Master Seminar: Solidarity and the Question of Modernity

Institut für Kulturwissenschaften

Mees van Hulzen, MA

Seminar           Thursday 15:00 -17:00           

Examination    Paper (written in English or German)


Solidarity is a concept that is used in many different ways. People use it, for example, to express support for a social group one feels sympathetic towards, to describe special group obligations, or as an expression of social cohesion. In this seminar, we will explore one specific debate on the concept of solidarity which will lead us from early classical sociology to contemporary critical theory. One of the central questions which started this debate is the question of modernity. This question can be formulated as follows: how is it possible for people to constitute a social bond in modern societies that are inherently fragmented and heterogeneous? Emile Durkheim was one of the first who used the concept of solidarity to answer this question in his early work The Division of Labor in Society (1893). Here, he introduces the concept of ‘organic solidarity’ which is not based on sameness but on difference and interdependence. This concept of solidarity, which Durkheim developed as an answer to the question of modernity, has strong similarities with Hegel’s concept of ethical life (Sitlichkeit) as he describes it in The Philosophy of Right (1821).

These two theories inspire the debate on solidarity in contemporary critical theory. In the work of critical theorists such as Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and Rahel Jaeggi, the focus of the debate has shifted to the mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion that are connected to solidarity. The difficulty they are dealing with is that solidarity in premodern societies was most of the time highly exclusive. Under the threat of rearising nationalism, the question becomes pressing: how it is possible to think of more inclusive forms of solidarity? Is there such a thing as a universal solidarity that includes all human beings? Or is solidarity to a certain extent always exclusive? 


The discussion will be held in English and we will refer primarily to the English texts, but if a text is originally written in German it is of course possible to read the German original.



Durkheim, Emile (1997) The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. W. D. Halls, New York: The Free Press.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1967) Philosophy of Right. Trans. Thomas Malcolm Knox, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

And various texts that will be distributed at the beginning of the seminar.



Semester: ST 2018