European inventory of
societal values of culture


Social cohesion is a concept that describes the level of social integration and solidarity within a community or society. It refers to the degree to which individuals and groups are connected and work together to achieve common goals, despite differences in their backgrounds, beliefs, or values. The strength of social bonds, trust, and cooperation among people is a key component of social cohesion. In a society with high social cohesion, people are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, share similar values, and work together towards the well-being of the community as a whole. This can lead to greater social stability, resilience, and prosperity. On the other hand, low levels of social cohesion can result in social divisions, conflicts, and inequality.

The Council of Europe defines social cohesion as “the capacity of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members – minimising disparities and avoiding marginalisation – to manage differences and divisions and ensure the means of achieving welfare for all members” (Council of Europe, 2004: 2) and adds that “in a cohesive society the well-being of all is a shared goal that includes the aim of ensuring adequate resources are available to combat inequalities and exclusion” (2004: 8).
Social integration and differentiation refer to two main social 'processes' that operate in conjunction with each other and influence many social phenomena, including social cohesion. The tension between social integration and differentiation can be used as an analytical tool to study social cohesion. Other factors that influence social cohesion include non/homogeneity of the social community, inequalities, level of trust, political and institutional factors, and migrations. Different societies may exhibit varying degrees of social cohesion based on historical, cultural, and economic factors.
Emile Durkheim, one of the founding figures in sociology, had a significant interest in the concept of social cohesion. Durkheim explored the idea of social cohesion in his seminal work, “The Division of Labor in Society” (1893) and later in “Suicide: A Study in Sociology” (1897). Durkheim argued that social cohesion is maintained through two related concepts: social integration and social regulation. Social Integration refers to the degree to which individuals feel connected to the larger society and its norms. Strong social integration implies a sense of belonging and shared identity. On the other hand, social regulation involves the extent to which societal norms and rules guide and control individual behavior. Durkheim also introduced the concept of “anomie” as a state of normlessness or moral confusion. Anomie arises when there is a lack of social integration and regulation, often associated with periods of rapid social change or disruptions in traditional norms
Social cohesion is crucial for contemporary societies centred on the rights of individuals and having to deal with rapid and radical changes that are upsetting the mechanisms that have traditionally ensured the maintenance of social bonds in Europe. In many contemporary societies, there is great diversity in terms of culture, language, religion and ethnic origin. Inequality in the distribution of wealth and access to resources can have a negative impact on social cohesion. When there is a large gap between the rich and the poor, it can lead to social tension, a sense of injustice and a lack of solidarity. Diversity can also be a challenge to social cohesion if not adequately managed, but it can also be a source of strength and enrichment for society if intercultural dialogue, understanding and inclusion are advocated.
Contemporary authors dealing with social cohesion include, among others, Robert Putnam (“Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community”, 2000), Anthony Giddens (“The Consequences of Modernity” (1990), Manuel Castells (“The Rise of the Network Society, 1996-2000”) and Paul Collier: “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It”. (2007)  (D.G.)