The research program “Erosion of Social Solidarity” initiated by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence investigated the extent and repercussions of erosion of social solidarity in Germany. One of the tasks was to identify central explanatory models for this decline and to evaluate its impact on the integrative capacity of society—as expressed, for example, in the exclusion of minorities or in rejection of the political system.
The Bielefeld part of the project focused on whether an increase in social polarization could be interpreted as an erosion of social solidarity (e.g., excluding certain groups from the production of collective social goods). It also looked at the influence of individual norms of justice, solidarity expectations, and attribution patterns; whether personal experience of erosion of social solidarity affected the individual’s willingness to show solidarity towards others (expressed either as solidarity with other social groups or as the advocation or rejection of specific social welfare models); and the extent to which this encouraged responses such as xenophobia, disenchantment with politics, or social Darwinism.
The project tested the following hypotheses:
• That an individual’s degree of social integration or exclusion is primarily responsible for their specific approach to dealing with problems, including their political attitudes.
• That an individual’s dominant form of problem attribution (whether they hold the individual, the collective or the circumstances responsible for a given problem) will have an intensifying or moderating effect on that relationship.
• That personal norms of justice (i.e., advocacy of distributional justice based on contribution or need) and specific forms of solidarity expectation (face to face, reciprocity between groups, solidarity between those who are unequal) will have a moderating effect.
The findings show that the perception of social polarization does indeed often go hand in hand with a perceived erosion of solidarity and therefore cannot be viewed outside the context of individual levels of integration or exclusion. Specific states of integration or exclusion therefore proved to be effective predictors of political attitudes of the kind investigated here and was also influenced by the moderating variables mentioned. Alongside the findings more closely tied to our hypotheses some of our empirical observations of social polarization showed a clear reduction in people’s general sense of justice in comparison with the findings of earlier representative surveys and a corresponding increase in perceptions of polarization (the vertical versus the horizontal inequality dimension).
Herr Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer
Herr Dr. Reimund Anhut
Institut für interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung