LACNIC Internet Community Newsletter
Latin America and the Caribbean face a time of Challenges and Opportunities
by José Luis Machinea
A consequence of the internationalization of the economy is that national states have less influence on many decisions, and that local cultures can create relationships among themselves without the mediation of the national State. Thus, manifestations of diversity arise, societies witness the presence of groups having different cultural codes, and a great abyss is generated between symbolic consumption and material consumption.
A feeling of perplexity, and sometimes of opposition to what is happening, tends to permeate the spirit of the most diverse social sectors. Perplexity in the face of the unknown, rules that are not well dominated, and the uncertainty of the results such rules may have to offer. Actors that might well be called to build positive interaction spaces are not provided with a set of cooperation and communication principles.
Although there are multiple reasons for these disagreements, a major cause is the feeble material basis on which social cohesion is constructed, even though the problem certainly transcends mere material satisfaction. Social cohesion is a concept that goes beyond the economic and social divides that separate members of society. It also goes beyond the notions of social capital, integration and exclusion. It embraces all these concepts. Social cohesion is defined as the dialectic between the instituted mechanisms of social inclusion/exclusion and the citizenry’s responses, perceptions and decisions in relation to the way these mechanisms operate. This concept allows relating dimensions of reality that are usually disassociated: social policies and the value of solidarity; synergies among social equality and political legitimacy; transmission of skills and citizen empowerment; socioeconomic changes and changes in collective subjectivity; promotion of greater equality and acknowledgement of diversity, be it in terms of gender, ethnicity, or race; socioeconomic divides and the feeling of belonging.
Social cohesion is an end in itself as well as a means to that end. As an end in itself, it is the object of public policies, as long as the aim of these policies is that all members of society feel they are an active part of their society, contributing to its progress and becoming its beneficiaries. At a historical point of inflection, of deep and rapid changes, recreating and guaranteeing the sense of belonging is an end in itself. But it is also a means to that end. Those societies that boast greater levels of social cohesion provide a better institutional framework for economic growth, and they attract investments that appreciate an environment of trust and clear rules. Achieving greater levels of social cohesion implies a new social contract, because long term public policies aimed at achieving equality of opportunities require social and political strength as well as continuity and perseverance for their implementation. This requires that all actors feel they are a part of the whole and willing to partially compromise their personal interests for the common good.
A greater willingness on the part of citizens to support democracy, to participate in public affairs and discussion arenas, to trust institutions and have a greater feeling of belonging to the community and of solidarity with excluded and vulnerable groups makes it easier to achieve the social pacts that are necessary to support pro-equality and pro-inclusion policies.
José Luis Machinea