The Palgrave Handbook of Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity
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The Palgrave Handbook of Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity

Formulating a Field of Study

V. Jeffries

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eBook - ePub

The Palgrave Handbook of Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity

Formulating a Field of Study

V. Jeffries

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The study of altruism, morality, and social solidarity is an emerging field of scholarship and research in sociology. This handbook will function as a foundational source for this subject matter and field, and as an impetus to its further development.

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Part 1
General Perspectives and Future Directions
1
Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity as a Field of Study
Vincent Jeffries
The study of altruism, morality, and social solidarity is now in the process of becoming a recognized field of specialization in sociology. These phenomena were of central concern in the earlier years of sociology. However, with the exception of the writings of some individual scholars, they have been given scant attention in the last 50 years. Interest in their study is now reawakening. Recent writings by Alexander (2006; 2014), Efremenko and Evseeva (2012), Hitlin and Vaisey (2010), Oliner (2011), and Smith (2003; 2010) show this trend can be expected to continue.
The nature of a coherent field integrating the study of altruism, morality, and social solidarity has yet to be elaborated. This chapter suggests several projects that will contribute to advancing the study of these phenomena, both separately and with respect to their interrelationships. The identity of these projects derives from previous analysis of the development and maintenance of schools of thought. Two works, Randall Collins’s (1998) comprehensive study of trends in philosophical thought throughout world history and Edward Tiryakian’s (1979) account of the importance of schools in the development of sociology, provide the primary basis for this analysis.
Systems of thought in philosophy and in sociology can be viewed as schools. They usually begin as a small number of individuals organized around a particular set of ideas. If they succeed in attracting others and transcending generations, these schools become established traditions of thought (Alexander and Colomy 1992; Collins 1998; Tiryakian 1979).
There are differences between schools of thought and fields of specialization. A field is defined by its focus on a particular subject matter, such as altruism, morality, and social solidarity, within the much broader scope of a discipline, such as sociology. A field of specialization is much narrower in substantive focus than a major school of philosophical or sociological thought. Writings in a special field draw on a variety of theoretical schools and methodologies in their specific focus.
Despite these differences, it is reasonable to assume that factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of schools, whether they are philosophical or sociological, would make similar contributions to a field of specialization. This chapter frames these factors as projects to be accomplished to advance the field of altruism, morality, and social solidarity.
First project: Identifying the founders and intellectual heritage
Theoretical schools in sociology develop around the ideas of a founder/leader. The ideas of this individual provide a different perspective from those current in the discipline. They also provide a basis for unity by formulating both a distinctive approach to the subject matter and a mission to effect beneficial changes in the discipline (Tiryakian 1979). Major intellectual figures whose ideas are parallel and relevant to the focus of a field of specialization can impart the same benefits to work and progress in that field.
The ideas of three individuals—Emile Durkheim, Jane Addams, and Pitirim A. Sorokin—appear particularly important as foundational sources for future developments in the field of altruism, morality, and social solidarity. Their ideas provide a comprehensive and inspirational heritage for theoretical elaboration and research programs. The distinctive nature of their individual thought is complementary. Viewed as one system of thought, their ideas span and integrate the diverse subject matter of the field and the manner of its practice. All three theorists also saw their scholarly work as a basis for improving the lives of individuals and the characteristics of the sociocultural order. Hence their ideas are relevant for developing approaches to both the application of sociological ideas in policy and for dialogue about sociological knowledge and understandings with publics.
