual orientation of their
behaviour to each other that a social relationship arises between them”
(1947 [1922]: 138). Associative relationships are at issue when the ori-
entation of action springs from a rationally motivated correspondence
between interests. This rationality may be inspired either by certain ab-
solute values or by instrumental and utilitarian considerations. An ex-
ample is market exchange, consisting of a compromise between opposed
but complementary interests. Another example is the purely voluntary
association between individuals on the basis of their self-interest; or the
voluntary association of individuals sharing certain values.
Different from associative relationships, communal relationships
have an affective, emotional, or traditional basis “ for example, religious
fraternities, erotic relationships, personal loyalty, or the esprit de corps

Solidarity and Selectivity

within the military. The most typical communal relationship is the fam-
ily, according to Weber. Most social relationships possess this affective
component but are at the same time determined by associational factors.
“No matter how calculating and hard-headed the ruling considerations
in such a social relationship “ as that of a merchant to his customers “
may be, it is quite possible for it to involve emotional values which tran-
scend its utilitarian signi¬cance” (1947 [1922]: 137). Like Durkheim Weber
stresses the impossibility of a strict distinction between the different types
of social relationship: they are ideal types. In everyday practice any so-
cial relationship that transcends the pursuit of immediate interests and
is of a longer duration generates enduring social bonds, which cannot
be reduced to mere utilitarian considerations. The reverse is also true:
within communal relationships actions may sometimes be inspired by
utilitarian motives.
The American sociologist Talcott Parsons is clearly inspired by these
founding fathers of sociology (1952, 1977). For instance, Durkheim™s em-
phasis on the contribution of common values to the integration of so-
cial systems can be recognized in The Social System (1952). In this book
Parsons distinguishes loyalty from solidarity. He considers loyalty the
noninstitutionalized precursor of solidarity: the individual motivation
to conform to the interests or expectations of another person. Only
when these expectations have become an institutionalized obligation
can we speak of solidarity. Inasmuch as these roles are institutional-
ized, solidarity with the collectivity of which one is a part is involved.
Also Parsons returns to T¨ nnies™s terminology in his differentiation be-
tween certain types of collectivity: “A collectivity in which expressive
interests have primacy in its orientation to continual action in concert
may . . . be called a Gemeinschaft; one in which instrumental interests
have primacy is an ˜organization™” (1952: 100). Like Durkheim and Weber,
Parsons acknowledges the possibility of mixtures between Gemeinschaft
and Gesellschaft, for instance, in relationships between the incumbents
of certain professional roles and their clients: universalism, functional

Social Theory and Social Ties

speci¬city, and affective neutrality “ characteristics of Gesellschaft “ go
along with the obligation implied in the profession to serve the commu-
nity, irrespective of any ¬nancial considerations.
Parsons does not develop a full-blown theory of solidarity. However,
he does have a clear-cut opinion on the basis of solidarity: “I should like
to suggest that the primary ˜cement™ which makes such groups solidary is
affective ties” (1952: 157). In the process of socialization within the family
the child develops its ¬rst affective ties. This is the basis of the formation
of an internalized capacity to affectivity that can be transferred to objects
outside the family. Affectivity is, according to Parsons, a “generalized
medium” comparable with money, power, and in¬‚uence.
From these various sociological accounts two main types of solidarity
come to the fore, whose bases are only seemingly in opposition to each
other. They are brought together in the following scheme:

Gemeinschaft Gesellschaft
mechanical solidarity organic solidarity
communal relationships associative relationships
expressive relationships instrumental relationships

One may feel tempted to associate the left column with preindustrial
society in which small homogeneous communities are tied together by
strong feelings of solidarity, and to regard the right column as the pro-
totype of modern solidarity as it has evolved in industrialized society.
The underlying assumptions about human nature involve, on the one
hand, homo sociologicus, the individual as embedded in small-scale so-
cial relationships, and whose solidary behavior is based on internalized
moral obligations and, on the other hand, homo economicus, the rational,
market-oriented individual, whose moral codes are abstract and univer-
sal. Solidarity is synonymous, here, with promoting the collective interest
of mutually dependent individuals.
As we have seen, such a simpli¬ed dichotomy is not found in the
works of the classical authors just discussed. Although most of them

Solidarity and Selectivity

distinguish different types of solidarity, they all emphasize that these
types are not mutually exclusive and, indeed, often occur together in
varying combinations. The idea that the two types of solidarity do not
exclude each other seems to have been lost in more modern theories, as I
argue in a moment, after discussing some other classical anthropological
and sociological contributions.

