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[1923]: 33).
Why is the concept of reciprocity more promising as a cornerstone of
solidarity theory than is the basic assumption of rational choice theory
that humans are rational egoists (Hechter 1987; Coleman and Fararo
1992)? It is because this assumption leaves no room for the aspect of
moral obligation. Although people certainly try to realize their own best
interests in many instances, there is more to human life than mere self-
interest. Leaving aside the various other criticisms that can be launched
against some of the core aspects of rational choice theory (Sen 1979;
Coleman and Fararo 1992), the fact that people feel morally committed
to their fellow human beings because they have given them something
of value is ignored in contemporary rational choice“inspired theories of
The notion of sacri¬ce is yet another signi¬cant aspect of solidarity that
is generally overlooked in sociological theories; in the anthropological gift
theory, however, it is a recurring theme (Hubert and Mauss 1974; Girard
1993 [1977]; Berking 1999). In the words of the German sociologist and
anthropologist Berking, “It is not only that, in the most varied cultures,
gifts are again and again understood as sacri¬ces and vice versa. It is also
that gift and sacri¬ce denote two, admittedly distinguishable, intensities
in the continuum of an anthropology of giving” (1999: 51). Throughout

Contemporary Solidarity

the centuries people in the most different cultures have sacri¬ced to gods
or ancestors. Not only animals but occasionally also human beings were
involved in ritual slaughter. An example showing the continuity between
gift and sacri¬ce is the willingness of human beings to sacri¬ce their
own lives in order to save another human being “ rescuing a child from a
burning house or preventing a person from drowning. Those who offered
shelter to Jews during the Second World War to save them from Nazi
prosecution put themselves at a serious, sometimes life-threatening risk.
All these examples show a personal sacri¬ce occurring in the context
of a concrete relationship with one or more other human beings (not
necessarily being acquainted with one another).
The sacri¬ce of human lives does not only happen at the level of inter-
personal relationships but also at that of groups, communities, clans, and
nations. In the former case the sacri¬ce is concrete and personal, whereas
in the case of large-scale group solidarity it is abstract and anonymous.
This type of sacri¬ce can vary from the sacri¬ce of individual autonomy
and freedom of thinking in the name of a certain group ideal, but group
solidarity can also lead to the sacri¬ce of anonymous others™ lives, be-
cause they have different convictions or a different group identity. An
extremely high loyalty toward one™s own group combined with extreme
animosity and hate toward outsiders can lead one to sacri¬ce one™s own
life and that of as many enemies as possible, in order to attain personal
martyrdom and heroism. The Muslim extremists who crashed planes
into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 and
the Palestinians who attack Israel by killing themselves provide examples
of what Durkheim (1951 [1897]) called altruistic suicide: the sacri¬ce of
one™s own life for a “good cause.”
Although the ideology of sacri¬ce does occur both at the interpersonal
and the group level, the large-scale sacri¬ce of human lives is more char-
acteristic for group solidarity than for relationships between individuals.
Ideals of sacri¬ce have a prominent place in the consciousness of those
who are uni¬ed in political or ethnic group solidarity. The stronger the

Solidarity and the Gift

value the group represents to its members, the more important it is to
preserve internal cohesion. In communist groups and organizations it
was a sign of political virtue to sacri¬ce one™s personal interests and per-
sonal life to the political cause (Withuis 1990). Groups sharing a strong
ideology are characteristically denying the validity of deviating beliefs and
perspectives. The idea of sacri¬ce is a built-in feature of their belonging
to the group and a fundament of the group as such.
This type of solidarity is more often found at the other pole of the reci-
procity continuum. At this pole the type of reciprocity is different from
the one belonging to the gift. Where more or less equivalent, concrete,
and personal reciprocity is predominant with the gift, the reciprocity
of sacri¬ce is of a nonequivalent, abstract, and impersonal nature: the
sacri¬ce of individuality, autonomy, or human lives is reciprocated with
abstractions like mutual loyalty and ideological purity, collective inter-
est, or martyrdom. Whereas the gift is recompensed with a countergift,
sacri¬ce yields heroism and a sense of moral superiority in return.

