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Research Group "Individualisation and Integration"
New Forms of Organized Solidarity
by Dr. Eva Nadai
progress report / october 1998
This project analyses new models of organized solidarity as
examples of a type of social integration we call 'civil communities'
(Behr 1995). The term 'civil communities' refers to a type of social
integration that is based on communicative processes instead of norms
and on voluntary membership. Unlike relations based on kinship and
tradition, ties in civil communities can be dissolved at will
&endash; civil communities are communities of choice. How is
solidarity still possible under those conditions and how can it be
stabilized, once shared values and traditional communities lose their
Research on solidarity usually assumes a shrinking potential for
voluntarism. This is believed to be due to growing individualisation
and the erosion of communities. Contrary to this view I am asking
whether there is a change of the forms of social integration and
solidarity. My project is focused on four questions:
- Do new solidarity groups fulfill an integrative function for
their members, and how is this integrative function promoted or
hindered by their specific organizational features?
- Is turning an organization into some sort of community a
prerequisite to mobilize and stabilize individual member's
commitment to the organizations' goals?
- Are new organizational models a way to tap an additional
potential for solidarity or do they just mobilize the same social
groups as traditional voluntary associations?
- Do those new solidarity groups have an effect beyond their own
members, i.e. to what extent do they meet the growing demand for
care and social services and in what ways do they foster social
integration on a societal level?
The project is based on three case studies of innovative models of
organized solidarity: (1) an agency for volunteers as an example for
a trend to individualisation, formalisation, codification and
quasi-professionalisation of volunteering, (2) a group based on the
LETS-model (Local Exchange and Trading Systems) with a vision of
overturning the present economical system (3) a mother's centre which
combines the idea of self-help with the claim of offering a (paid)
labour market and a place for further education for mothers.
Methods and research design
The study combines qualitative and quantitative methods and
includes three levels of comparison between the groups: (1) the
members of the three groups, (2) their personal networks, (3) the
organizational level. The following methods are used:
- Qualitative interviews with 16 members pertaining to their
concepts of community and solidarity and to their volunteering
activities inside and outside the research groups. Sampling and
analysis follow the grounded theory approach.
- Quantitative analysis of the ego-centered networks of a random
sample of 97 members. Analysis centres on network density, on
heterogeneity/homogeneity of network members, on multiplexity of
ties and on the comparison of the group-internal and external
parts of member's personal networks.
- Analysis of documents and expert interviews on the
correlations of organizational features (e.g. group size,
mechanisms of decision making and conflict resolution, channels
for information and interaction between members etc.) and social
Preliminary results (based on qualitative interviews and document
analysis) indicate that solidarity need not necessarily depend on
shared values and norms within a stable community nor on purely
altruistic motives. Solidarity can be based on a fictitious consensus
(Cohenn 1986, Jenkins 1996) among socially heterogenous actors
without prior social ties between them. Building temporary
communities of choice is promoted by a number of factors, such as (1)
the existence of «symbolic boundary objects»
(Star/Griesemer 1989), which serve as a focus for the forming of a
collective identity; (2) the «joint production» (Lindenberg
1997) of collective goods, i.e. by cooperation and social exchange
leading to the emergence of social networks based on affective,
instrumental and moral ties; (3) specific features of the
organizational design, which facilitate participation and
identification with the group (Ostrom 1990). There are vast
differences between the three sample groups in this respect.
Correlations between embeddedness in personal networks inside and
outside those groups and solidarity (volunteering, informal social
support etc.) will be examined next by means of a quantitative
analysis of the personal networks of group members (n = 97).
Dr. Eva Nadai, University of Berne,
Institut für Soziologie
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