Solidarity, Sociology of

Solidarity, Sociology of

Solidarity, Sociology of Michael Hechter, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Abstract The discipline ...

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Solidarity, Sociology of Michael Hechter, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Abstract The discipline of sociology has taken the attainment of solidarity – in families, groups, organizations, and societies – as a principal outcome to be explained. This article compares normative, structural, and rational choice accounts of solidarity and discusses the likely paths of future research on this topic.

If economics is mostly about efficiency and growth, sociology is mostly about solidarity and social order. As economics suggests, competitive markets offer the best chance for an efficient allocation of productive resources. As sociology suggests, however, such markets can only arise in societies with sufficient order to produce and maintain stable property rights and other key public goods. Although both stability and growth are necessary to sustain any social formation over the long run, the disciplines of economics and sociology have largely developed in mutual ignorance, if not antipathy. This article suggests that progress has been made in the analysis of solidarity by integrating the two perspectives. Solidarity – the binding of individuals into a cooperative collectivity on the basis of compliance with normative obligations – is an emergent attribute of groups that facilitates collective action and social order. The modern origins of the concept date from the beginnings of sociological theory. There are three leading theoretical perspectives on the emergence of solidarity. On the normativist view, solidarity is most likely to develop among individuals who share fundamental values, such as those promulgated in religious, ethnic, or national groups. On the structuralist view, solidarity arises from the sharing of common material interests as occurs, for example, among the members of social classes, ethnic groups, and genders. On the rational choice view, it owes to neither of these kinds of conditions; rather, it is a function of dependence and control mechanisms. Since social order and collective action are the alpha and omega of classical sociological theory, solidarity has always been a central concept in sociology. The concept came to the fore following the changes wrought by the development of industry and the rise of market economies. Although they were unjustified in doing so, most classical social theorists regarded social order in agrarian communities as unproblematic. In their stylized view, such communities were technologically and demographically stagnant and uninvolved in long-distance trade. Given these assumptions and barring exceptional circumstances – such as those resulting from exogenous events such as wars or massive epidemics – social mobility would be minimal and most children would be destined to recapitulate the social lives and fates of their parents. As agrarian communities tended to offer relatively little scope for individualism, the attainment of solidarity was viewed as relatively unproblematic. According to Ferdinand Tönnies (1887), such communities (which he termed gemeinschaften) were breeding grounds for social relations based on deep emotional, quasifamilial


commitments. Emile Durkheim (1893) referred to the solidarity characteristic of this kind of society as ‘mechanical,’ implying thereby that it had a certain automatic quality. Mechanical solidarity rests on a set of common values, internalized norms, and beliefs (a conscience collective) engendered by physical co-presence, a common focus of attention, and a sense of mutual awareness. This kind of solidarity is often expressed in a religious credo (Durkheim, 1912). Mechanical solidarity appeared to be threatened, however, by the rise of industry and the expansion of market economies in Western Europe, North America, Australasia, and Japan beginning in the late eighteenth century. Among their many other effects, these transformations increased the size and scope of social networks, thereby affording many individuals greater options, ranging from marriage partners to occupations, in their daily lives. The growth of individualism and the concomitant decline of a conscience collective was the inevitable result (Simmel, 1922). It was far from evident how groups, communities, and societies could maintain mechanical solidarity in the wake of a burgeoning division of labor and its by-product, that is increasing individualism. Durkheim, the foremost early theorist of solidarity, initially argued that social order in industrial societies was not threatened by the division of labor; on the contrary, individuals in industrial society were held together by their mutual interdependence, a form of solidarity that he termed ‘organic.’ At the end of his life, however, he came to regard common values and norms (which he sometimes referred to as “the non-contractual basis of contract”) as the basis for solidarity in all kinds of groups and societies (Durkheim, 1912). Durkheim’s insistence that solidarity requires compliance to a set of collective obligations based on particular values and norms has greatly influenced subsequent research. For example, a religious group is solidary only to the degree that its adherents comply fully with its obligations, both sacred (rites) and secular (tithing). Likewise, a working class is solidary only to the degree that individual workers regard themselves as members of a collectivity with its own obligations and refrain from engaging in activities such as strikebreaking that compromise or countermand these obligations. Yet compliance to collective obligations can owe to both pecuniary and nonpecuniary causes. Consider the mobilization of labor in a profit-making firm. To attain maximum profit, firms demand that their employees perform to the best of their ability and refrain from shirking. Employees usually comply

International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 23

Solidarity, Sociology of with the firm’s obligations not out of a sense of group solidarity but because they are individually compensated for doing so by receiving wages or salaries. In contrast, the members of a religious group or a working class are not given pecuniary compensation to comply with their corporate obligations. Hence, compliance in such groups must be due to other mechanisms. Theoretical perspectives on solidarity may usefully be divided into three distinct types: normative perspectives suggest that solidarity arises from common values and norms, structural perspectives argue that it arises from common material interests, and rational choice perspectives hold that it arises from mutual interdependence.

