Essay on Solidarity

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Solidarity, defined as the perceived or realized organization of individuals for group survival, interests, or purposes, may result from either external threats or internal needs. Solidarity, reflecting various dimensions and forms of organizing, may best be described in Durkheimian terms as ranging from organic to the inorganic. That is to say, we may describe solidarity that derives from some intrinsic characteristic of the participants or from extrinsic characteristics. When we speak of intrinsic characteristics, related to organic solidarity, we typically include such types as family, racial/ethnic groups, national and to some extent religious affiliation. Alternatively, inorganic solidarity, related to the more voluntary, associational characteristics of such organization, suggests greater volition on the part of its members. When we speak of inorganic solidarity we typically make reference to neighborhood associations, clubs, political organizations, and the like. Given the more transient nature of today’s populations, religion and national identity may also fall into this latter category for obvious reasons associated with mobility and personal choice. Depending upon type, solidarity comes into being for multiple reasons. Social and political movements, community organizing, and social activism rely upon the ability of respective leaders to organize and solidify significant groups for the purposes of social action. The capacity of groups to solidify is directly associated with their capacity to organize about significant issues, events, visions, and/or threats. Thus the capacity to solidify is evidence of the capacity to survive, thrive, persist, and promote group interests, viability, and/or vitality.

Differing forms of solidarity (to include dimensions, levels, and types of solidarity) may be associated with different types of groups, institutions, or organizational components. Hence, along the organic continuum and within the family, issues of kinship and major life events such as marriage, births, deaths, reunions, holidays, celebrations, and so on form the basis of specific events that may evoke episodes of solidarity. These events, repeated over time, and depending upon frequency, intensity, and level of interaction, produce a sense of family solidarity. Thus we can talk about solidarity in the family as being a process experienced over these various and collective life events.

Alternatively, within religious or other cultural institutions, we can likewise talk about events which serve to enhance, inspire, or evoke episodes of solidarity. Such events typically revolve around the ceremonial, but may also include the commemorative, induction of new members, proselytizational, and other significant life events of members which have been serialized within the cultural institution (e.g., typically marriage, birth, coming of age, and so on find expression within religious and other cultural institutions and also serve as solidifying events). Religious and other cultural institutions also provide, encourage, and to a great extent require vision and visionary leaders that serve to express institutional-wide ideas, values, and purpose which not only transcend the everyday events and issues of its members, but also give members a sense of collective identity, thus encouraging solidarity. These visions and visionaries, occurring periodically through the institutional memories of members, serve to produce and sustain group cohesion.

Collectively, then, within religious and cultural institutions, the ceremonial, those life events that are commemorated, and visions and visionary leaders provide the organizational glue that accounts for solidifying events. These events over time are what we refer to when we speak of solidarity within religious and cultural institutions.

Often solidarity is held out to various groups (e.g., racialized, gendered, political) as if it were some actuality that can be achieved. As such, and given the reality that it is often presumed to be associated with specified dominant groups, it only manifests   itself oppositionally.   Solidarity, for heterogeneously large groups, presumes a level, form, and/or quality of unity which is prevented by the very nature of heterogeneously large groups. What solidarity does come into being tends to be experienced not universally but partially by specific sections of groups whose interests, goals, and/or opportunities are perceived to be challenged, effected, or affected. More generally and typically, members of groups seek to organize or mobilize as a consequence of perceived organization or mobilization by external groups, forces, and/or threats. Consequentially, solidarity is not an event but a process that is never quite complete and is dependent upon such things as perceived threat, advantage, and disadvantage to which and by which organizational resources are expended. The nature of these organizational resources is defined by the resource base(s) of the group, the historical progression or context to which the group owes its existence, and the ability of group members to effectively acquire, access, and mobilize resources and members for the purposes of obtaining levels of solidarity.


  1. Amit-Talai, V. & Knoles, C. (ed.) (1996) Re-Situating Identities: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. Broadview, Peterborough, Ontario.
  2. Scott, J. C. (1985) Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.
  3. Scott, J. C. (1990) Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

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