Regimes of Social Cohesion

This paper explores the different meanings of social cohesion in historical and contemporary societies and identifies some different ‘regimes of social cohesion’, and their characteristics, that can be found in western and east Asian societies. It adopts a mixed-method and interdisciplinary approach, drawing on the literatures in comparative historical sociology and comparative political economy, and using both qualitative, logical comparative methods, and quantitative statistical analysis.

In the first section of the paper we analyse the constituents of social cohesion which are specified in different definitions-in-use in policy and contemporary academic writing. This leads to a definition of social cohesion which is non-normative and non-exclusive and which can be used in empirical analysis.
The second section seeks to identify the major historical traditions of writings about social cohesion and the social order in western sociology and political philosophy and the logics they imply as to the forces which bind society together.

Sections three and four review some historical evidence for social origins of different traditions of social cohesion in the West, and their subsequent patterns of evolution, based on ‘longue durée’ accounts of historical development and on ‘non-absolute’ notions of path dependency.

Section five uses the literature on ‘varieties of capitalism’ and ‘welfare state regimes’ to develop some provisional theories about different contemporary forms of social cohesion which may be found in particular regions – or clusters of countries – in the West and east Asia. We call these ‘regimes of social cohesion’, in the same way that Esping-Andersen (1990) refers to ‘welfare regimes’ and Michael Walzer (1997) to ‘regimes of toleration’. The last section of the paper uses international data on social attitudes and institutional characteristics to test empirically whether such regimes can be identified in terms of regions or country clusters which display particular sets of institutional characteristics and aggregate social attitudes.