Toward a Theoretical Model of Solidarity

In the preceding sections I have argued that four dimensions are quin-
tessential when trying to understand the various forms of solidarity.
These dimensions provide the organizing principle in Figure 9.1, which
comprises the different positive and negative manifestations of solidar-
ity. Before explaining the details of the theoretical model, I want, ¬rst,
to make a remark on ritual. In Chapter 5 the signi¬cance of ritual for
solidarity was demonstrated. We saw how the rituals of the religious sac-
ri¬ce and the shared meal served to create bonds between humans and
gods and among humans. In contemporary society rituals still ful¬ll im-
portant functions to maintain social bonds and solidarity. In addition to
the rituals surrounding gift giving there are numerous ritual elements in
collective manifestations of solidarity. Ritualism and the use of symbols
serve to unify groups, communities, clans, and nations by providing a

Contemporary Solidarity

Recognition Social Motives Reciprocity Solidarity
of the other distance
Family Affection
Friends Equality
Fellow citizens Equality
Recognition of the

¬gure 9.1. Four dimensions of solidarity.

collective identi¬cation. The reason why ritual has not been included in
Figure 9.1 is that it does not differentiate in any meaningful way between
the various social units on the social distance continuum. Whereas the
ways of expressing ritual will be different in the various social units “
family rituals are different from the ritualism present in the dynamics of
a group or a nation “ ritual as such is an aspect of most forms of solidarity.
Let me brie¬‚y recapitulate the dimensions.
First, recognition of the other™s human worth is more likely to occur
among family, friends, and neighbors than among fellow citizens and
strangers. In larger entities like groups, communities, tribes, and nations
the recognition of otherness becomes less likely, in particular as ideologi-
cal rigidity and group loyalty increase and the threat to self-determination
is felt more strongly. The second and third dimensions are social distance
and the related solidarity motives. The combinations in Figure 9.1 are
ideal types because in practice many exceptions will occur. For instance,
affectivity and equality will be most common among near relatives and
friends, but considerations of power and instrumentality cannot be ex-
cluded. Think of a personal relationship based on power inequality or
on mere personal pro¬t seeking and self-interest. Inversely, motives of
affection and equality are not the exclusive prerogative of family and

Solidarity and the Gift

friends but can also be present in larger social units. But, in general, in-
strumentality and power are the more likely motives to occur in groups,
larger communities, tribes, and nations. The relationships among fellow
citizens and strangers fall in between: equal exchange is possible, but
self-interest and power may motivate their actions as well.
The fourth dimension is reciprocity. Reciprocity as exempli¬ed in the
gift is more likely within the small units of family, friends, and neigh-
bors where it contributes to establishing the social ties of solidarity. The
personal character of the emotions involved and the concrete expression
of these in the gift are typical for small-scale social units. Although gift
relationships may occur on a larger scale as well, as in big companies giv-
ing gifts to political parties, their potential in bringing about social ties
is different from the small-scale interpersonal gift giving, and the under-
lying motives will re¬‚ect more self-interest, instrumentality, and power
needs than within the smaller units. Although gifts may be impersonal
and abstract, the prototypical gift is personal and concrete. Also sacri¬ce
can be personal and take place in the context of a concrete relationship
with another human being, but the abstract and anonymous sacri¬ce
in the name of certain group ideals is more characteristic of larger-scale
social units.
It has been said before: all solidarities have strengths and weaknesses.
Large-scale group solidarity may be useful to develop a group identity,
to make one™s presence felt, and to attain political and social goals. The
power of small-scale solidarity relies on the direct and reciprocal commit-
ment and responsibility, becoming expressed in mutual respect and help.
The risks of small-scale interpersonal solidarity are selectivity and ex-
clusion, whereas large-scale group solidarity can lead to the annihilation
of personal autonomy, oppression, and bloodshed. Solidarity, like gift
giving, while being indispensable to social life, is never entirely without
What could be the value of this theoretical model when looking at
contemporary solidarity? Let us choose two problematic examples: civil

