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The term social cohesion is widely used and abused. Policy makers have invoked it both nationally and internationally. However, its definition varies from context to context depending on what the issues it is addressing. First, social cohesion is used to signify a positive condition, which we ought to strive to. This is the normative fashion. This fashion displays social cohesion as a good thing, and this may not invariably be the case. It, therefore, hinders an objective analysis of social cohesion. Too much social cohesion may cause social insularity and hinder progression. It may also cause economic sclerosis and fail to address substantive injustices in the society.
Secondly, social cohesion implies the mere aggregation of the socially desirable traits, such as trust, honesty, kindness, tolerance, good citizenship and so on. Thirdly, social cohesion may be defined in terms of its supposed causes and effects (Birner & Ege, 1999, p. 13). Causes, such as equality and welfare, and effects such as increased economic growth, may be used to define social cohesion. Fourthly, the definition of social cohesion depends on the intended level of analysis. This may be the family, society or even the country. People have tried to define social cohesion and, therefore, come up with various definitions (Bone, 2010, p. 27).
According to Jenson (1988), social cohesion is a set of social processes that assists in installing a sense of belonging to individuals of the same community, and the feeling that they are recognized and appreciated in the community. The Council of Europe (2004) defines a socially cohesive society as a mutually supportive society of free individuals pursuing common goals in a democratic environment. This definition is based on human rights perspective. Social cohesion usually attaches a sense of belonging to a social group, family, society and neighborhood. A socially cohesive society has shared values, ensures respect for each other and observes equality. Social cohesion reduces disparities in wealth and income, builds shared values and enables people to have a common goal. According to Chen et al (2006), social cohesion is a state of affairs of a society characterized by a set of attitudes and norms, as well as behavioral manifestations. However, there are social attitudes and behaviors that are common to all socially cohesive societies. These are shared values and goals, a sense of belonging and identity, tolerance and respect for each other, interpersonal and institutional trust, civic cooperation and participation and law-abiding behavior.
Division of labor, on the other hand, is not a discovery of the present. Traditionally, labor was shared based on gender and age. In most communities, men are the breadwinners while women are homemakers and carers. However, this has really changed in the near past. This is mainly because of the increase in human capital on the part of women. Recent years have seen a decline in the role of traditional marriage and parenthood, and a constant increase in the share of the service sector in national economies. Women are actively participating in the labor market, too. There has also been an increase in education and employment levels among women. Division of labor defines gender roles (Kjellstrom & Mercado, 2008, p. 22). Gender roles may be defined as a set of patterned, mutually independent and social relations among social persons and social circles. It involves negotiated duties and obligations, rights and privileges. This constructs gender identity throughout the course of life and affects the relationships that one makes in life.
The rate at which the traditional division of labor is changing depends on a country’s welfare, labor market, and cultural setting. Women continue to surpass men in education levels, and domestic roles are taken up by private and public sectors. This breaks the traditional social cohesion of the family. In organizations, division of labor greatly influences cohesion among employees and the management. People in higher–ranked positions get more income and are highly valued as compared to those in lower-ranked jobs, such as casual workers. This increases disparity between the two ranks and, therefore, hinders cohesion. In most workplaces, there is a poor cohesion between the subordinate and skilled staff. Division of labor also hinders socialization. People do not meet and, therefore, they do not expand their social networks. This hinders togetherness among people and, therefore, undermines social cohesion.
The market today assumes rationality of economic agents. Each participating agent in the market aims to increase his or her utility. Being economic agents, human beings are also rational, and as such aim to maximize their utility. They work day and night tirelessly with the aim of accumulating as much wealth as possible. In the market, they are getting new ways of creating wealth each day. Division of labor has led to specialization and ensured that individuals take up certain roles and specialize in them. This, sometimes, leads to boredom, but at the same time increases competence. These two factors have both favorable and negative impacts on social cohesion. This paper aims to analyze both positive and negative impacts of the market and division of labor on social cohesion. It concludes by determining whether these impacts encourage or discourage social cohesion.
Producers and consumers are the main economic agents in most markets. Each of them aims to gain the most out of the market, and, therefore, they have conflicting goals. While producers focus on selling products at high prices and in large volumes, consumers want to buy large amounts of goods but at lower prices. This conflict of goals hinders social cohesion. In the market, there are many buyers and sellers. Sellers usually compete to attract a large number of customers. They offer prices and services competitively, and this creates invisible walls of enmity that hinder social cohesion. Firms in the market aim to maximize revenue while minimizing costs. They may attain this through offering high prices at the expense of consumers. To sell at high prices, sellers, sometimes, create artificial shortages, and consumers are forced to queue for long hours or struggle to get what they prefer. Sometimes, sellers create black markets where goods in high demand are sold. They offer goods of lower quality but priced identically with high-quality goods. This may create enmity between the two economic agents and hinder cohesion.
There are various activities that happen in the market, but the main aim is to create wealth. Under capitalism, which is rampant in most markets, there is a lot of individualism, and so every party in the market aims to derive most benefits, regardless of whether the other parties will benefit or not. Markets are, therefore, dictated by the ability of the individual to be aggressive. This individualism brought about by capitalism results in rising income inequality. Individuals capable of taking advantage of opportunities amass huge wealth, while those who lack the ability are left poor. This creates a big gap between the rich and the poor. Now, the rich are, in some way, in control of the market. The poor are left to their own device and have to suffer at the hands of the merciless rich. This creates a certain barrier between the two, which results in a decrease of togetherness, and, therefore, undermines social cohesion (Boyle, 2008, p. 17).
