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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

Contemporary Solidarity

precondition for the coming into being of patterns of exchange. Without
recognition of the person and his or her identity no reciprocal exchange
is possible.
The signi¬cance of recognition of the other returns in the accounts of
both contemporary and classical thinkers. For instance, Honneth (1992)
conceives of reciprocity as an issue of recognition. In order to be able to
feel self-respect, people need the respect and regard of others. We recog-
nize Adam Smith™s and George Herbert Mead™s views on the mirroring
of the imaginary viewpoint of the other in our own minds. Honneth dis-
tinguishes between three forms of intersubjective recognition “ through
love, life, and law “ resulting in three layers of self-regard. In love people
are experiencing a fundamental sense of being valued as an individual. In
social life humans are valued and respected because of personal character-
istics that are socially valued. In law, ¬nally, people are valued regardless
of their personal characteristics and regardless of the social value of these
characteristics. Similarly Habermas (1989) regards identity as the result
of processes of mutual recognition, and reciprocal recognition as a basic
assumption underlying solidarity. According to him the basic principles
of modern solidarity are not fundamentally different from the mutual
expectations of reciprocity existing in premodern societies.
Also in Hannah Arendt™s view (1978) adoption of the plurality of other
people™s viewpoints in our own minds is the only way to transcend our
own, interest-driven self and the limitations of our own judgment. In ad-
dition, Arendt provides us with some poignant premonitions concerning
the emotions on which solidarity is sometimes built. Compassion and
pity with the societal underclasses are often important motives within rev-
olutionary movements. In On Revolution (1963) she presents a fascinating
analysis of the role of solidarity and pity during the French Revolution.
The revolutionaries, with Robespierre in their vanguard, were driven by
pity for the mass of the poor and exploited people; they idealized the poor
and praised their suffering as a source of virtue. The revolutionaries™ pity
became a pretext for the exercise of brute power, resulting in the ruthless

Solidarity and the Gift

annihilation of the opponents of the revolution. The revolutionary soli-
darity was based on a lack of recognition of others as human beings and
of the plurality of their viewpoints.
Recognition of the humanity of self and other is tantamount to recog-
nition of the interdependency of self and other. For the recognition of
humanity implies that other people™s needs and their mutual dependency
for the ful¬llment of these needs are recognized. In Chapter 8 we argued
that the psychological development of the assertive self may be at odds
with the capacity to recognize the other and the awareness of mutual
dependency. The precarious position of civil solidarity can largely be ex-
plained by the fact that its fundamental precondition “ recognition of
otherness “ seems to be subject to erosion.

Social Distance

Recognition of other people™s human worth is directly related to the next
dimension: social distance. From the work of the classical anthropologists
it appeared that the nature of the gift was related to the nature of the social
relationship: the closer the distance “ family, relatives “ the more disin-
terested the gift and the less speci¬c the expectations of return gifts: I give
to you, but I do not care so much about when or even if I receive some-
thing back. In relations with unknown people gifts given out of motives
of personal gain or self-interest are more likely. In between lies a more or
less equal or equivalent exchange of gifts: everybody gives and receives,
and nobody gains or loses by it. Similarly, Georg Simmel (1950 [1908])
re¬‚ected on the way solidarity was related to social distance. In his view
solidarity would be transformed as a consequence of individualization.
As the traditional forms of community would lose their binding force,
people would increasingly be able to regard their fellow human beings as
representatives of the human species in general rather than a particular
group or culture. According to Simmel the process of individualization
would lead to more extended identi¬cations; the new solidarity would

