Solidarity in Isolation? Social Cohesion at a Time of Physical Distance
In addition to its widespread public-health and economic impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged social cohesion in many countries by forcing changes in how people interact. Physical connection, the most human response to collective adversity, has been largely out of reach during long periods of lockdown, social distancing, and remote work and learning. The temporary closure of public spaces such as libraries and schools has also limited the spontaneous, casual encounters that can build bridges between disparate groups.
This MPI Europe report explores ways to assess the pandemic’s effects on social capital and social infrastructure in Europe and North America. It also presents an initial analysis of how and where social cohesion is in peril and where it may actually be gaining strength, and highlights the importance of governments taking an inclusive approach and prioritizing social cohesion as societies move toward recovery.
The authors identify three trends:
- Bridges between groups are weakening, even as new forms of connection may be strengthening bonds within existing networks.
- Immigrant integration programs have worked hard to move their offerings online, but digital tools may capture only a fraction of what in-person programming can and they may leave behind some people who most need assistance overcoming integration barriers, such as those with limited access to and familiarity with technology.
- A wide range of volunteering, mutual aid, and other grassroots forms of solidarity have emerged during the pandemic, but it remains to be seen which can make the switch from emergency response to longer-term engagement.
2 How to Measure Social Cohesion and Assess Whether It Is in Danger
A. Bridges between Groups Are Weakening
B. Virtual Immigrant Integration Activities Are Imperfect Substitutes for Social Connection
C. New Forms of Solidarity Have Emerged but May Not Last
3 Conclusions and Policy Considerations for the Recovery