Social Cohesion. Inclusion and a sense of belonging in Latin America and the Caribbean
Supervision of Ernesto Ottone, Acting Deputy Executive Secretary of ECLAC, and coordination of Ana Sojo, Social Development Division
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the idea of social cohesion has emerged as a response to persistent problems which, despite certain achievements over the past few years, continue to exist: high indices of poverty and indigence, the extreme inequality that characterizes our region and various forms of discrimination and social exclusion dating back to the distant past. The actors that might potentially be capable of fostering positive interaction lack a common set of principles of cooperation and communication. While there are usually many reasons for these gaps, the frail material foundation of social cohesion is a stand-out factor - although the problem certainly transcends the mere satisfaction of material needs.
Hence the importance of policies to promote social cohesion based on democratic values. In addition to its unquestionable ethical importance, given its implications for equity, social cohesion has a role to play in assessing the strength of the rule of law, the democratic social order and governance. Its conceptual use, however, has been far from rigorous; it is more akin to a political objective or aspiration, indistinctly associated with a variety of multifaceted social-development issues which are said to promote or impede its achievement.
Since the early 1990s, ECLAC has been working to develop a vision of development suited to a globalized world of open economies. This approach is intended to create positive synergy between economic growth and social equity, within the context of the modernization of productivity. Objectives such as increased competitiveness, macroeconomic balance and the strengthening of participatory, inclusive political democracy are also emphasized. The ideas submitted by ECLAC in this book represent an attempt to increase the visibility, identity and depth of social cohesion, and advance its adoption as an important beacon for public policies.
To that end, several dimensions of social cohesion are explored. Action in these areas will require resources and political will, in order to reduce gaps caused by exclusion and create a sense of belonging founded upon the effective exercise of citizenship and a democratic ethic. The social cohesion agenda for the region must take into account both the limits and the economic, political and institutional restrictions that constrain the viability of social cohesion. An analysis of the underlying causes of its absence is also indispensable, for at least two reasons: in order to design and implement policies geared toward achieving social cohesion, and to consolidate agreements that will help bring it about. In this book, ECLAC will argue in favour of a social cohesion contract for the countries of the region, taking into account the specific features of each country.
Chapter I provides a definition of social cohesion, in order to address the ambiguity that surrounds the concept. In concrete terms, social cohesion may be defined not only as the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms instituted by society, but also as the manner in which these mechanisms influence and mould individual perceptions of and behaviour toward a particular society or community. After defining the concept, the chapter briefly explores the link between the obstacles preventing the achievement of social inclusion and certain significant features of the current stage of Latin American and Caribbean development. The chapter closes with a reflection on the issue from the perspective of citizen rights.
Chapter II summarizes certain background elements and features of the system of social cohesion indicators used by the European Union, and submits some preliminary ideas regarding the challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean in this regard. A system of indicators could be used to apply minimum standards of social cohesion, assess situations of discrimination and exclusion, and measure the progress and effectiveness of public policies in this field.
The contradictory trends which characterize social well-being in the region raise questions regarding social cohesion. Accordingly, Chapter III identifies and analyzes the national socioeconomic characteristics that most directly affect the way individuals perceive their chances of achieving wellbeing, and therefore contribute to the development of attitudes and behaviour that facilitate or hinder the achievement of social consensus. This approach makes it possible to focus on a limited number of issues and processes. Specific consideration is given to certain structural or "objective" factors - poverty and inequality in the distribution of income, among others - whose relative persistence over time may contribute to the sense of financial insecurity revealed by opinion polls.
Given the definition of social cohesion adopted in this book, it is important to capture the views and perceptions of individuals regarding the level of solidarity their society provides, as well as their definition of solidarity toward others. The survey method used in Chapter IV makes it possible to study the perceptions, views and attitudes of individuals regarding the main social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms in the region. Such perceptions, views and attitudes can ultimately lead to behaviours that facilitate or hinder the development of social covenants.
It is difficult to have an impact on the subjective aspects of social cohesion through public policy. Consequently, a more indirect approach is usually employed. Given the decisive role of economic performance and the distribution of the fruits of development in individual well-being, policies that affect the objective conditions most clearly associated with well-being and quality of life can be more effective in this regard. Chapter V examines three such policies, all of which are intertwined: increasing production opportunities, encouraging the development of personal capabilities and developing more inclusive safety nets to deal with vulnerabilities and risks.
The final chapter describes a social cohesion contract that would solidify agreement with and political commitment to the aforementioned objective, and furnish the economic, political and institutional resources needed to make it viable. As is well known, this is not the first time ECLAC has proposed the adoption of social covenants in the region. Fiscal and social-protection covenants, for example, were developed precisely as a response to the magnitude of the task at hand and the need for long-term sustainability. In this regard, while ECLAC is aware that repeated or excessive use of the idea of a social covenant can diminish its power, it considers the idea of a contract that sheds light on the role and duties of the State and society in the achievement of democratic social cohesion, and encourages them to fulfil such duties, to be a fruitful and innovative one. Chapter VI explains the proper use of the term "social cohesion contract", details its potential implications and posits certain ideas regarding the funding of such an initiative in the political context described by the book as a whole.
José Luis Machinea Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)