The Normative Perspective Normative theorists claim that solidarity is unlikely to result merely from the interaction of rational, self-regarding individuals (Parsons, 1951). This is because it is never in the interest of self-regarding individuals to adhere to collective obligations if they can profit by ignoring them. In a world of self-regarding agents, the only means of assuring the requisite compliance is by sanctioning. Normative theorists, however, hold that sanctioning is both too costly and unreliable to serve as a means of assuring high levels of compliance, especially among large numbers of individuals. In some cases, sanctioning breeds resistance. For normative theorists, the solution lies in values and internalized norms. These make individuals fit for social life by removing the conflict between the individual’s interest and that of the relevant collectivity. If individuals willingly adhere to the values and norms that underlie corporate obligations, then they will act to promote collective ends without the need for carrots and sticks. According to normative theorists, socialization is the key to the attainment of solidarity. Solidarity therefore is most likely to emerge in socially homogeneous collectivities. It should be noted that the emergence of values and norms is exogenous to the theory, as are socialization processes. Moreover, although casual observation confirms that compliance with values and norms is never automatic, normative theory has little to say about the conditions under which the requisite compliance is likely to occur.

The Structural Perspective Structural theorists typically, if implicitly, regard solidarity as an outcome of individually self-regarding action. In their view, individuals form solidary collectivities principally by virtue of sharing common (often material) interests. They discover that they share interests in the course of mutual interaction, and especially when they perceive themselves to be threatened by powerful antagonists (Marx, 1978 [1845–46], p. 179; Coser, 1956; Collins and Sanderson, 2009). When mutual interaction occurs repeatedly, this may set the stage for the development of sentiments, or affective feelings, that further strengthen compliance to collective obligations. However, the weaknesses of structural theories of solidarity are notable. Both commonality of interest and repeated interaction are insufficient causes


of solidarity. To see why, note that solidarity varies widely among workers and married couples. Sometimes workers refuse to support striking colleagues, and the incidence of divorce has risen dramatically in nearly all industrial societies. Neither of these trends is easily accounted for by the explanatory apparatus of structural theories. Furthermore, if the individuals who share interests are self-regarding, as most structural theorists contend, then why would they ever join forces to pursue their common ends (a point that was already made by Parsons in 1937)?

The Rational Choice Perspective This question is the point of departure for rational choice perspectives of solidarity, which attempt to reconcile sociological and economic perspectives. Truly self-regarding actors will not join a group to pursue common ends when, without participating, they can reap the benefit of other people’s activity in obtaining them. Instead of contributing to the common weal, rational actors will free ride (Buchanan 1965; Olson, 1965) and behave opportunistically when it is expedient. The upshot is minimal solidarity despite an extensive commonality of interest. The rational choice theory of solidarity (Hechter, 1987) hinges on the group’s capacity to preclude free riding. In this theory, rational individuals form groups to obtain goods that they either cannot produce on their own or cannot attain as economically. The ultimate motivation for group formation is held to be the individual’s desire to gain access to jointly produced goods. These goods can only be produced if prospective members comply with the rules and obligations that are necessary to ensure production of the given joint goods. The more dependent individuals are on the group for access to valued goods, the greater is its potential power over them. This dependence increases when the given goods are not readily available elsewhere, when members lack information about alternatives, when the costs of leaving the group are high, and when personal ties to other members are strong. Moreover, the greater the dependence of members on a group, the greater their willingness to comply with highly extensive obligations. Hence, dependence creates conditions not just for the emergence of corporate obligations, but for obligations that guide and regulate behavior to a high degree. Yet dependence is an insufficient cause of compliance. Children tend to be highly dependent on their parents, but this is no guarantee that they will routinely perform their chores or study diligently in school. Dependence by itself is unlikely to resolve the free rider problem. Free riding can only be precluded when the given group has a high control capacity. This control capacity, in turn, is a function of monitoring and sanctioning. Monitoring is the process of detecting noncompliance to corporate obligations; sanctioning is the use of rewards and punishments to induce compliance. The theory therefore holds that compliance to corporate obligations – an indirect measure of solidarity in noncompensatory groups – is jointly a function of dependence and control mechanisms. That said, this theory remains incomplete because the sources of individual dependence are exogenous to it.


