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Social Cohesion

Recognizing the rising expectations of growing middle classes in developing countries, the OECD’s report Perspectives on Global Development 2012 focused on social cohesion: “Social cohesion is also a means that enables citizens to live in societies where they enjoy a sense of belonging and trust. The inference is that the absence of social cohesion may result in instability.” t55 Tunisia and Thailand are cited as examples of countries where salaries are rising and education improving, but where improvements in equalities and political participation are lagging behind. The unrest in Thailand in December 2010 and the Tunisian revolution that eventually led to the ousting of President Ben Ali show that this can lead to violence.

The OECD looks at social cohesion through three lenses:

  • social inclusion: inequalities, polarization and poverty levels
  • social capital: levels of trust and civic engagement
  • social mobility: the degree to which people can or believe they can change their position in society.

An important element of the OECD’s concept of social cohesion is thus the levels of inequality in a society and the ability of people to overcome them. The OECD argues that social cohesion is a valuable goal in itself and helps maintain long-term economic growth. The report focuses strongly on rising inequalities in developing countries, which must be levelled through fiscal policies and through employment and social protection. Other policy areas that are key to social cohesion include education, gender and migration.

Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB, gives a critical analysis of the report on his weblog. He finds that it does not do justice to the topic, neglecting important issues like attitudes and beliefs: “how different generations and genders treat each other; animosities towards minority groups or geographical, cultural, religious, ethnic or sexual ‘others’ and so on.” The report also pays little attention to the ways in which a lack of social cohesion can lead to violence and conflict, focusing mainly on economic policies to limit inequalities. Green fears that ‘social cohesion’ will become yet another buzzword in the development industry, and calls for attention to what we should be doing that is additional or different by looking through a social cohesion ‘lens’.

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