The prevailing mores of individualism and self-interest greatly undermine social cohesion. Traditionally, people were selfless and mindful of their neighbors, and this led to cohesion among communities. They had shared values in the past, and hence developed a sense of care towards each other. Currently, people are not mindful of each other, with everybody wanting to get the most out of the market. The conflicting interests among the economic agents, such as pursuit of individual goals, have undermined the previously cherished social cohesion.
The market nowadays is characterized by technological inventions and innovations. Every day, new inventions are made and they make work easier. However, in the labor market, machines increasingly replace human beings, which results in rising unemployment rates. Income inequality becomes more pronounced, and this loosens the bonds between the rich and the poor, making them perceive each other differently. This leads to the development of social classes, which in a way acts as barrier to social cohesion. Lack of employment results in an increase in crime activities. Losing a job to mechanization, takes a heavy toll on people. They have to support their families somehow, and very often they end up engaging in crime activities (Devo & Carl 1999, p. 22). This poses a great threat to social cohesion, and it is a killer of togetherness of the society or any other group.
The current market, especially the labor market, is flooded with white-collar jobs. People pursue high education to get white-collar jobs, which are highly valued due to the social status attached to them. The labor market tends to favor white-collar jobs, as opposed to jobs involving manual labour. This fact makes people leave their native towns and move to urban areas. It also breaks the social networks among people, and, consequently, undermines social cohesion. In addition, the people who move to the urban areas meet and interact with other people from diverse backgrounds. They form new societies and break the cohesion from the earlier societies. The labor market also promotes great wage inequality, thus undermining social cohesion.
The market today leads to declining traditional family and religious observance. Traditionally, women were allocated domestic chores and men were the breadwinners. In the current labor market, women continue to get an increased share of work, and this breaks the traditional role of women. This also breaks social cohesion in families and societies, since women are too preoccupied with their work to bother about their families. Religiously, people are supposed to be friendly and mindful of each other. However, under the current capitalistic market, this has become a thing of the past, and people are mindful of themselves only.
However, social cohesion and division of labor also encourage social cohesion. Division of labor promotes cooperation among people at the same wage level. They become united and mindful of each other. This to a great extent promotes social cohesion. Social partners care about each other, and there is a feeling of brotherhood amongst them. Division of labor also leads to specialization of labor. This makes people more competent in their jobs, which causes increased production. This results in an increase in the gross domestic product and general welfare of people (Farnsworth, 2005, p. 16). People no longer feel enmity towards each other, since the root cause is eliminated. This promotes social cohesion. The market also provides a good placee for people to meet and interact. Through trading activities that are carried out in the market, people enlarge their social networks. They create new friends and strengthen existing friendships. Trading also opens people’s connections, and they relate with others easily and with respect. By challenge each other and improving general performance people succeed in making their lives better. Through the interaction, they are able to co-exist peacefully, regardless of their personal and background differences, and this promotes social cohesion. In the market, there are wholesale traders and retailers. Some retailers sell their merchandise by engaging in door-to-door sales. As they sell, they interact with their customers. Some even develop long-lasting friendships, and this promotes peaceful coexistence. When a society is peaceful, there is social cohesion.
Markets provide a venue for eliminating personal and cultural differences. In the market, people with different outlooks on life meet. They exchange ideas and, consequently, improve their welfare. Also, people from different backgrounds meet and exchange their cultural orientations. They form firm and strong bonds that are not easily broken. Some friendships may also result in marriages. Through intermarriages, cultural barriers are broken, and there is increased compatibility amongst people, regardless of their backgrounds (Jaffe & Quark, 2006, p. 33). This promotes social cohesion.
Demand and supply is a common phenomenon in the market, which drives market activities. Producers produce goods according to consumers’ tastes and preferences. Producers uphold consumer sovereignty, and this promotes peace among consumers and producers. This also fosters social cohesion.
The pricing system in the market also promotes social cohesion. It ensures that the market participants get substantial gains from the market. The market theory of demand and supply ensures that no party is oppressed for long. The government also interferes in pricing and sets price floors and ceilings. Through the forces of demand and supply, suppliers do not have a chance to exploit the consumer, a fact that has some impact on strengthening the social cohesion.
Under socialism, people work together and share the products of their work. This kind of market is, however, not common, and was applied, for example, in Tanzania. This market, however, promotes peace among people. They learn to be mindful of others and live as brothers and sisters. This promotes peaceful coexistence and solidarity in the society, and, consequently, promotes social cohesion. Markets also promote social cohesion through establishing a common language. Money is used in markets as a standard and widely-accepted measure of quality. This ensures that there is no misunderstanding between economic agents, and also that there is peace. This further adds to social cohesion.
Markets provide an important venue for people to meet, since they offer things people need in their lives. Sellers go to the market to offer their products and services, while consumers go to the market to buy goods and services they require. This provides a good platform for people to meet and expand their social networks. They create new circles of friends and broaden the existing ones. Social cohesion, on the other hand, is an important factor in a society. It provides a good environment for economic growth. Socially cohesive people are strongly attached to one another, and have a sense of belonging. Markets play an important role in promoting social cohesion. As illustrated above, markets provide an important venue for people to meet and break their personal and cultural differences. Markets also promote a common goal among people and ensure peace. This results in solidarity among people and, consequently, social cohesion. Though there are some discouraging aspects in markets overall they promote social cohesion. Governments and relevant authorities should intervene to address the issues in markets that discourage social cohesion. This is because social cohesion increases economic development. Division of labor, on the other hand, promotes specialization and helps make it clear who should do what. This increases production, and, consequently, welfare of people improves. This promotes social cohesion, because people live their lives the way they want, and social vices that hinder cohesion are uncommon.