Social Cohesion
Social quality is defined as: ‘the extent to which citizens are able to participate in the social and economic life of their communities under conditions which enhance their well-being and individual potential’ (Beck et al., 1997:3). The notion of ‘the social’ is central to social quality: it is ‘the outcome of constantly changing processes through which human subjects realise themselves as interactive human beings’. Central to this is the relationship between individual self realisation and the formation of collective identities.

Social cohesion can be defined as

    the nature of social relations based on shared identities, values and norms (Phillips, 2006a:178)

    or, more dynamically, as

    ‘the extent to which social relations, based on identities, values and norms, are shared’ (van der Maesen, 2006:9).

Domains of social cohesion
Social cohesion – understood metaphorically as the glue that binds society together or as societal solidarity or, more prosaically, as being to do with social relations, norms, values and identities – is central to social life because the notions of communities and the social world itself are impossible without social cohesion.

Its domains are:


Generalised trust Extent to which ‘most people can be trusted’
Specific trust: institutional Trust in: government; elected representatives; political parties; armed forces; legal system; the media; trade unions, police; religious institutions; civil service; major companies; financial institutions; banks Trust in community leaders
Specific trust: personal Trust in: family; friends; neighbours; peers (work colleagues etc.); people in daily interactions

Other integrative norms and values

Altruism Volunteering: number of hours per week Blood donations Charitable contributions
Commonality & reciprocity Extent of reciprocity Expectations of others
Social contract Willingness to pay taxes to help disadvantaged groups Willingness to undertake practical activities in neighbourhood (e.g. picking up litter) Division of domestic responsibilities
Justice: formal legal framework Adherence to UN Declaration of Human Rights; Index of civil liberties; Gastill’s Index of Political rights; independence of judiciary
Justice: practice Integrity in administration of justice; extent of arbitrary imprisonment; bribery; index of corruption; percentage of population facing political discrimination; index of intensity of political discrimination; civil rights activism; contract enforceability, access to information
Tolerance Views on immigration, pluralism and multiculturalism Tolerance of other people’s beliefs, behaviours and lifestyle preferences

Social networks

Horizontal networks Number and type of associations or local institutions; extent of membership; extent of participatory decision-making; reliance on networks of support.
Vertical networks Links between local/community and national organisations; links between local/community organisations and government agencies
Cross-cutting ties Extent of cross-membership of groups and associations (a) horizontally (b) vertically. the former can be measured using standard social network analysis techniques


Identity, is the most complex and perhaps problematic of the potential domains of social cohesion. Its importance is undoubted: indeed collective identities pervade the whole notion of social quality.

National Sense of national pride; support for national sporting teams; percentage of population involved in separatist movements
Regional / community / local Sense of regional / community / local identity; identification with cultural, religious or ethnic identity
Interpersonal Sense of belonging to family and kinship network

Indicator Questions
Social Trust: The cultural notions of “Familistic utilitarianism” (Lau) and “familist groupism” (Lin) result in high trust for one’s personal social network but in low trust for strangers.
    “Who are the most helpful persons in one’s life?”

    “If you were to encounter an illegal situation (such as a violent one), do you think other people would help you?”

    " Are you satisfied with social connections?"

    "Types of interpersonal networks found - Relatives, Friends, Classmates, Workmates?"

    "labor statistics regarding job-seeking methods- helped by friends and relatives or registered with employment agencies" ?

    "were getting helped by friends and relatives?"

    "regarding standard of living?"

    "Regarding optimism or confidence? "

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