<< . .

. 18
( : 23)

. . >>

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.

<< . .

. 18
( : 23)

. . >>