Contemporary Solidarity

solidarity (Chapter 8) and the relationship between autochthonous and
allochthonous citizens in Western societies (this chapter). Figure 9.1 in-
forms us that anonymous fellow citizens and strangers do not belong to
those categories of human beings toward whom solidarity is easily felt and
expressed. Still, this solidarity in particular should be promoted, in the
¬rst case because the decline in the level of public respect causes serious
concern, in the second one because our society faces the immense task
of developing a new social connectedness allowing the autochthonous
and the allochthonous to live together in harmony and mutual respect.
Avoiding the negative aspects of strong internal group solidarity will be a
major issue. One of the many lessons we can learn from Durkheim is that
forms of societal organization have an impact on solidarity. When look-
ing for solutions for shortcomings in today™s solidarity, the gift model
may offer a possible direction because it implies a social contract that ties
people together through the morality of mutual obligation. It becomes
important, then, to ¬nd those forms of societal organization that allow
the gift model to unfold the best of its powers.

From Organic to Segmented Solidarity

The multifariousness of solidarity precludes any general statement about
an increase or decline of solidarity. As the American historian Thomas
Bender said, “How many times can community collapse in America?”
(1978: 46). Among the many manifestations of solidarity some will al-
ways be decreasing, and others increasing in signi¬cance or level, making
it impossible to give a ¬nal assessment on the level of solidarity in a certain
society. A phenomenon like solidarity is therefore mainly interesting in
its qualitative aspects and dimensions. Just as Durkheim saw a transfor-
mation in solidarity from mechanical to organic solidarity in the course
of the nineteenth century, a similar change can be perceived at the turn
of the twentieth into the twenty-¬rst century.

Solidarity and the Gift

An essential change compared with solidarity in Durkheim™s times
is, of course, the rise of the organized, formal solidarity of the welfare
state. Whereas in cases of illness, unemployment, or poverty nineteenth-
century citizens had to fall back on charity and other forms of mutual
assistance and care, at the beginning of the twenty-¬rst century in most
Western welfare states (the European more than the American) there ex-
ists a reasonably well organized social safety net for those who are not
able to care for themselves or provide for their own livelihood. This has
diminished the pressure on informal solidarity and thus increased the
independence and freedom of citizens. But, in addition, changes have
occurred in informal solidarity itself, which cannot be accounted for by
the availability of the organized solidarity of the welfare state. In this
book we have, for instance, seen that due to various societal transfor-
mation processes informal solidarity has become more individualized,
abstract, and global, whereas, at the same time, many traditional forms
of solidarity have remained. Despite the great variety of expressions of
solidarity, a trend may be observed. As noted in Chapter 8, motives
based on self-interest and reciprocity have become more prominent in
some forms of solidarity, like the assistance offered to people sharing
one™s fate. This development is possibly related to the increased empha-
sis on the self and the new assertiveness. We saw the same emphasis
return in the developments of civil solidarity, which we tentatively in-
terpreted as indicating a decline in people™s capacity to take the imagi-
nary position of another person. On the other hand, we observed that
the anonymous solidarity of writing a bank check has increased: au-
tonomous citizens decide themselves if and to which charity they give
money, regardless of what others do. Key words are autonomy and inde-
pendence, or “ put differently “ a strengthening and reinforcement of the
self vis-` -vis others. Although this does not necessarily mean that oth-
ers are less recognized, this combination does occur, as we have seen in
Chapter 8.

