Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Social Cohesion and Cultural Plurality

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Social Cohesion and Cultural Plurality

Article excerpt

Translated from French by Robert F. Barsky and Patricia Foxen

Abstract: The notion of social cohesion implies the definition of a modern society as inclusive and founded upon a sense of communality and responsibility of its members towards each other. It therefore insists on a necessary participation to public affairs, to the labor force, to communities of life, and on a sense of societal belonging to enhance the solidarity and trust between members of a society. We discuss these ideas as well as their implications for the ethnic minorities in Canada. We try to show how the notion of social cohesion rests upon a deficient definition of the concepts of democratization, social capital, and membership to a society. We point its omission of the structural reproduction and production of inequalities, its deny of legitimacy to protests aiming at a change of power relations, its misinterpretation of the concept of social capital, and its injunction to develop a sense of societal belonging.

Resume: La notion de cohesion sociale renvoie a une definition de la societe moderne comme integree and basee sur une communalite entre ses membres et sur leur responsabilite sociale. Elle insiste sur la necessaire participation des individus aux affaires publiques, au marche du travail, a une communaute de vie, et sur leur developpement d'un sens d'appartenance societale, autant de conditions pour accroitre confiance et solidarite entre eux. Cet article discute ces differentes idees et leurs implications pour les minorites ethniques et nationales, notamment dans le cas canadien. Il montre comment la notion de cohesion sociale repose sur une conception deficiente de la democratie, du capital social et du sens d'appartenance a une societe en omettant les fondements structurels de la production et de la reproduction des inegalites et le role des contestations des relations de pouvoir, en limitant le sens du concept de capital social et en exigeant une allegeance a l'Etat et le partage de valeurs culturelles.

Introduction: The themes of the social cohesion discourses

The notion of social cohesion conveys the sense of modern society as an integrated and inclusive entity, a community where individualistic interests and social confrontations constitute abnormal, negative situations. Three main processes are to promote inclusion and social peace, put forth as standards:

1. Participation of all persons in political decisions or democratization, notably local, to face the faults of the representative democracy and the State bureaucracy;

2. Reactivation of social interactions based on trust and reciprocity between members of a society;

3. Enhancement of the ideas of common good, sharing of values, feelings of commonality and of social solidarity amongst members of a society;

These processes have to allow for a peaceful negotiation between divergent interests, a fair redistribution of wealth, and the elimination of anomalous situations or, to use contemporary idiom, exclusion, factors which are considered to lie at the base of social cohesion. They have to limit, if not stop, the downward spiral of contemporary societies into multiple communities and atomized individuals.

We will examine these three themes of the government discourses on social cohesion and will see how they put an emphasis on individual behaviours to explain inequalities and to promote solutions to so-called social problems, reduce democratization to participation to public management, and propose a definition of societal belonging founded on an allegiance to the State and ill-defined majority values. These definitions have implications for all actors, but we will look more specifically to their implications for ethnic and national minorities in Canada.

Beginning in the 1990s, these three themes were advocated by the OECD States. (1) They argue about the loss of social cohesion under the influence of multiple factors created or increased by the globalization (2) of markets and of production. …

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