European inventory of
societal values of culture


Dictionary definitions routinely define solidarity as the willingness of one person or a group to provide support to each other or another group in times of need. It is frequently added that such support is based on a bond of unity or agreement based on an awareness of shared interests, objectives, standards, or sympathies.

Sociological approaches help us understand the nature of these bonds of unity and explain how they come about. We learn from these approaches that solidarity points to the existence of social interactions, includes means of establishing connections and presupposes reciprocity between social agents (Smith and Sorrell, 2014). It is a mode of group cohesion that is not based on force. Rather, solidarity ‘forges a group out of individuals’ by tying them to one another based on ‘positive obligations’ (Borger, 2020). An important defining characteristic of solidarity is that, unlike collectivism, it does not reject but positively values individual needs.

Individuals connected by the bond of solidarity can be united around a common goal (e.g., in the case of the labour movement) or a common interest (e.g., in response to outside pressure or danger). Solidarity can be based on common ideological principles (as in the case of working-class solidarity) or religious values (as, e.g., in the case of Christian solidarity).

One should also bear in mind that solidarity can exist at a community or national level but also extends to supranational levels, where it is sometimes mentioned in formal declarations. For example, it is defined as the fourth title of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (, whose purpose is to improve the lives of citizens in the entire Union but also motivates actions beyond its borders. Likewise, international and global solidarity play a prominent role in a number of programmes organised and promoted by UNESCO. Finally, it should be said that the nature of solidarity changes along with society, and it is possible for various forms of solidarity to exist simultaneously (Schiermer, 2014; Borger, 2020).

Why solidarity is important in the contemporary context and what changes it has undergone can arguably be best understood if one returns to its initial and by far the most important conceptualisation in the social sciences, that of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). 

Studying how societies can maintain their integrity and coherence in view of the changes brought about by industrial modernity, Durkheim distinguished between mechanical and organic solidarity. He argued that these two types of solidarity can be distinguished based on a number of their features and that they correlate with two different types of society, i.e., with either mechanical or organic society.

According to Durkheim, mechanical solidarity is found in traditional and small-scale societies and comes about as a result of the homogeneity of the individuals who make them up. It is frequently based on kinship ties or familial networks, or by people connected through similar kinds of work as well as a common religious, educational, and lifestyle background.

In contrast, organic solidarity is found in societies in which there is a higher level of specialisation of work. Due to their ever-increasing division of labour, these modern, industrialised societies are characterised by a higher level of interdependence among their members. Their social order depends on the reliance of these members on each other and their ability to perform different tasks needed for securing essential goods and services.

In other words, instead of the homogeneity and similarity prevalent in societies based on mechanical solidarity, complex societies based on organic solidarity take into account the differences and complementary needs of their members. These increasingly secular societies allowed more room for reflection and individual initiative. However, as traditional ties were weakening, they were faced with a need for moral and economic regulation. 

Since these forms of regulation did not evolve spontaneously in response to the division of labour, it can be argued that the need to regulate interdependence in some ways led to the 20th-century welfare state redistribution, which culminated in Europe in the period between 1945 and 1975. In this period, the justifying rhetoric included the notion of solidarity towards the weaker members of the labour market and society more prominently than has been the case since the 1980s, when neoliberal marketisation and promotion of individual responsibility replaced the logic of redistributive justice.

In this new context, rather than being based on abstract appeals, calls for solidarity have resurfaced in the form of claims for rights. For example, the previously mentioned Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000/2009) lists workers’ rights, the rights to social security and social assistance, and environmental and consumer rights as those that should be secured under the title of solidarity. In addition to such codifications, however, calls for solidarity continue to be the motivation for numerous actions of civil society organisations advocating for social Europe, citizens’ and migrants’ rights, and care-based society in general.

New social realities, coming about in response to an increasingly complex global division of work and the numerous crises that accompany it, pose questions regarding the foundations on which it is now based (Brunkhorst, 2005). Authors problematising the possibility of establishing positive sentiments and solidarity in contemporary society (Giddens, 1998, 2005; Wilson, 2003) point to cultural pluralism as one of its important factors.

Consequently, the contribution of contemporary cultural policies to developing solidarity in society should relate to supporting cultural pluralism and promoting the imaginaries of care and solidarity. In a narrower sense, the tasks of cultural policies also relate to securing better working and living conditions for artists and cultural workers, in the spirit of Title IV of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. (DG, ITK, MP)


See also:  Equality; Gender balance and culture; Equal pay; Cultural commons; Community art