In current debates on migration, political actors and experts repeatedly refer to the scenario of a disintegrating, polarized society in order to call for more integration, assimilation, or for the overall exclusion of migrants. However, concepts such as integration, assimilation, or multiculturalism as their apparent opposite have different implications and histories. Their use differs, depending on the historical and local context. Nevertheless, they are equally rooted in the idea of one society that requires practices and forms of holding it together. And the actual fears of a disintegrating society stand in a long tradition of critical observers repeatedly claiming that society was falling apart – claims that were hardly confined to the field of migration. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, contemporaries developed changing ideas of who or what was forcing societies apart. They imagined that society was cracking along the lines of class, race, religion, or gender and presented diverse groups, developments, and ideas as threats to a stable social life. Moreover, actors such as social scientists, politicians, educators or activists developed changing visions and practices in order to deal with these perceived threats. In order to situate current fears of disintegration in a broader historical framework, the panel aims to compare these different visions of a “society in crisis” as well as different efforts to make it hold together. The tension between the idea of one coherent society and the challenges posed by the diversity of its members and their individual needs, beliefs, and life-styles is hardly new. It is one of the major tensions of the modern era. While the church and the family as traditional purveyors of common values began to lose authority and while long-distance migration and globalization gained influence, contemporaries became increasingly concerned with the question of how to live together. Urbanists and twentieth century sociologists often celebrated the city as major integrating force that taught the inhabitants to deal with anonymity and diversity. Moreover, politicians and experts set their hopes on the integrating effect of mass consumption that would lessen the tensions of industrial class-society. A common language and common cultural practices have been presented as unifying forces. Republican-assimilationist France traditionally relied on its schools and armies in order to purvey national ideals and create a bond between the state and its individual citizens, whereas British political actors in the second half of the 20th century promulgated the importance of communities as basic social units helping to foster social stability. In view of the recent wave of nationalism and isolationism around the world, Canadians have relaunched a debate on the model of multi- and interculturalism, its societal conditions and historical roots.
Striving to gain a more differentiated understanding of the tension between social cohesion and diversity in the 19th and 20th centuries, the panel aims to compare such different visions and practices of holding societies together – as well as changing ideas of seeing them fall apart.
We invite paper proposals addressing the following questions:
- What concepts of social cohesion, integration, fragmentation, or disintegration have been developed in modern societies?
- What strategies and practices have been put in place to address these issues?
- How do these concepts and practices vary across societies, polities and cultures and how do they evolve over time?
- What has been regarded as the basic unit of cohesion (society, nation-state, regions, cities or communities…), what degrees of fragmentation seemed tolerable or even necessary, and what means of mediation between or within these units have been proposed?
- To what extent have normative assumptions about society as a cohesive whole been brought into dialogue with concepts of social change, diversity, transfer, intersectionality and the like?
- How can the study of migration and its effects be reconnected with larger debates about society and social cohesion, plurality and integration?
The ESSHC aims at bringing together scholars interested in explaining historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences. The Twelfth European Social Science History Conference is organized by the International Institute of Social History.
For details, see:
Please send your proposals (including name, affiliation, short abstract) to firstname.lastname@example.org until 10 April 2017.