Contemporary Solidarity

cover larger collectivities and become more abstract in nature (van
Oorschot et al. 2001).
Solidarity has indeed become more global and abstract, as we have
seen. Worldwide networks and interest groups, new global solidarity
movements, and the growing willingness to give to charity and support
humanitarian goals seem to con¬rm Simmel™s ideas about the rise of
abstract solidarity. However, such abstract solidarity is “easier” than con-
crete solidarity in the form of care and support to fellow human beings,
because one is less directly confronted with the effects of poverty, illness,
or hunger. Filling in a bank check for some charity requires less personal
identi¬cation and less effort than caring for an ill relative. No real disaster
is imminent when a member of a worldwide network does not live up to
his or her commitments. The anonymity of global solidarity is at the same
time its strength and its weakness. The lack of direct personal responsibil-
ity and the low level of personal and emotional commitment facilitate the
mobilization of large numbers of people and the rapid growth of such
networks, but they reduce solidarity to the exchange of information,
consciousness raising, or a simple donation. Such a “thin” solidarity, as
B. Turner and Rojek call it (2001), can never emulate the “thick” solidar-
ity based on personal responsibility and commitment toward concrete
human beings.
However, the thick solidarity occurring between kin and near rela-
tives has a darker side as well, which becomes apparent in the selectivity
of solidarity, as we have seen. In his book Good Natured (1996) Frans
de Waal presents convincing proof for this selectivity among both hu-
mans and animal species. Human sympathy is restricted and is given
most readily to one™s own family and clan, and only reluctantly to the
outside world, if at all. “Human history furnishes ample evidence that
moral principles are oriented to one™s own group, and only reluctantly
(and never even-handedly) applied to the outside world. Standing on the
medieval walls of a European city, we can readily imagine how tightly life
within the walls was regulated and organised, whereas outsiders were only

Solidarity and the Gift

important enough to be doused with boiling oil” (1996: 30). This can to a
large extent be explained by the well-known evolution principles, which
predominantly serve the protection and survival of one™s own family and
close relatives. “Kindness towards one™s kin is viewed as a genetic invest-
ment, a way of spreading genes similar to one™s own. Assisting kin thus
comes close to helping oneself ” (de Waal 2001: 317).
Contemporary solidarity is an interesting mixture of thick and thin,
both showing strengths and weaknesses.

Motives for Solidarity

In classical sociological theory solidarity motives were thought to be
either inspired by affectivity and shared norms and values, or by instru-
mental considerations like self-interest and rational choice. An example
of the ¬rst is the emotional commitment people feel toward their close
relatives; solidarity based on self-interest becomes visible, for instance,
in the collective arrangements of the welfare state: contributing collec-
tively is to the advantage of every individual citizen. A striking difference
between anthropological and sociological theory is the anthropologists™
attention paid to the principle of give-and-take, whereby each individual
gives about equally. The best illustration of the enormous signi¬cance
of this equality motive is still found in the anthropological literature on
gift exchange. Malinowski™s account of the Kula shows that the bulk of
the transactions between the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands are of
the equality type. As noted in Chapter 2, it appears that also in Western
society the most common pattern is that the gift is followed by a more or
less equal countergift. The underlying motivation is in Mauss™s terms
do ut des, I give so that you give in return. This is also the basis of
the many forms of mutual help and types of local solidarity discussed
in Chapter 8. Perhaps the “normalcy” of this type of solidarity is the
reason why it has received such scarce attention in the sociological

Contemporary Solidarity

Another possible motivation for solidarity particularly emphasized by
anthropologists is power. Both Mauss and L´ vi-Strauss showed how the
power motive could be involved in gift exchange: gifts can serve to rein-
force the personal prestige and status of the giver, but also to humiliate
or dominate the other party by putting him in a position of debt and
dependence. Later these insights were elaborated upon by the sociologist
Gouldner, but the anthropologists had clearly preceded him. It is ob-
vious that power can be a forceful motive sustaining mutual solidarity,
but there are various shades. A very strong internal group loyalty does
not necessarily lead to the exercise of power and oppression. Thinking in
terms of “us” and “them” can be observed in rival football clubs but also
in groups with different religious convictions or cultural backgrounds.
The relationship between the autochthonous population and the new-
comers in Western societies illustrates the possible consequences. The
more one exclusively identi¬es with one™s own group and refrains from
interaction with outsiders, the more negative effects on the outside world
the intragroup solidarity will have, and the less the willingness to engage
in intergroup cooperation and trust.
Groups tied by strong ethnic or nationalist identi¬cations, as it
were, need inimical other groups for their own survival. Their self-
identi¬cation derives its legitimacy from the identi¬cation of other
groups as the enemy. In extreme cases hate can breed the lust for power.
The aim of the group becomes self-preservation through the oppres-
sion of outsiders by means of violence and destruction. The former
Yugoslavia is one of the many examples showing how nationalist or eth-
nic pride and strong mutual solidarity can turn into ethnic cleansing
and violent oppression. In his book Blood and Belonging (1993) Michael
Ignatieff explores the numerous forms of new tribalism and nationalism
in our globalized world. The use of violence is legitimized by the per-
ceived threat to self-determination or the love for one™s own blood and
soil. The latter legitimization is perhaps the most convincing as it appeals
to the supposedly better parts of human nature. In Ignatieff ™s words: “But

