Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview
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Part Two
HOW WORKPLACE BONDS ENRICH DEMOCRATIC LIFE

Thus far we have seen that workplace associations can and often do foster cooperation, sociability, and connectedness across boundaries of family and neighborhood and, critically, across cleavages of race, ethnicity, and other lines of social division. Yet the argument so far has only hinted at the relationship between the interpersonal ties that form at the workplace and the healthy functioning of a democratic society. Before launching that more theoretical inquiry, let me restate in general terms my claim about the relationship between workplace ties and democratic life.

The success and vitality of the democratic project depends on some sense of interdependence and common fate and some ability to empathize, cooperate, and communicate among citizens from different families, neighborhoods, and communities. These interpersonal ties are especially important, yet less common, across lines of social division such as race that have been the basis for discrimination and segregation. A liberal democratic society that is devoted to freedom as well as to equality necessarily tolerates discrimination and self-segregation in many spheres of private life—in individual decisions about where and with whom to live and form families, friendships, and other private associations. That freedom has contributed to a continuing legacy of racial separation in families, neighborhoods, and many voluntary associations. Segregation, in turn, limits the society's store of shared knowledge and empathy regarding the conditions of life across group lines.

Personal ties across those lines of division are essential to building the citizens' will and ability to overcome divisions, to craft compromise and consensus in the face of conflict, and to combat the subtle and intransigent sources of inequality that remain in American society. The proliferation of those ties depends upon the existence of a domain in which people find it necessary to get along and get things done with others with whom they would not otherwise choose to associate, or with whom they would not choose to

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