Reciprocity and Morality as Bases of Social Ties

Malinowski™s detailed account of the Kula ritual “ the pattern of ceremo-
nial gift exchange among the population of the Trobriand archipelago
discussed in Chapter 3 “ describes a continuous gift exchange that takes
place between the inhabitants of these islands. It follows a ¬xed pattern
with articles of two kinds constantly traveling in opposite directions and
constantly being exchanged. Every detail of the transactions is ¬xed and
regulated by a set of rules and conventions. Most important is that the
gifts keep moving through the archipelago: a gift should never stagnate.
The issue is not the durable possession of certain articles but the princi-
ple of exchange itself. The ever continuing movement of the objects from
one (temporary) owner to the next is crucial in the process of acquiring
a personal and social identity, status, and prestige and of creating social
Malinowski proposes a continuum of feelings involved in gift giving.
Pure gifts, altruistic gifts for which nothing is expected in return, and gifts
that can be characterized as barter or forms of exchange where personal
pro¬t is the dominant motive, are the exceptions. Most typical are motives
that lie in between these extremes. More or less equivalent reciprocity,
attended by clear expectations of returns, is the general rule underly-
ing gift exchange. According to Malinowski this economic dimension
of gift giving corresponds with the sociological dimension of kinship:
gifts to kin and partners are more often given disinterestedly, whereas
more or less direct expectations of returns and elements of barter are

Social Theory and Social Ties

more characteristic of gifts given to persons farther away in the kinship
Like his master Durkheim, Marcel Mauss takes a critical stance to-
ward the then prevailing utilitarian strands in political theory by em-
phasizing the values of altruism and solidarity. However, he goes beyond
Durkheim™s conceptions of solidarity as based on collective representa-
tions or on the mutual dependency implied in the division of labor, by
discovering gift exchange as the mechanism that reconciles individual in-
terests and the creation of a social system. Mauss radicalizes Malinowski™s
insights by stating that do ut des is the principal rule in all gift giving. In
his view, there are no free gifts: “Generosity and self-interest are linked in
giving” (1990 [1923]: 68). He considers gift exchange as a subtle mixture
of altruism and sel¬shness. Customs of potlatch “ rivalrous gift giving in
order to gain status and power (see Chapter 1) “ illustrate this mixture
in its most extreme form. Giving is not only a material act but also a
symbolic medium involving strong moral obligations to give in return.
By means of giving mutually it becomes possible to communicate with
other people, to help them, and to create alliances. Gift exchange is at
the basis of a system of mutual obligations between people and, as such,
functions as the moral cement of human society and culture, according
to Mauss.
In a work written some decades later, L´ vi-Strauss (1961 [1949]) de-
velops these insights further by considering the principle of reciprocity
as a social structure determining our values, feelings, and actions. This
is illustrated, for example, by the exchange of women by men in some
non-Western societies. The principle of reciprocity is not limited to so-
called primitive societies but also applies to Western society, according to
L´ vi-Strauss. He mentions examples in the sphere of offering food and
the exchange of presents at Christmas. Forms of potlatch occur in our
own society as well; for instance, the exhibition of Christmas cards on our
mantelpiece and the vanity of much gift giving exemplify the destruction
of wealth as a means to express or gain prestige. Far from being neutral

Solidarity and Selectivity

objects without any special symbolic value, gifts are “vehicles and instru-
ments for realities of another order: in¬‚uence, power, sympathy, status,
emotion; and the skilful game of exchange consists of a complex totality
of manoeuvres, conscious or unconscious, in order to gain security and
to fortify one™s self against risks incurred through alliances and rivalry”
(1965: 86).
L´ vi-Strauss makes the important distinction between “restricted ex-
change,” involving only two partners, and “generalized exchange,” which
refers to a more complex structure of exchange relationships. The concept
of generalized exchange has been reconsidered by Sahlins (1972), who dis-
tinguishes between “generalized,” “balanced,” and “negative” reciprocity
and richly illustrates these different forms with ethnographic materials.
In generalized reciprocity “ the disinterested extreme “ the expectation
of returns is inde¬nite, and returns are not stipulated by time, quantity,
or quality. Like Gouldner and Malinowski, Sahlins mentions the circle of
near kin and loved ones as an example. Feelings of altruism and solidarity
supposedly accompany this type of exchange. Balanced reciprocity is less
personal and refers to direct and equivalent exchange without much delay.
It is more likely in relationships that are more emotionally distant. Feel-
ings of mutual obligation go together with balanced reciprocity. Sahlins
describes negative reciprocity “ the unsociable extreme “ as the “attempt
to get something for nothing” (1972: 195). He summarizes his model as
“kindred goes with kindness,” and “close kin tend to share, to enter in
generalized exchanges, and distant and nonkin to deal in equivalents or
in guile” (Sahlins 1972: 196, quoting Tylor).
Conscious or unconscious expectations of reciprocity not only bring
social relations about; they also stabilize already existing relations by mak-
ing them predictable to a certain extent. In his essay “Faithfulness and
gratitude,” Simmel (1950 [1908]) analyzes the moral and social impor-
tance of these two feelings for sustaining reciprocity in human relation-
ships. The different psychological motives on which social relations can
be based, such as love, hate, and passion, are in themselves not suf¬cient