Solidarity and the Gift

if nationalism legitimizes an appeal to blood loyalty, and in turn blood
sacri¬ce, it can only do so persuasively if it seems to appeal to people™s
better natures, and not just to their worst instincts. Since killing is not a
business to be taken lightly, it must be done for a reason which makes its
perpetrator think well of himself. If violence is to be legitimated, it must
be in the name of all that is best in a people, and what is better than their
love of home?” (1993: 6). Solidarity springing from feelings of “blood and
belonging” is the most perverted of all solidarities. Self-interest is not a
suf¬cient motive to explain this type of solidarity. The need to protect
one™s own group ideals and identity by oppressing others through exercis-
ing power and using violence is predominant here. This type of solidarity
is based on the complete denial of the humanness of the other party.
Different from what modern sociology suggests, four broad categories
of motives seem to underlie solidarity: affection, equality, power, and
instrumentality or self-interest. Solidarity theory, then, would gain by
adding equality and power to the more common motives of affectivity
and instrumentality.

Reciprocity: Gift and Sacri¬ce

The fourth dimension, reciprocity, can take two shapes: gift and sacri¬ce.
This dimension varies mainly in the degree of anonymity and abstract-
ness of what is coming in return. Reciprocity and mutual sharing have
a long history in social theory. In Auguste Comte™s view, sociology was
the scienti¬c study of friendship and companionship (socius), the latter
term pointing to the importance of sharing basic resources such as bread
(panis) in order to be able to form and maintain social ties. Compan-
ionship is best exempli¬ed by the communal sharing of a meal and the
exchange of food, as is also re¬‚ected in the etymological roots of the word
(B. Turner and Rojek 2001). The ritual of hospitality, the sharing of bread
and other food, is a prototypical example of the morality of reciprocity.
The essence is that receiving prompts giving.

Contemporary Solidarity

L´ vi-Strauss (1961 [1949]) gives an illuminating example in his account
of a ceremonial aspect of the meal. In some lower-price restaurants in
the south of France each guest ¬nds a small bottle of wine in front of
his plate. The bottle is the same as that of this person™s neighbor at the
table and holds just one glass. The contents of the bottle are not poured
in the glass of the owner but in that of his neighbor, and the latter makes
the gesture of reciprocity by doing exactly the same. In the end each
guest has not received more than if he had consumed his own wine.
Instead of silently sitting next to each other as strangers, social bond is
created by the simple act of reciprocal wine pouring. It is impossible
to refuse that gesture without appearing insulting. As a result not only
the wine is returned but conversation is offered in return as well. This
apparently futile scene represents a very basic situation: that in which
individuals enter into contact with strangers and are facing the problem
of either being friendly and establishing a bond or refusing to accept the
stranger as a potential ally altogether. L´ vi-Strauss spends several pages
on this example because he feels that it offers “material for inexhaustible
sociological re¬‚ection.” He apparently shares Comte™s view that studying
reciprocity and the formation of social bonds should remain a concern
for sociology.
Of course, not every exchange contains the moral element that leads to
the formation of social ties. Purely economic exchange is not offering the
moral context needed for the coming into existence of social bonds. As
Frans de Waal rightly observes: “Reciprocity can exist without morality;
there can be no morality without reciprocity” (1996: 136). Like L´ vi- e
Strauss, de Waal thinks that the link between morality and reciprocity
is particularly evident in hospitality and food sharing. “A link between
morality and reciprocity is nowhere as evident as in the distribution of
resources, such as the sharing of food. To invite others for dinner . . . and
to have the invitation returned on a later date is a universally understood
human ritual of hospitality and friendship” (de Waal 1996: 136). Appar-
ently, a situation of reciprocity and sharing offers the best guarantee for

Solidarity and the Gift

a peaceful being together. Hospitality, or the sharing of a meal, seems to
be the epitome of human community.
Why is the informal social contract created by reciprocity so effec-
tive in creating the cement of society? The answer lies in the sublime
reconciliation of individual and social interests resulting from it. Its evo-
lutionary effectivity has been amply documented in the work of biologists
like Trivers (1971), in de Waal™s animal studies, and in Malinowski™s and
L´ vi-Strauss™s anthropological ¬eld studies. Reciprocity represents the
elegant combination of self-interested concerns with the requirements of
social life. As Marcel Mauss said, “Material and moral life, and exchange,
function . . . in a form that is both disinterested and obligatory” (1990

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