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forms of solidarity correspond to Durkheim™s organic solidarity, whereas
the more direct attraction among individuals resembles his mechanical
A related perspective can be found in Etzioni™s work. In accordance with
the communitarian tradition in American philosophy and social science,
Etzioni (1988) pleads for the revaluation of “the moral dimension.” He
criticizes what he calls the neoclassical paradigm because it rests upon
a rationalistic, utilitarian, and individualistic picture of human nature.
This picture is wrong, says Etzioni. People do feel commitment toward
the community; they do have a sense of shared identity and shared moral
values. Choices that people make are often inspired by affective and nor-
mative motives. Moreover, individuals have only limited intellectual and
cognitive capacities, which prevents them from surveying all possible
consequences of their actions. Most choices are therefore not rational at
all, or only to a limited degree. In short, people are not merely striving
for their own pleasure or pro¬ts but act also on the basis of internalized
values and shared norms. The neoclassical paradigm has not only ignored
the moral dimension but has denied its existence.
In the next sections I combine elements from both sociological and
anthropological theories relevant to the theme of solidarity, including
the functions of ritual for solidarity and cohesion that have not yet been

Combining Anthropological and Sociological Theory

Reciprocal Obligation

In Mauss™s threefold obligation “ to give, to receive, and to reciprocate
a gift “ the principle of reciprocity is succinctly symbolized. As a con-
sequence of these obligations a perpetual cycle of exchanges is set up
within and between generations. Social ties are created, sustained, and
strengthened by means of gifts. Acts of gift exchange are at the basis of

Social Theory and Social Ties

human solidarity. The fact that gifts enhance solidarity is not restricted
to the archaic and non-Western societies described by Mauss. In our own
society the core meaning of gift giving “ its contribution to social ties “
has not changed fundamentally, although obviously its role and func-
tions in modern, monetarized society cannot be compared with those in
nonmonetarized, archaic society. Whereas in the latter type of society the
entire social system, including its economic, legal, religious, and moral
foundations, was maintained though gift exchange (it was a “total social
phenomenon,” as Mauss calls it), in modern society gift exchange has in-
creasingly come to be considered the opposite of economic exchange. Gift
exchange is supposed to belong to the private sphere and is associated with
informal and not always completely predictable social relations, whereas
economic exchange belongs to the domain of the market with its formal-
ized and predictable relations (Brown 1986). Nowadays, gift exchange has
become an instance of “social exchange” as opposed to “economic ex-
change.” Gift exchange is supposed to support the “morals” implied in so-
cial ties, whereas economic exchange fosters “markets” (Cheal 1988). The
differences between social and economic exchange have been summed up
by Brown (1986): the terms of social, in contrast to economic, exchange
are never explicit and cannot be enforced by law; above all, the de¬nition
of equivalency is not discussible.
Although too sharp an opposition between morals and markets has
been criticized (see Chapter 1), there remains a difference between the
two that relates to their respective potential of bringing about human
solidarity: gifts given in informal relationships invariably affect human
solidarity, whereas goods exchanged on the market do not. Anthropol-
ogists and ethnologists agree on the core role of the moral obligation
to return the gift. Because this obligation alternates between the parties
involved in exchange, durable social bonds and networks are created en-
abling patterns of reciprocal exchange to come into existence. Although
in sociological theory reciprocal obligation has been recognized as an
aspect of solidarity (Weesie, Buskens, and Raub 1998), it has received far

Solidarity and Selectivity

less attention in sociology than in anthropology. Nevertheless, the idea
of reciprocity is implied in most contemporary conceptions of solidarity
and related concepts like trust and cooperation (Misztal 1996).