Social Theory and Social Ties

to keep these relations alive. Simmel considers faithfulness “ a kind of
loyalty or commitment “ a necessary feeling contributing to the continu-
ity of an already existing social relationship. Faithfulness is what he calls
a “sociological feeling,” oriented to the relation as such, in contrast to the
more person-oriented feelings like love, hate, or friendship. Gratitude is,
just like faithfulness, a powerful means to establish social cohesion, as
has been argued in Chapter 3. This is why Simmel calls gift giving “one of
the strongest sociological functions”: without it society would not come
Also Alvin Gouldner explores the “norm of reciprocity” as a mech-
anism to start social relationships. This norm helps to create social in-
teraction “for it can reduce an actor™s hesitancy to be the ¬rst to part
with his valuables and thus enable exchange to get underway” (1973a:
255). Although equivalence and mutuality can be powerful motives to
exchange gifts, Gouldner, following Simmel, points to the fact that reci-
procity does not necessarily mean equivalence. However, Gouldner goes
further than Simmel by re¬‚ecting more explicitly on the complicat-
ing role of power in reciprocity relations and by elaborating it theo-
retically. As we have seen in Chapter 3, reciprocal exchange relation-
ships may be very asymmetrical. In addition to the norm of reciprocity,
Gouldner distinguishes the “norm of bene¬cence,” or the norm of giv-
ing “something for nothing” (Malinowski™s “free gift”): the expression
of real altruism. This kind of giving is not a reaction to gifts received
from others. It is a powerful correction mechanism in situations where
existing social relationships have become disturbed, or where people
need care or help. Paradoxically, says Gouldner, “There is no gift that
brings a higher return than the free gift, the gift given with no strings
attached. For that which is truly given freely moves men deeply and
makes them most indebted to their benefactors. In the end, if it is reci-
procity that holds the mundane world together, it is bene¬cence that
transcends this world and can make men weep the tears of reconciliation”
(1973b: 277).

Solidarity and Selectivity

Despite clear-cut differences in approach, Simmel, Malinowski, Mauss,
L´ vi-Strauss, Gouldner, and Sahlins all seem to stress the same point: gifts
are the moral cement of culture and society. Although power may compli-
cate the principle of reciprocity, the primordial meaning of gift exchange
is to start or to stabilize social relationships. An interesting parallel with
the ideas of Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons, who do not so much oppose
but rather juxtapose communal and instrumental relationship types, is
that self-interest and the creation of social order are not regarded as con-
tradictory. Generosity and self-interest go hand in hand in gift exchange,
and it is exactly this combination that fosters the development of social

Modern Theory: Splitting Up Affection and Utility

In more modern conceptualizations of solidarity, two approaches have
come into existence, the one stressing instrumental and utilitarian mo-
tives, the other considering norms, values, and emotions as the bases
of solidarity. Authors like Hechter (1987), Coleman (1986), Elster (1989),
Raub (1997), Lindenberg (1998), and (very differently) de Swaan (1988)
are representatives of the ¬rst tradition, whereas scholars such as Mayhew
(1971) and Etzioni (1988) can be said to advance the second approach.

Solidarity and Rational Choice Theory

Rational choice theorists differ with regard to the centrality of the role of
self-interest in their theories. Some allow for other motivations as well.
John Elster (1989), for instance, thinks that, in addition to self-interest,
altruism, envy, and social norms are also contributing to social order,
stability, and cooperation. Other rational choice theorists, though, regard
self-interest as the prevailing motivation in determining an actor™s choices
between various action possibilities. One of the best-known theories of
solidarity based on this latter view of rational choice is Michael Hechter™s.