Contemporary Solidarity

This tendency toward growing independence and forti¬cation of the
self indicates that the basis of modern solidarity has fundamentally
changed. In Chapter 5 we saw that in Durkheim™s view the interdepen-
dency of citizens for the provision of their needs was the foundation
of organic solidarity. In the course of the nineteenth century societal
roles and tasks had become more differentiated and, at the same time,
functionally more interwoven. The relationships between citizens were
characterized by mutual dependency, and forms of social organization
were interconnected. At the start of the twenty-¬rst century this interde-
pendency is clearly declining. An important domain where the decreased
interdependency becomes visible is work, as Sennett has observed. In-
deed, in large, bureaucratic institutions the organizational conditions are
not particularly favorable to interdependency and mutual commitment,
and feelings of social connectedness will seldom arise. Recognition of per-
sonal value is often rare in these settings. One is an anonymous particle
doing one™s job more or less independently from other particles.
As a consequence of the individualization process, the better social
provisions and the increased wealth, modern citizens™ societal opportu-
nities and possibilities have increased in a range of domains “ education,
mobility, relationship forms, and procreation, to mention just a few “
and have therefore contributed to their greater autonomy. Due to these
developments the signi¬cance of people™s mutual dependency as a basis
for solidarity has greatly diminished, despite statements on the growing
impact of the “network society.” Seen from Durkheim™s functionalist per-
spective solidarity had an apparent survival value: the continuity of the
community was dependent on it. This situation has clearly changed at
the end of the twentieth century. Individuals in Western societies are no
longer uniting in solidarity because they need one another for their sur-
vival (here the welfare state can provide solace) but because they choose to
do so themselves. Personal considerations have partly replaced perceived
group advantages as determinants of solidarity. Solidarity has become
less based on the mutual recognition of desires and needs, and more

Solidarity and the Gift

on voluntariness. As a consequence, solidarity has also become more
noncommittal: individuals no longer express their solidarity because they
have to, but because they feel free to do so.
Not only have individuals become more independent in their activ-
ities, but also the larger segments of society like family, neighborhood,
and church “ the “organs” in Durkheim™s terminology “ have come to
function more independently from each other due to processes of differ-
entiation and increasing scale. As a consequence cities, villages, quarters,
and neighborhoods have become hybrid and fragmented. Families can
do without a neighborhood if they like, and neighborhoods do not need
families. There is a growing diversity of organizational forms that people
use to give shape and meaning to their lives. This applies, for instance,
to the variety of religious af¬nities, each with their own place to pray,
but also to the ¬elds of leisure and social services. For all these ¬elds the
principle holds: everyone to his or her own liking. The mosque and the
Protestant church exist alongside each other in the same neighborhood,
each serving their own group of believers. Similarly, alternative and reg-
ular circuits of health care services lead their own independent existence,
and on each conceivable domain “ sports, volunteer work, theater, ¬lm,
music “ there is a multitude of organized and nonorganized opportu-
nities to spend one™s free time. Many sorts of labor have become less tied
to a speci¬c urban or regional area. Worldly contacts, whether oriented
to work or of a private nature, have become context-independent and
can, in principle, be realized from behind any desk with a computer. The
different, formal and informal, organizational frameworks of human ac-
tivity have become less interwoven. They no longer form an “organic”
whole from which solidarity arises automatically, as it were, but have
become independent, autonomously functioning segments.
In brief, both individuals and forms of social organization in which
individuals function have come to stand apart. The basis of solidarity is
no longer organic in the Durkheimian sense but has grown independent.
One might therefore describe the ongoing change as a transformation

Contemporary Solidarity

from organic to “segmented” solidarity: separate, autonomous segments,
connecting (if at all) with other segments no longer out of necessity and
mutual dependency but on the basis of voluntariness. The segmented
solidarity differs both from Durkheim™s mechanical and his organic sol-
idarity. Whereas the “homogeneous segments” of mechanical solidarity
were based on mutual likeness and congruence between individual and
group identity, the segments on which contemporary solidarity rests are
not homogeneous anymore but characterized by diversity and plurality.
We still have families, neighborhoods, and churches, but their internal
variety is greater than ever. Also the connection between the various social
segments has become more loose and less “organic” as we have seen.
As in Durkheim™s times it is not the case that segmented solidarity
has entirely substituted organic solidarity. The distinction is analytical
in kind, and in reality forms of organic as well as the old mechanical
solidarity can still be observed. Family solidarity, for instance, is still alive
and kicking as we saw in this book, and in particular where mutual assis-
tance and care within immigrant communities in Western societies are
concerned, elements of need and survival are still strongly involved. But
generally speaking, in contemporary solidarity the aspect of voluntari-
ness has come to supersede that of necessity. The question is, of course,
what are the survival chances of a society that rests predominantly on seg-
mented solidarity. The answer will unfold in the course of the twenty-¬rst


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