The classical sociologists considered solidarity, on the one hand, as based
on affective ties and shared norms and values, often associated with the
small-scale communities of traditional society; on the other hand, the
more instrumental ties of association were supposed to be characteris-
tic of more complex societies where functions are specialized and where
market relations have replaced the former subsistence economy. All these
authors emphasize that their distinctions between different forms of sol-
idarity are ideal types: in concrete reality the bonds between people often
show a certain mixture. The same idea returns in Mauss™s essay on the
gift: altruism and sel¬shness are intermingled in the act of giving. It is ex-
actly this mixture that makes gift exchange a self-sustaining system: those
who refuse to take part in it place themselves outside the community.
In more modern theories on solidarity this important insight has been
In Malinowski™s assumption of a continuum of feelings involved in
gift giving, the different types of motives underlying solidarity can be
recognized: pure gifts, given out of affection, versus barter, a form of
exchange that is mainly pro¬t-oriented. Different types of motives in gift
giving were thought to belong to different types of social relationships.
The idea of a connection between the nature of the feelings involved in gift
exchange and the type of social relationship in which it takes place returns
in the work of Gouldner and Sahlins. Giving “something for nothing,”
without any concrete stipulation of returns, is supposed to occur within
the circle of close kin, whereas the “attempt to get something for nothing”
is more likely with strangers.

Social Theory and Social Ties

In addition to the affection-instrumentality dimension, another sig-
ni¬cant motive to give and to create social ties comes to the fore, in
particular in the work of Simmel, Mauss, L´ vi-Strauss, and Gouldner:
power. In much anthropological writing the exchange of gifts is analyzed
as a contest of honor. This type of gift giving may be seen as a battle re-
volving around the authority, status, and prestige of the partners involved
in the exchange. It is Gouldner™s merit to have analyzed the different ways
power may be implied in gift exchange. Although we may be inclined to
think that equivalence or equality “ tit-for-tat “ is the main principle
of exchange, Gouldner points to the different forms that asymmetrical
reciprocity may take. The notion of honor, the dangers of starting and
maintaining an exchange process, and the rivalry and power that may
color it are regular aspects of gift exchange and of attempts to create so-
cial order. Social order comprises not only ties rooted in harmony and
peace but power and authority relations as well. The theory of the gift
has made this particularly clear.
Equality or equivalence, the idea of quid pro quo, is a common basis of
exchange processes as well. To Malinowski the “pure gift” and barter are
the more exceptional motives to give, and equality or equivalence is the
most common pattern of exchange. Whether equality is in fact the main
basis of exchange, more important than, for instance, power, affectivity,
or instrumentality, remains a matter of empirical veri¬cation, but that
it is a regularly occurring pattern has been empirically demonstrated in
Chapter 2.
The theory of the gift reveals a range of motives returning in theories
of solidarity, but the variety of motives present in gift theory is larger.
The various types of motives underlying gift giving correspond to the
four models of people™s relations to things and to each other, as distin-
guished by Alan Page Fiske. Whereas sociological theory on solidarity
mainly focuses on Fiske™s ¬rst and fourth type of relationship (affectiv-
ity or “community,” and instrumentality or “market”), anthropological

Solidarity and Selectivity

theories on gift giving demonstrate that, in addition to affectivity and
instrumentality, also equality and power may be involved in attempts to
create or maintain social order.


A ¬nal element connecting anthropological and sociological theory on
gifts and solidarity is ritual. From Durkheim™s sociology of religion (1965
[1912]) “ in particular, his analysis of “primitive” Australian cults and be-
liefs “ the enormous impact of ritual for af¬rming and sustaining social
bonds and social structure has become apparent. Religious rituals are
adaptive to the life of the community by imposing self-discipline. They
bring people together in ceremonies, thereby contributing to solidarity.
Ritual also “revitalizes the social heritage of the group and helps transmit
its enduring values to future generations” (Coser 1971: 139). Moreover,
rituals have a euphoric function by counteracting feelings of frustra-
tion and by establishing the sense of being right and acting in a morally
justi¬ed way.
It is the merit of anthropologists to have uncovered the variety and
complexity of the meanings and functions of ritual. They have described
and interpreted the numerous rituals surrounding important transitions
in the life cycle, or other events that demand sacralization and ritualiza-
tion (van Gennep 1960; L´ vi-Strauss 1966 [1962]; V. Turner 1969; Geertz
1973). In his fascinating account of the Balinese cock¬ght, Clifford Geertz
(1973) offers an interpretation of ritual that differs from the usual func-
tionalist one of reinforcing status positions and social structure. The
cock¬ght can be “read as a text” saying something about Balinese experi-
ence. Participating in a cock¬ght is for the Balinese “a kind of sentimental
education” (1973: 449). The ritual symbolizes that society is built of cer-
tain emotions like the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, and the pleasure
of triumph. “Drawing on almost every level of Balinese experience, it
brings together themes “ animal savagery, male narcissism, opponent