The study of social solidarity was a central focus of Durkheim’s writings. His interests included the emergence of solidarity through social interaction and the role of social institutions such as the division of labor, religion, and education in influencing solidarity (Durkheim 1957; 1960; 1961). He also gave attention to sociocultural conditions such as anomie and egoism that are antithetical to solidarity (Durkheim 1951). His delineation of the nature and components of morality, and his emphasis on its theoretical and practical importance, established the foundation for the sociological study of morality (Durkheim 1953; 1961). Durkheim (1951:35) believed that “the progress of a science is proven by the progress toward solution of the problems it treats.” This conviction that science should benefit society was manifested in his efforts to change and improve the French educational system (Turner, Beeghley, and Powers 2007:255–256). Lukes (1973) has recounted Durkheim’s life and his sociology.
While sociology in the United States was developing into a recognized discipline in the period from 1885 to 1930, a form of sociological practice known as settlement sociology was of major importance. The foremost theorist and leading researcher in this sociology was Jane Addams (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley 2002:14). The primary motives and the philosophy of the settlement are based on three general suppositions. First, the entire “social organism” needs to be made more democratic, going beyond basic political participation. This includes extending full “fellowship” to all races, ethnic groups, immigrants, classes, and ages (Addams 2002a:45–49). Second, the social energy and the benefits of civilization should be made available to all. Third, basic religious ideas and the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy (Addams 2009:116–123) contribute to the supposition that “love is the creative force of the universe” (Addams 2002a:24). Love unites people and can be embodied in society (Addams 2002a). This philosophy was manifested in sociological practice by systematically gathering empirical data with the intent of identifying and understanding problems. On this basis, informed efforts and legislation could be initiated to provide amelioration. Addams’s research illustrating this combination of description and consideration of policy includes studies of domestic labor (Addams 1896), trade unions (Addams 1899), municipal administration (Addams 1905), recreation in cities (Addams 1912), and sex trafficking (Addams 1914). Because of basic changes in society, a new social ethics is needed in these areas (Addams 2002b). To further this development, Addams advocated a theory and approach that stressed linking the practice of sociology to a moral purpose. This moral focus involves improving the lives of people and uniting communities by instilling the idea of a “neighborly relation” in place of the disconnection of urban life (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley 2002:15–16). Mary Jo Deegan (2005) has described Addams’s thought and her work in relation to sociology at the University of Chicago.
The writings of Pitirim A. Sorokin include a general theory of solidarity and antagonism (Sorokin 1947), a typology of social relationships that reflects these forms of interaction, and an extensive historical analysis of revolution and war (Sorokin 1947; 1957). Sorokin’s explorations in the study of morality include a historical analysis of the ethical systems of culture and their effects on solidarity (1947; 1957; 1998b), and a consideration of the relation between power and morality (Sorokin and Lunden 1959). Sorokin’s publications on altruistic love (Sorokin [1954] 2002) and on reconstruction (Sorokin 1948) founded the modern scientific study of altruism during the 1950s. Sorokin believed that knowledge about how to create a “harmonious universe” is limited. Therefore, “the historical moment has struck for building a new applied science or a new art of amitology—the science and art of cultivation of amity, unselfish love, and mutual help in interindividual and intergroup relationships.” The development of the knowledge for this science is “the paramount need of humanity” (Sorokin 1998a:302). Throughout his career Sorokin wrote for both the scholarly community and the general public, combining description and analysis with programs of reconstruction (Jeffries 2005). Johnston (1995) has written a comprehensive account of Sorokin’s life and ideas.
Second project: Formulating core ideas
Sociological schools derive their identity from the innovations that are characteristic of their core ideas. These innovations typically include some view of how the school can move sociology to a higher level of excellence. They also provide a sense of purpose to the schools’ followers (Tiryakian 1979).
The most basic innovation of the emergent field of altruism, morality, and social solidarity is the collective effort to reinvigorate and promulgate the study of these phenomena within the discipline of sociology. The foundational concepts of the field—altruism, morality, and social solidarity—each include a variety of somewhat diverse and often interrelated phenomena. Advancing knowledge and understanding regarding the nature, forms, and ranges of these phenomena is a fundamental project in building the field.
Altruism in the most general sense signifies both intent and behavior to benefit another person in some manner (Jeffries 1998). Generosity, benevolence, forgiveness, volunteering, unlimited love, virtue, philanthropy, and altruistic love are terms used to indicate specific manifestations of this generalized orientation. Each can be regarded as ranging on a continuum from low to high.
