Social Cohesion

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What is Social Cohesion? Some Definitions

Social cohesion is a multi-dimensional concept and various definitions can be found in the literature. They include:

  • Social cohesion is a process of building shared values and communities of interpretation, reducing disparities in wealth and income, and generally enabling people to have a sense that they are engaged in a common enterprise, facing shared challenges, and that they are members of the same community.[1]
  • Social cohesion is a state of affairs in which a group of people (delineated by a geographical region, like a country) demonstrates an aptitude for collaboration that produces a climate for change that, in the longer run, benefits all.[2]
  • A cohesive community is one where:
  1. there is a common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities;
  2. the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued;
  3. those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and
  4. strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.[3]
  • As a cumulative societal concept, social cohesion is the set of positive externalities accruing from social capital, in addition to the sum of factors promoting equity in the distribution of opportunities among individuals.[4]
  • Social cohesion may be defined as the dialectical relationship between instituted social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms and responses, perceptions and attitudes of citizens toward the way these mechanisms operate.[5]
  • Social cohesion is the capacity of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding marginalisation.[6]
  • Social cohesion is a state of affairs concerning both the vertical and the horizontal interactions among members of society as characterized by a set of attitudes and norms that includes trust, a sense of belonging and the willingness to participate and help, as well as their behavioural manifestations.[7]
  • Social Cohesion can be understood as one aspect of social capital. In reference to terminology from Social Network Analysis this aspect is referred to as “bonding” or “local” social capital. It is created amongst persons in small communities with frequent personal interaction. Such smaller communities are themselves connected through intermediary actors (brokers) that dispose, hence, over “bridging” social capital. Thinking about the “overall social cohesion”, which then comprises local communities and the brokers connecting them, needs to take into account both aspects of social structure.[8]


Launch of the Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World

PGD cover.JPG

In 2011, the world witnessed mass citizen mobilisation. From Tahrir square to the Puerta del Sol, from the streets of Tunis to the avenues of New Delhi, calls for more social and economic justice, political participation, transparency and openness have resounded. These aspirations for greater social cohesion, with fair chances for everybody in society, are rooted in profound global economic transformations that have taken place over the last two decades such as a new geography of growth and shifts in the distribution of income and wealth.

In this context, the OECD Development Centre and the Club de Madrid jointly launched “Perspectives on Global Development 2012 – Social Cohesion in a Shifting World” on 21 November 2011. The report is the second book in the series of publications from the OECD Development Centre (the first one was on “Shifting Wealth“. The 2012 edition focuses specifically on social cohesion, and the launch on 21 November provided opportunity to raise the following questions:

  • Is social cohesion at risk?
  • Why should countries now invest in social cohesion?
  • How can governments best respond to these new expectations described above?
  • What policy reforms can contribute to strengthening social cohesion?
  • How can we learn from past experiences and existing practices?

Perspectives on Global Development: Stories

Check the presentation below for some stories based on the new report:



From the 20-21 January 2011: International Conference on Social Cohesion and Development

Social cohesion in a changing global economic context

The economic developments of the last two decades were characterised by a major realignment of the global economy towards emerging and developing countries. The question is how this phenomenon of “Shifting wealth” impacts on social cohesion. Recent events in fast growing countries in different parts of the world (e.g. political protests in Thailand, the Arab spring revolutions, labour disputes in China, trade unionists’ street protests in India) seem to suggest that the “pro-poor growth” pattern of many emerging countries is not automatically transformed into higher life satisfaction and progress. In fact,the OECD Development Centre’s work shows that while shifting wealth offers ample opportunities to develop a cohesive society, specific challenges of developing countries such as informal employment and institutional rigidities need to be overcome. What is more, the rising expectations of citizens beyond the fulfillment of basic needs, call for a more comprehensive development approach in which citizens can raise their voice and take actively part in the development of their societies.

Social cohesion for more policy effectiveness

In a cohesive society, both the state and communities play a key role in ensuring the well-being of citizens. Opening a space for citizens to engage and play a role in defining public policies is key to achieving progress. The question is how to distribute responsibilities so that the resources and assets of a society are used to most efficiently. The way in which the Bolsa Familia Programme, the Brazilian Conditional Cash Transfers programme, has been designed is a good example. Local committees (Social Control Units) composed of both representatives of the government and of civil society have been set up to supervise and control the implementation of the programme in each municipality. These committees ensure that all poor families in the municipality are registered. Social cohesion is a moving target, which is shaped by members of a society based on their mind-sets and beliefs.

Related Papers and Reports presented at the conference


Social Cohesion as a measure of progress? The debate is open

“A cohesive society works towards the well-being of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding marginalisation. It entails three major dimensions: fostering cohesion by building networks of relationships, trust and identity between different groups; fighting discrimination, exclusion and excessive inequalities; and enabling upward social mobility.”[9]

When looking at progress in societies beyond economic indicators, social cohesion seems to be a good indicator for many dimensions of progress, according to the above definition:

  • it is a multiplier of relationships, networks and alliances
  • it reinforces levels of trust among citizens, but also between citizens and decision-makers in a given country
  • it promotes the idea of inclusion and active participation

It is therefore correct to say that through these dimensions, social cohesion helps foster happiness and well-being.

So, if there is no social cohesion in a society, it is like removing the basic block of its entire functioning. However, in many societies there are negative elements that disturb social cohesion, and recent events across the Middle East have demonstrated what the lack of social cohesion can lead to.

  • What policies can be implemented at national level in order to establish such needed balance in a society?
  • In light of current upheavals against governments in some countries – mainly driven via web 2.0 platforms -, are web 2.0 tools a help or a hindrance to social cohesion?
  • What is your definition of social cohesion, and would you say that your country is socially cohesive? If so, on what grounds?

See also


  1. Maxwell, J. (1996). Social dimensions of economic growth. Eric John Hanson Memorial Lecture Series. University of Alberta, p.13
  2. Ritzen (2000), “Social Cohesion, Public Policy, and Economic Growth: Implications for OECD countries”, available at:
  3. House of Commons (2004), available at:
  4. IABD. (2006). Social cohesion in Latin America and the Caribbean – Analysis, action and coordination. Washington D.C., p.3
  5. ECLAC. (2007). Social Cohesion. Inclusion and a sense of belonging in Latin America and the Caribbean. Santiago del Chile: ECLAC, p.18
  6. Council, of Europe (2008). Report of the High Level Task Force on Social Cohesion in the 21st century.
  7. Chan, J., Ho-Pong, T., & Chan, E. (2006). Reconsidering Social Cohesion: Developing definition and analytical framework for empirical research. Social Indicators Research (75), 273–302.
  8. Täube, Volker G. (2004). Measuring the Social Capital of Brokerage Roles. Connections (26), 29-52.
  9. OECD Development Centre website, International Conference on Social Cohesion and Development, 20-21 January 2011

External links