Solidarity, Sociology of

Since it can be attained as a result of compensation as well as normative obligation, the study of solidarity poses serious challenges to empirical researchers. After a long period of dormancy, interest in solidarity has increased in several social science disciplines. The rational choice theory of solidarity has been used to explain variations in legislative party voting (Hechter, 1987), the membership rules of friendly societies and mutual benefit associations (Hechter, 1987), the survival of US intentional communities (Hall, 1988), cross-national crime rates (Hechter and Kanazawa, 1993), social order in Japan and the United States (Miller and Kanazawa, 2000), the prevalence of nationalism in history (Hechter, 2000), the survival of religions demanding high sacrifice from their adherents (Iannaconne, 1994; McBride, 2007), the causes of suicide bombing (Berman and Laitin, 2008), and the survival of individuals in prisoner of war camps during the American Civil War (Costa and Kahn, 2008). Whether group solidarity incites or inhibits intergroup conflict is now the subject of debate (Bhavnani and Backer, 2000; Fearon and Laitin, 1996; Gould, 1999). Legal theorists (Ellickson, 1991; Posner, 2000) have explored group solidarity as an institutional alternative to law as a means of dispute resolution. A variety of mathematical models of solidarity have been proposed by social and physical scientists (Doreian and Fararo, 1998). Finally, social psychologists have recently found that solidarity is more likely to develop among individuals who are engaged in intergroup conflict (Benard, 2012), on the one hand, and generalized as against reciprocal exchange networks, on the other (Willer et al., 2012). Whereas the rational choice theory of solidarity emphasizes individual compliance with collective obligations, group solidarity evidently also entails the emergence of collective sentiments. The pioneering rational choice sociologist James Coleman (1990) argued that positive sanctions produced within groups may yield zealotry among some members. Other writers have sought to downplay the self-regarding behavioral assumptions of rational choice theory by stressing the role that emotions play in generating these sentiments of solidarity. On this view, Collins (2004) suggests that solidary groups are held together not so much by common interests as by positive emotional energy generated in the course of ritual interaction (Collins, 2004); this emotional energy is held to arise to the degree that people share a clarity of expectations (Turner, 2007). For Lawler et al. (2009), however, people form affective ties to groups if and when they attribute their individual feelings to membership in a group. They suggest that emotional energy derives not from ritual interaction, but from affiliation with given groups. Although an emphasis on the emotional basis of group solidarity is often regarded as an alternative to the instrumentalism of rational choice theory, it is unclear why positive emotional energy, whatever its source, cannot be modeled as a part – even quite an important part – of an individual’s utility argument. The empirical study of solidarity has been hamstrung by a lack of agreement on definitions of the concept. Defining solidarity as an intersubjective state (as normative theorists have typically done) posed a severe challenge for empirical research because there were no consensually accepted measures of individual values and internalized norms in social science.

Direct measures of the sentiments or feelings that may hold within collectivities perforce were hard to come by.

Future Research Future research on solidarity is likely to proceed along both methodological and substantive fronts. Methodologically, new measurement instruments have been developed that make it possible to gauge solidarity directly as an intersubjective state, rather than merely using behavioral compliance as a proxy. From Buchanan (1965) and Olson (1965) onward, rational choice models of solidarity have assumed that agents are purely self-regarding. Recent research findings challenge the adequacy of this assumption. For example, experimental games have been deployed in order to elicit variable individual motivations to contribute to public goods (Fehr and Gintis, 2007). These studies have demonstrated that individual motives, as revealed by strategies employed in playing public goods games, are mixed. Whereas some subjects indeed do consistently exhibit self-regarding motives, others seem to be more akin to the pro-social agents that are celebrated in classical sociological theory. Substantively, there is much to learn about the interaction of solidary groups in wider social systems. Evidently, individual motivations are strongly affected by social contexts. Thus to the degree that small-scale societies engage in cooperative production, for example, self-regarding motivations are attenuated (Henrich et al., 2004). Likewise, individual participants in groups that employ generalized exchange identify with their groups – and appear to be more other-regarding – than members of groups that rely exclusively on direct exchange (Willer et al., 2012). Since solidarity is built around a set of normative obligations and enforcement mechanisms, it follows that the normative content of any given solidary group may be more or less congruent with that of its global social environment. Thus, minority ethnic groups often espouse norms at variance with their host society. Adolescent peer groups evolve norms that are mutually inconsistent and generally inconsistent with school norms. Factory workers can embrace output restriction norms that are at variance with their employers’ expectations, and inner city gangs and organized crime groups establish norms that are at variance with those of the society at large. The effects of solidarity in such countercultural groups are a matter of dispute among both social scientists and political decision makers (see Social Capital). Further research is needed to clarify the mechanisms that are responsible for the emergence of such countercultural groups and the consequences these groups have for the attainment of social order. Along with sustained economic growth, solidarity is one of the two principal desiderata of polities and their rulers, not to speak of less encompassing collectivities. Typically, these two goals are considered to be mutually inconsistent: the policies that promote one ostensibly do so at the expense of the other. No doubt, this inconsistency has led economists and sociologists to focus their attention on different kinds of outcomes. This article suggests that much can be gained about the causes of solidarity, as well as economic growth, by combining the insights of each of these disciplines.

Solidarity, Sociology of

See also: Collective Action; Communities of Practice; Community Sociology; Community Studies: Anthropological; Community, Social Context of: The US Case; Durkheim, Emile (1858–1917); Integration, Social; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer: Bear and Leather Subcultures; Societies, Types of; Sociological Theory.

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