The politics of social cohesion in Germany, France and the United Kingdom

Dobbernack, Jan (2014) The politics of social cohesion in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Palgrave Politics of Identity and Citizenship series . Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. ISBN 9781137338839

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The last two decades have seen the appearance of a concern with social cohesion across Western Europe. Prominent politicians and public intellectuals increasingly proclaim social cohesion to be at risk and propose measures for its preservation or reinforcement. The social divisions that result from globalization, individualization or cultural pluralism - facts and processes that have characterized the European experience for some time - have become central in the debate about visions for social reform and governmental purposes. In a variety of contexts, the proposition now is that such processes constitute threatening divisions and require urgent efforts of political counterbalancing. Targeted interventions are needed to reinforce cohesion and need to be directed at the causes of social fragmentation and disunity.
This concern with cohesion has found a conspicuous expression in programmes for political reform and social governance. In the explicit presentation of these programmes as political agendas for cohesion, agenda-setting politicians - often following the lead of public intellectuals and prominent policy entrepreneurs - have employed a rich socio-political vocabulary to define domains of problems and propose remedies. The mid-1990s to early 2000s thus saw the development of agendas of community cohesion in the United Kingdom, Bürgergesellschaft in Germany and cohésion sociale in France. Following the shared objective to preserve cohesion, these agendas were targeted at different configurations of social problems and focused on different remedies: fostering political participation and active citizenship, reinforcing attitudes of reciprocity and social contact, or engaging and activating individuals in the labour market or as recipients of social welfare.
Although there are significant precedents for anxiety about social disunity in European post-war politics, the proliferation and parallel emergence of cohesion during the mid- to late 1990s is striking and invites examination. Intellectual protagonists that contributed to the development of cohesion agendas, such as Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck or Pierre Rosanvallon, hark back to established themes in social and political theory, including functionalist sociology and communitarian themes in political philosophy. Yet the formation of cohesion agendas hardly confirms the notion that sociological or political theory provides ready-made blueprints for social reform. The conditions of their emergence raise questions about the specifically political environments in which social cohesion became an exceedingly popular objective.
This book examines the formation of cohesion agendas in France, Germany and the United Kingdom and offers a political exploration of shared features and discontinuities in the politics of social cohesion across three countries. It explores the role of socio-political rhetoric and of imaginations of society in policy-making and political debate. It highlights the significance of public anxieties about disintegration and decline as well as the definition of desired social futures. It thus examines how three different concepts of cohesion acquired a sense of plausibility within particular intellectual and political contexts. The book pays particular attention to shared logics of social regulation and governance across politics of cohesion that were differently conceived. It suggests that, across France, Germany and the United Kingdom, different accounts of what constituted the ‘cohesive society’ entailed similar measures for promoting it. Despite their concern to address dissimilar domains of social problems, agendas of community cohesion, Bürgergesellschaft and cohésion sociale proposed similarly focused measures of political intervention.

Keywords:social cohesion, social governance, political discourse
Subjects:L Social studies > L200 Politics
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Social & Political Sciences
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ID Code:7635
Deposited On:23 Feb 2013 10:42

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