Social Theory and Social Ties

gambling, status rivalry, mass excitement, blood sacri¬ce “ whose main
connection is their involvement with rage and the fear of rage, and, bind-
ing them into a set of rules which at once contains them and allows
them play, builds a symbolic structure in which, over and over again, the
reality of their inner af¬liation can be intelligibly felt” (Geertz 1973: 449“
450). The symbolic structure of the cock¬ght allows emotions to be ex-
pressed while at the same time putting restrictions on them by the setting
of rules.
By bringing together assorted experiences of everyday life, the rit-
ual creates a “paradigmatic human event” enabling the Balinese to see
a dimension of their own subjectivity that they would not have seen
otherwise, at least not in such a condensed form. This seems to be a
basic aspect of solidarity as well: by participating in a group activity
the individual members learn how to “read” themselves, how their ba-
sic emotions become transformed in the interaction with other people,
and how their individual being gets shaped through their interdepen-
dency with other people. In this sense rituals reinforce the main basis
of organic solidarity: mutual dependency. Rituals tie people together be-
cause they give expression to feelings of group dependency, even while
group members do not share exactly the same values or interpret the
ritual in exactly the same way (Kertzer 1988). In addition to the well-
known functions of ritual as af¬rming social ties, revitalizing group life,
and promoting the attainment of group goals, at a more basic level it
may function as a “school” where lessons can be learned about how the
group can contribute to realizing one™s own full potential. If it is true,
as Durkheim thought, that individuals can only become fully human in
and through society, then social rituals presumably ful¬ll an important
socializing role.
In most anthropological work on gift exchange the focus is on the ritual
and symbolic aspects of gift giving. Gifts are not primarily or predomi-
nantly exchanged for any economic purpose. Rather, they are instruments
to convey symbolic messages of the most varied kind, as L´ vi-Strauss has

Solidarity and Selectivity

argued. Individuals participating in the ritual and respecting its symbols
see their “emotional energy” and mutual con¬dence enhanced. Inversely,
persons showing disrespect for the symbols are subject to anger and
punishment. The solidarity generated through the interaction processes
involved in gift exchange indeed transcends the mere behavioral inter-
action between the exchange partners by extending it to the emotional
mood and the quality of the social relationship.


Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.
(Mary Douglas 1990: vii)

The form of altruism closest to egoism is care of the immediate
family. In species after species, we see signs of kin selection:
altruism is disproportionally directed at relatives. Humans are
no exception.
(Frans de Waal 1996: 212)

Informal gift giving acts as the cement of social relationships because it
implies a principle of give-and-take or a norm of reciprocity, as we have
seen in the preceding chapters. This is why, according to Mary Douglas
(1990), gifts essentially contribute to solidarity. In this chapter we re-
gard a certain type of gift as an expression of solidarity. Gifts can be
material as well as nonmaterial. For instance, working as a volunteer for
the bene¬t of the community or providing care or help can be consid-
ered gifts. But at the same time these are acts of solidarity toward other
people. The degree of directness of the solidarity varies with the social
distance involved: from the abstract and anonymous giving to charity, to
doing voluntary work for a social organization or for some good cause,
to offering concrete help or care to people with whom one is personally
involved. As gift giving is more abstract and anonymous, reciprocity will

Solidarity and Selectivity

be less. The more familiar one is with the recipient of the gift, the more
a form of reciprocity is to be expected. This does not necessarily imply
that anonymous gift giving or performing volunteer work is more dis-
interested than gift giving within the context of personal relationships.
As far as empirical data about motives underlying gift giving are avail-
able, they show that a range of considerations may be involved, varying
from love and affection to self-interested, instrumental, or power-driven
motives (see Chapter 2). Although in giving to charitable organizations
purely instrumental motives are not very likely, it is not inconceivable
that soothing one™s conscience or tax deductibility are part of the giver™s
Just like gifts, solidarity is not always inherently positive in its inten-
tions or consequences. This chapter examines not only positive effects of
solidarity but some negative outcomes as well. Within a solidary group
pressures toward conformity and egalitarianism may occur. Ingroup sol-
idarity may have negative effects for those who are not participating in
the network. Moreover, solidarity may have a selective character in that
it promotes the well-being of some but does not contribute to or is even
hampering that of others. Initiating ties with some people by means
of gift giving implies by de¬nition that others are excluded. Sociologi-
cally, it is therefore interesting to investigate which social categories enter
into gift relationships and which groups are excluded from these
This chapter starts by presenting empirical data on some positive man-
ifestations of contemporary solidarity. Three forms of solidarity are ex-
amined in detail: giving money, giving time to volunteer work, and giving
care or help to persons in one™s own surroundings. Data from national
Dutch surveys are used to get an impression of the state of solidarity
in these respects. The chapter continues with a theoretical discussion of
some of the more negative aspects and outcomes of solidarity. In the
¬nal section, a selection of data derived from the previously mentioned

