Exploring the need for human-centred social cohesion – Fellows’ seminar by Håkan Hydén

6 December 2016

“South Africa’s diversity is a product of historical experience, ethnographic complexity, racial and economic stratification, and forms of value deprivation that cut across every institutional situation. Diversity extends to language, religion, education, aesthetics and culture,” said Håkan Hydén, Professor in the Department of the Sociology of Law at Lund University and currently a STIAS fellow. Prof. Hydén was discussing two projects he is undertaking at STIAS which focus on social cohesion – what it constitutes and how it is threatened.

hyden-1 STIAS Fellow Håkan Hydén during his seminar presentation on 24 November 2016

One project looks at the current threats to the Welfare State model while the other examines social cohesion and diversity with reference to the Khoikhoi and Khoisan in South Africa. Prof. Hydén presented ideas from these projects at a STIAS seminar.

“In South Africa diversity is a problem that has to be addressed,” he said. “Diversity is multidimensional and covers many aspects of life.”

“Among the most conspicuous legacies of South Africa’s complex history is the endurance of racism as well as complex iterations of racial consciousness,” said Hydén. “The question we wish to address is the place of the Khoikhoi and the Khoisan in this rich tapestry of diversity as a test case.”

“It’s a problem of exclusion and as long as a group is excluded social cohesion is threatened.”

“These people are an ancient people. There is evidence that they descended from the sanguine Stone Age people. In their present demographic they are believed to have settled in South Africa about 2000 years ago.”

“The Khoi and the San experienced centuries of conflict, mainly with white colonisation. During these years they faced economic dispossession, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery and extermination. They were also subject to restrictions imposed by some of the worst of apartheid and earlier legislation including the Natives Land Act of 1913 and the 1950 Group Areas Act. This all had huge multi-generational effects which continue to this day.”

“The Khoi have survived,” said Hydén “but restoration of their rights and their claims to social cohesion are unfulfilled. To a certain extent they don’t exist.”

“They certainly have a right to traditional lands and resources,” continued Hydén, “especially if we take the United Nation’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into account.”

This declaration also encompasses rights to education and information, and to protection under international and domestic labour laws.

“Obviously it is not a binding declaration but it does represent international legal norms,” continued Hydén.

“The King of the Khoisan has tried to have them acknowledged as indigenous people but there is no clear definition as to what an indigenous person is,” he said.

“The South African government has not denied their rights but has largely kept silent. It’s clearly an issue that requires further examination.”

Challenges to the Welfare State model

Outlining the ideas behind the second project Hydén pointed out that: “The Welfare state plays a crucial role in social cohesion in secular western societies. It is a social system where the government is responsible for the welfare of its citizens built on the premises that underlie an industrialised society.”

“However,” he added, “it is on its way out and prolongation will lead to clashes.”

Hydén believes that the cohesion of the Welfare state model in contemporary society is being substantially challenged currently in particular due to technological developments and migration.

“Although societies have always developed in cyclical fashion, these threats are growing exponentially, which will jeopardise the present model for social cohesion.”

“Technological development and migration challenge social cohesion over time,” said Hydén. “Technological development leads to new business models which turn the labour market upside down and lead to conflict between technology and employment. It also changes the power relations between the state and private entities and corporations.”

“Migration, on the other hand, has played various roles in European history at different times. But current migration in Europe has seen the rise of far right political parties which are garnering about 20% of the vote across all European countries.”

“Whether you decide to open or close borders there are consequences, and compromises in between the two are not sustainable in the long run.”

Hydén and his co-researchers hope to draw some of these ideas into publications. “Social science is often about looking in a mirror backwards,” he said. “We will try to draw conclusions about contemporary trends which threaten the social cohesion of post-industrialised societies.”

“Norms are the filter between law and society,” he said. “You cannot understand the law without understanding the underlying norms and the law does not work if social norms are not in congruence. Social cohesion is dependent on system integration.”

“For example, wage labour represents a conflict between social and economic value perspectives. On the economic side there is productivity, efficiency and profit, while on the social side there are personal values, social rationality and community. Trade Unions arise to strengthen the social part.”

“When the economy fails, we face problems.”

“The industrial model of societal development has been a question of providing material wealth,” said Hydén. “It has been so successful that the different systems – economy, technology, bureaucracy, democracy, etc. tend to live their own lives and are no longer dependent on peoples’ input from what can be called the life-world. Values other than material ones have been neglected.”

“Instead of technological-driven societal development, we argue for the necessity of human-centred development based on the values documented in different human rights prescriptions in declarations, conventions and practices.”


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