Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Social Cohesion in a
Culturally Diverse Exchange Economy

Clarence S. Bayne*

1. introduction

This paper was inspired by my attendance of a conference of the CIRCLE/CCRN Round Table 2000, held in Edmonton 26th and 27th May, 2000. The over all theme for the conference was “Culture, Connectedness and Social Cohesion.” After the first few papers had been presented, the conference found itself wrestling with many different perspectives on social cohesion. But no clear consensus emerged around a definition. The failure or unwillingness to define the concept was addressed by Collen Mercer (Nottingham Trent University), Rod Fisher (CIRCLE/CCRN Round Table, 2000), Ritva Mitchell (Arts Council of Finland Research Department). Hatto Fisher (CIED Network, Greece) used the term social cohesion but never really defined it; or rather seemed to have many definitions (CCRN, 2000). There seemed to be a sense at the conference that social cohesion was a work in progress. Rod Fisher informed us that the term was not widely used in England. Ritva Mitchell told the conference that Finnish policy planners prefer to use derivatives of the concept: social disintegration and cultural diversity. The conference agreed that this obvious variation in the interpretation of the term social cohesion should not detract from the value of the work that we were doing. However, this raised unanswered questions of measurement and comparison. If we could not define or measure social cohesion, how could we expect to talk in a meaningful way about social cohesion and determine more concretely how it contributes to civil society. I had an exceptionally difficult time determining whether what we were talking about is any different from an egalitarian or a free enterprise democratic society with a high degree of distributive justice: some highly desirable distribution of goods, services, opportunities to participate, rewards and compensations, and self esteem. On the personal level, I asked the question whether what was being presented was relevant to my determining my own sense of alienation or that of persons that believe themselves to be Black, or Chinese, or Italian. The answer was, yes. But mainly on the abstract level. Then I posed the question. Are Black people, as perceived by White Canadians, among the least preferred, preferred or most preferred? Whenever Canadians have been polled on this question, the answer has always placed Blacks among the least preferred. On a vast number of indexes of inequality this can be shown to be the case in every city across this country. On this dimension one would conclude that Blacks are not made to feel comfortable as full and desired citizens in Canada. Many other relevant factors can be identified that contribute to desired and undesired states of being. They can be ranked or measured to determine the state of well being of any sub-group. The relevance of this approach is in the fact that it seeks to measure, along a number of dimensional variables, the amount of alienation, inclusiveness or well being an individual in Canadian society experiences. Collen Mercer presented the conference with a set of variables that can be used to construct a “human development index.” This method of measurement of a state or condition can be applied to quality assessments at the macro and micro levels of society. However, the problem remains determining what it is we wish to measure; and being able to define it in operational terms. Social cohesion in so far as it has to do with inclusion or exclusion from some social frame of reference will be affected by differences in preferences between groups, and the freedom to make choices motivated by those preferences. Studies on social cohesion should explore these differences.

Chapter 10 , continued >


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