On Solidarity

In December 2004, following a panel discussion on Jacek Kuron’s legacy, the Institute for Human Sciences (IHS), in collaboration with the IWM in Vienna, launched a long-term comparative project on social and international solidarity, bringing together European and American researchers, policy makers, and politicians to discuss issues of demographic development.

The project revolves around the question of social cohesion: what keeps a society together? The question involves, among others, issues of demographic development, social stratification (in particular the role and the future of the middle class), problems of societal integration, and the role of religions in contemporary societies. These are not only intellectually interesting questions, bringing together a number of academic disciplines; they also influence to a considerable extent the self-understanding of American and European societies. That self-understanding has practical consequences and the solidarity project is very keen on translating its findings into implementable policies. Social cohesion is vital to every society, yet both the United States and Europe are increasingly challenged by growing inequalities and social fragmentation.

A series of meetings have attracted broad attention as well as political and financial support.

  • Inequality and Social Solidarity, 2013 [Program (PDF)]
  • The Character of the Public, 2012 [Program (PDF)]
  • Social Solidarity, Democracy, and the Media, 2010 [Program (PDF)]
  • Solidarity and Crisis, 2009
  • Solidarity and Isolation, 2008
  • Enlarging Solidarity—Cultural Differences and Institutional Adjustments, 2007
  • Cultural and Political Conditions for the Reform of Social Models in Europe and the US, 2006
  • Values and Social Policy, 2005

The first meeting, on values and social policy, at Boston University in the fall of 2005, brought together leading researchers, policy makers, and politicians from the US and Europe, including Giuliano Amato, former prime minister of Italy; Alfred Gusenbauer, chair of the Social Democratic Party of Austria; Danuta Huebner, EU commissioner for regional policy; Michael Mertes, state secretary in North Rhine-Westphalia; Vladimir Spidla, EU commissioner for social affairs; and Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Italian minister of finance. American participants included US Representative Rosa DeLauro, prominent pollster Stanley Greenberg, American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, and former governor John Sununu. A public debate, chaired by philosopher Charles Taylor, accompanied the meeting.

A unique and important American-European, nonpartisan forum for the intellectual and political exchange of ideas and experiences on particularly burning social and political problems was established, and additional support has been obtained from the European Commission and the Austrian and the Dutch governments. A second meeting, on the cultural and political conditions of social models in Europe and the US, took place in Vienna in May 2006. A third meeting, on integration of cultural differences, will take place on June 1 and 2, again in Vienna. The next Boston meeting, in the fall of 2008, centered around the question of solidarity and isolation and dealt with problems of aging, out-groups, and spacial isolation in the United States and Europe with a special focus on Germany. The accompanying public debate on “The Craft of Solidarity: Skills and Practice” was chaired by Ira Katznelson and featured Alfred Gusenbauer, chancellor of Austria, and Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at New York University and the London School of Economics.

Subsequent meetings have been organized by the IWM in Vienna, which continues to oversee the project since the IHS ceased operations in 2010.