Social Theory and Social Ties

In his Principles of Group Solidarity (1987) he objects to three sociological
traditions of thinking about solidarity: the normativistic, functionalist,
and structuralist vision.
The ¬rst perspective, embodied in the work of Durkheim and Parsons,
considers order as the result of internalized group norms. From the func-
tionalist perspective that Hechter associates, for instance, with Elster,
solidarity is explained by the survival value of certain forms of solidary
behavior, whereas in the structuralist vision certain societal structures “
for instance, patterns of strati¬cation “ are seen as the cause of group soli-
darity. Marx and Simmel provide examples of this approach. In Hechter™s
view, none of these approaches can explain differences in the degree to
which people feel tied to the group or under which conditions group
members will or will not conform to their obligations toward the group.
The starting point of his own rational choice approach of solidarity is
that individuals are “bearers of sets of given, discrete, nonambiguous, and
transitive preferences” (1987: 30). In a situation where they can choose
between alternative possibilities of action, they will always choose that
alternative that presumably brings them the greatest pro¬t. As pro¬t max-
imizers, rational individuals are supposed to behave coherently and to
be goal-oriented; they are, in brief, “rational egoists.” Institutions play
a regulating role, because they keep control of individual behavior by
means of the rules they have developed.
An important factor explaining the extent to which people feel tied
to a group is their dependency on the group for the satisfaction of their
needs. In its turn, dependency is in¬‚uenced by the availability of alter-
native resources for need satisfaction, the available information about
these resources, the costs involved in leaving the group, and the strength
of the personal ties among group members. The greater the dependency
of the members, the stronger the group ties and obligations felt toward
the group. The strength of group ties, however, is not enough to explain
solidary behavior. Solidarity presupposes that people are in fact com-
mitting themselves to the group™s ends and do not become “free riders.”

Solidarity and Selectivity

Compliance requires formal controls, a group™s means to counteract free
riding. The group must have suf¬cient resources in order to be able to
punish or reward its members effectively depending on their contribution
to the group.
A similar perspective is found in the work of Coleman (1986). How
can individual interests be reconciled with collective rationality? Coleman
and Fararo (1992: xi“xii) describe as the principal aim of rational choice
theory “to understand how actions that are reasonable or rational for
actors can combine to produce social outcomes, sometimes intended by
actors, sometimes unintended, sometimes socially optimal, sometimes
non-optimal.” The Dutch tradition of theoretical sociology also departs
from a rational choice perspective in its focus on the interdependency of
actors and the intended and unintended consequences of their behavior.
Raub (1997: 23) argues, for instance, that, if we assume that “actors act
according to their interests and that the interests of actors are their own
interests,” people will coordinate their actions while acknowledging in-
terdependency with other actors in order to reach their economic and
social goals.
The tension between individual and collective interests and rationality
is also central to de Swaan™s study about the rise of collective forms of
solidarity in Europe and the United States (1988). Which are the indirect
consequences of the misfortunes of some people for others who do not
suffer directly from these misfortunes? Using diverging theoretical per-
spectives like Elias™s civilization theory and Olson™s theory on the logic of
collective action, de Swaan analyzes the historical process in which people
have become more and more dependent on each other, and the implica-
tions of this process for social solidarity. As interdependency networks
became more extended, rami¬ed, and complex, the in¬‚uence of people™s
actions on others who took part in the same networks increased. Greater
mutual dependency implies that the needs of some “ caused by poverty,
illness, or a lack of education “ come to represent a threat to others who
suffer less from these misfortunes. Poverty, for instance, meant a threat to

Social Theory and Social Ties

public order, epidemics were threatening the lives of healthy individuals
as well, and low education involved the risk of social exclusion of some,
and therefore social instability for all. Therefore, it was in the rational
self-interest of the privileged citizens to contribute ¬nancially and to ar-
range collective welfare facilities. The general access of these collective
goods and the risk of free riding and abuse were the reasons for the de-
velopment of the system of state-based care where everybody is equally
obliged to contribute to the collective good.

Norms, Values, and Emotions as Bases of Solidarity

A very different approach of solidarity states that people come to feel
committed to each other because they experience mutual attraction and
want to identify with others and act loyally toward them. Solidarity starts
with feelings of mutual connectedness. This view can be found in the
work of Mayhew (1971). According to him solidary behavior is often
organized in certain institutions, which he calls “systems of solidarity.”
An example is the family. Its function is “encouraging, stabilising, and
regulating patterns of attraction, repulsion, loyalty, and identity within a
population” (1971: 68). But solidarity is not restricted to kinship systems.
People feel solidarity with all sorts of communities, ethnic groups, groups
of colleagues, religious groupings, or even nations. Mayhew distinguishes
between four forms of solidarity. First is the primary ties of affection
between people, or attraction. When a group member not only feels
attracted to the group but also cares for the unity of the group and the
group ends, loyalty is involved. The other two forms of solidarity are
not so much based on direct emotional attachment to others but rather
on a feeling of belonging to the group, or identi¬cation. Identi¬cation
with a group often surpasses attraction or loyalty; for instance, people
may identify with homosexuals, blacks, or people of higher education,
as a group. The fourth form of solidarity is association; this solidarity
transcends established group identities and distinctions. The latter two

Solidarity and Selectivity

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