Social cohesion

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Social cohesion is the demonstrated willingness of members of a community—or wider society—to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper. It is the bond and common purpose among members of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members, minimizing disparities and avoiding marginalization.

OECD has defined a cohesive society as one that “works toward the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility.”

Social cohesion is perceived as desirable in diverse and dense living environments such as cities, especially as having a salutary effect to reduce intercommunity tensions and avoid conflict and violence. Its constituent elements include concerns about social inclusion, social capital and social mobility. Certain spheres of government and development agencies have begun to carry out projects and programs to encourage social cohesion, especially in the context of demographic change and displacement that new combinations of distinct populations and their interactions. Some of these elements are quantifiable, and some efforts have sought to develop suitable metrics to assess social cohesion.[1]

However, ideological movements have distorted the meaning and purpose of “social cohesion” to serve private or parochial interests. In certain contexts, the term has been used as a premise to exclude and enforce physical segregation, material discrimination and apartheid in order to preserve the cohesion of certain social groups as distinct from others.[2]


[1] Through specific activities and surveys assessing different aspects of people’s social connections and civic engagement. For example, see: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ), “Education for social cohesion” (2013–16), at: https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/18393.html; European Committee for Social Cohesion, “Strategy for Social Cohesion” CDCS (2000) 43, at: www.coe.int/t/dg3/socialpolicies/socialcohesiondev/source/strategy_en.doc; African Development Bank, Côte d’Ivoire – Social Inclusion and Cohesion Enhancement Support Programme (PARICS) (2014–15), at: https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Project-and-Operations/C%C3%B4te_d_Ivoire_-_Social_Inclusion_and_Cohesion_Enhancement_Support_Programme__PARICS__-_Appraisal_Report.pdf.

[2] In Israel, the military is seen as an institution that promotes social cohesion – a very important melting pot in the Israeli reality of diversity. Army service is seen as a as a process that promotes social cohesion – a very important melting pot to transform the Israeli reality of diversity into conformity. The army is seen as a principal institution for forming “national” (Zionist-Jewish) consciousness and participating in the nation-building project as conceived by the authorities, i.e. promoting Israel as a Jewish national state. See “Attempts To Mobilize Christians Into The Israeli Military The Case of Christian Arab Citizens of Israel,” Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, at: https://hcef.org/790793710-attempts-to-mobilize-christians-into-the-israeli-military-the-case-of-christian-arab-citizens-of-israel/. See the inverted interpretation of the concept of “social cohesion” of individual communities as a basis for legalized segregation and institutionalized material discrimination between different classes of citizens is exemplified in decisions of the Israel Lands Administration Council. See Suhad Bishara, “On Class and Nationality in Housing Rights, ‖” Adalah’s Newsletter, Volume 11 (March 2005), p. 1, at: http://www.adalah.org/newsletter/eng/mar05/ar1.pdf. See also HIC-HLRN (in conjunction with Sajha Manch) Restructuring New Delhi’s Urban Habitat: Building an Apartheid City? Fact-finding Report No. 5 [on the resettlement process of Delhi, India] (New Delhi: HIC-HLRN, South Asia Regional Program—SARP, 2001), executive summary at: http://www.hic-gs.org/document.php?pid=2719.