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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

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