Morality entails ideas about proper and improper, right and wrong, and good and evil (Hitlin and Vaisey 2010:5–6; Smith 2003). Such ideas are a component of the psyche of every individual, and also part of the culture of groups of different types. Systems of morality can vary in many respects. Moral principles can be considered obligatory, or simply recommended. They may require or prohibit. The content of ideas considered as moral can differ widely.
Solidarity refers to a form of interaction and of intergroup relations (Alexander 2006; Sorokin 1947:93–118). At either of these levels of analysis, the essential characteristics are the ability to engage in cooperative activity to strive for common goals, and a sense of unity and bonding. A similarity of meaning and value underlie these characteristics. Solidarity can be manifested in a wide variety of interactions and intergroup contacts. Important variances occur in the intensity, extensity, and duration of solidarity.
It is important to recognize that altruism, morality, and social solidarity can all involve actions and consequences that are negative, in the sense that they harm others. Altruistic behavior undertaken with the best of intentions can harm those it is intended to help (Oakley, Knafo, and McGrath 2011). On a sociocultural level, Durkheim (1951) has examined how excessive altruism can be pathological. Morality can mandate suppressing, dominating, enslaving, or exterminating others (Alexander 2014). Likewise, solidarity can produce in-group coordination and out-group antagonism that can lead to conflict that results in harming others, even to the extent of atrocities. Such actions are perceived as, and may actually be, “especially harmful and evil” (Collins 2012:2–3. See also, Sorokin [1954] 2002:461–464). Instances of the negative results of these phenomena are an important focus of future theory and research.
A sense of purpose, based on potential contribution to sociology and the general society, is inherent in the subject matter of this field. There can be no question that altruism, morality, and social solidarity are each sociologically important. Their different forms and ranges of variation are significantly implicated in individual lives and sociocultural structures and processes of various types. Knowledge and understanding of these phenomena are also important in contributing to the general social welfare. Valid scientific information regarding how the positive manifestations of altruism, morality, and social solidarity can be more fully realized could benefit both the lives of individuals and the common good of the general society.
Discerning the nature, ranges, and forms of altruism, morality, and social solidarity is an important innovation for the field. Understanding these core ideas conceptually and empirically also provides a foundation for studying the interrelationships among these phenomena.
Third project: Constructing syntheses of theory and of practice
Sociology is engaged in the search for truth. This requires obtaining accurate knowledge and understanding of what actually exists. An important part of ascertaining and advancing truth is the development of creative systems of thought (Collins 1998:33). The historical study of philosophical thought shows that such creativity involves formulating a synthesis that incorporates existing ideas and renders them compatible. They are selected and molded into a coherent and comprehensive new system of thought. An effective synthesis also correctly anticipates the most important foci for future scientific activity (Collins 1998:33, 131–133).
These characteristics of synthesis can be applied to the study of altruism, morality, and social solidarity. Three areas of synthesis can be considered: synthesis of interrelationships, synthesis of the sociology of the good, and synthesis of sociological practice.
Synthesis of studying interrelationships
The first area of synthesis is to move from the study of altruism, morality, and social solidarity as separate subjects to systematically investigating their interrelationships. There is a very complex and pervasive relationship between morality and solidarity, with great variance in consequences. Alexander (2006; 2014), Fein (1997:203–212; 2007:1–14), and Sorokin (1957:414–429, 436–473; 1998b) have all contributed important insights regarding this relationship. Their work provides a strong and empirically based starting point for further theoretical development and empirical research. Likewise, altruism appears related in different ways to both solidarity and morality, with a varying range of consequences. The distinctions between in-group and out-group, and between inclusion and exclusion, as manifested in moral codes and in patterns of solidarity, are of major importance in these variations in altruism....

Inhaltsverzeichnis

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Part 1   General Perspectives and Future Directions
  4. Part 2   The Founders and Intellectual Heritage
  5. Part 3   Core Ideas: Elaborations and Implications
  6. Part 4   Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity: Interrelationships and Applications
  7. Notes on Contributors
  8. Name Index
  9. Subject Index