Approaching Social Cohesion – A First Attempt

A stated, the first part of the project will focus on what is meant by the concept of social cohesion, thus there is a need to explore the field of social cohesion. Several attempts at defining and operationalizing social cohesion have been made and resulted in a multiplicity of understandings, all of them stressing its multidimensionality. In general, scholars consider a cohesive society a goal or at least a general direction in which society should evolve, and often include the means by which it may be achieved (Berger-Schmitt, 2000, p. 4).[1]

This project will not present an alternative interpretation of social cohesion. Rather, it will discuss these attempts to define and operationalize as to use it as a basis to start a food sharing network. One major source which will be used is the work of Ted Cantle; he set up the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) which became the UK’s leading authority on community cohesion and intercultural relations. He has established the iCoCo Foundation to build on this work and to develop policy and practice on interculturalism and community cohesion. Besides his expertise in the area of social cohesion, or community cohesion as Cantle would call it, he has done research similar to this project such as the Community Cohesion Report.

Although the report is from 2001 is still is useable today. More recent articles such as “Social cohesion in Europe: How do the different dimensions of inequality affect social cohesion?” by Loris Vergolini similarly address the multidimensionality of social cohesion but also move towards the direction Cantle is taking on interculturalism and theories on integration and differentiation.[2]

In Cantle’s report the goal was to:

To obtain the views of local communities, including young people, local authorities, voluntary and faith organizations, in a number of representative multi-ethnic communities, on the issues that need to be addressed in developing confident, active communities and social cohesion.

To identify good practice and to report this to the Ministerial Group, and also to identify weaknesses in the handling of these issues at local level.[3]

Cantle focused on the issues that needed to be addressed in developing social cohesion and tried to identify good practices. This project, focusing on increasing social cohesion through a food sharing network, is such a good practice I will argue.

Cantle derives his approach to social cohesion from the earlier mentioned Ray Forest and Ade Kearns who presented “Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighborhood” to ESRC Cities Programme Neighborhoods Colloquium in June 2000. Foster and Kearns explore the idea that societies face a new crisis of social cohesion and thus they outline five key dimensions of community (or social) cohesion: Common values and a civic culture, social order and social control, social solidarity and reductions in wealth disparities, social networks and social capital and lastly place attachment and identity.[4]

[1] Andreas Novy, Daniela Coimbra Swiatek and Frank Moulaert, “Social Cohesion: A Conceptual and Political Elucidation” (unknown): 2-3.

[2] On top of that the article refers to authors from the same time period as Cantle’s publication.

Loris Vergolini, “Social cohesion in Europe: How do the different dimensions of inequality affect social cohesion?” International Journal of Comparative Sociology June 2011 52: 197-214, 199.

Lockwood (1992, 1999)

Gough and Olofsson 1999)

[3] Cantle et. al., Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team (2001): 5.

[4] Foster and Kearns, “Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighborhood”, Urban Studies vol. 38 (2001): 2125.