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

research project on gift giving in the Netherlands (Komter and Schuyt
1993a; 1993b) is presented in order to demonstrate that solidarity is a two-
edged sword: in addition to strengthening human bonds, it may also act
as a principle of exclusion.

Positive Manifestations of Solidarity

Giving Money

In the Netherlands large amounts of money are given to charity. During
the past ten years there has been a growing “charity market” with a yearly
increase in charitable donations. Only about 7% of the Dutch people
never contribute to charity. Population growth and the annual rise of net
income are some obvious explanations. But also when money gifts are
calculated as a fraction of the national income, a slight increase is visible
between 1995 and 1999 (T. Schuyt 2001). The Dutch give most to church
and ideological organizations (26%), then to health care (17%), interna-
tional help (16%), environment, nature, animal care (14%), sports and
recreation (12%), and societal (10%) organizations. From the work of
American authors like Wolfe (1989) and Wuthnow (1991) it appears that
the growth of the “third sector” is not an exclusively Dutch phenomenon.
Unlike the Netherlands, however, in the United States a decline of money
gifts as percentage of the gross national product has been observed
(Putnam 2000).
In addition to population growth and income rise, the American soci-
ologist Alan Wolfe (1989) suggests some other factors that might in¬‚uence
people™s giving to charity “ for instance, trust in the economy and strong
family and community ties. The fact that during the past decade the Dutch
economy has ¬‚ourished as almost never before might partly explain the
Dutch generosity. Unfortunately, no research is available as yet that is able
to clarify the extent to which the increase of donations to charity is caused

Solidarity and Selectivity

by population growth, income level, the strength of community ties, the
growing number of charities, more aggressive tactics of appealing to
people™s willingness to donate money, economic developments, the type
of welfare state, or the level of state-based social security arrangements
(Esping-Andersen 1990).
A recent Dutch report of the Social and Cultural Planning Organisation
(SCP 1998) compares the number of members and donors of a range
of societal organizations from 1980 to 1996“1997. Although the num-
ber of members of religious communities, women™s organizations, and
political parties has dropped, there is a substantial increase in the sector
“international solidarity” (for instance, organizations for medical help,
foster parents, Third World help organizations). As these data are based
on absolute numbers and as the Dutch population has increased substan-
tially, the picture is not entirely representative. Nevertheless, the authors
of the report conclude that these developments in gift giving in combina-
tion with the increased membership of ideological organizations (see also
the next section) point to a ¬rm sense of citizenship among the Dutch,
in our terms, of solidarity.

Giving Time

Volunteer work is generally de¬ned as unpaid work performed within
an organized setting to the bene¬t of other individuals, organizations, or
the society at large. Internationally the Netherlands shows up rather well,
when it comes to participation in volunteer work. The Social and Cultural
Planning Organisation (1998) presents data from 1981 and 1990, compar-
ing volunteer work in twelve countries. In both years the Netherlands
occupies a ¬fth place. In 1990 it comes after the United States, Canada,
Sweden, and Norway. Compared with other European countries the num-
ber of people participating in volunteer work on a regular basis (and not
merely incidentally) is relatively high in the Netherlands, in particular in
the domains of culture, recreation, and education.

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.1. Volunteer Work in Several Domains for Persons Aged Eighteen and
Older, 1977“1995 (weighed outcomes in %)

1977 1980 1983 1986 1989 1992 1995
Political and ideological aims 4 5 5 5 5 5 7
Occupational, professional, labor
organizations 4 6 4 4 4 4 4

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