Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview

10
CONCLUSION

Recall Tocqueville's most profound observation about the virtues of association: “Feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart enlarged, and the understanding developed only by the reciprocal action of men one upon another.” 1 “Reciprocal action” through collective activity not only fosters particular relationships and usable ties but also more diffuse and generalized feelings of empathy and understanding, of connectedness and being-in-this-togetherness among citizens. This diffuse sense of connectedness operates as a soft form of social capital, for it fosters the ability and willingness to support and carry out projects for the common good. It also contributes to the quality of public discourse and democratic deliberation, for deliberation among citizens who care about each others' wellbeing is more likely to produce understanding, compromise, and progress toward solutions to social problems. But the value of connectedness as such, and especially the role of economic associations in fostering connectedness, hearkens to an older tradition in social theory—one that has mostly receded from public view and that deserves to be refurbished and updated in light of more recent commitments to intergroup equality and integration in the workplace. That has been my objective here.

I do not mean to claim too much for the role of the workplace in democratic society. The workplace is far from an oasis of equality and harmony. Even the unionized workplace is not a site of genuine democracy and collective selfdetermination. The workplace cannot replace the voluntary civic associations at the center of the prevailing conception of civil society. Freely chosen, autonomous, self-governing associations organized around shared values and objectives serve many individual, group, and societal interests that the workplace cannot, especially for the millions of adults who are retired, unemployed, or otherwise outside of the paid labor market.

But for those who do spend much of their lives there, the workplace cultivates some of the same qualities of social life that voluntary civic groups do, as

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