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Solidarity and interdependence

Other ethical principles

Alperovitch et al. (2009) link the principle of solidarity to those of justice and equity explaining that in order to ensure equal access to support, some degree of solidarity may be needed. They emphasize the recognition of the individual value of each person and the need to help those whose dignity is endangered (see section on dignity). Solidarity, in the social sense, can be described as a kind of voluntary union or fellowship amongst people (e.g. groups, classes, nations etc.) based on a community of feelings, purposes, responsibilities and/or interests, whereby in the spirit of cooperation, people are concerned about those who are less fortunate or vulnerable and strive for equity and justice for all. This may result in specific action to help people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable such as policies to counter social discrimination. Sometimes, people may contribute towards the support of more needy individuals through the payment of obligatory social charges or sickness fund contributions without having any desire to provide solidarity as this may simply be the State system. The principle of solidarity differs to that of subsidiarity which in relation to social welfare, for example, would imply that people should take care of themselves and only if they are unable to do so, should turn to their families and then, if necessary, to communities, local governments and eventually state governments (Kain, 2009).

Solidarity may be based on notions of interdependence which involves mutual and physical responsibility to others and the sharing of a common set of principles, which is often linked to devotion to one’s family or community. Hockey and James (1993) suggest that the discourse of dependency, which has the greatest impact on children and old people, especially elderly people affected by dementia, ignores the interdependence of all people and the fact that dependency on others for support can occur at any stage in the life continuum by people who are ill or well. This means that during a person’s lifetime, autonomy may take a more central place than the need for solidarity and vice versa, although both may be present at the same time. A person may be dependent on others for certain things but still be able to take part in the decision-making process surrounding the provision of such assistance and for other matters in his/her life. In some cases (e.g. in the case of pandemics), people may be torn between the principles of autonomy (e.g. the desire not to be vaccinated due to personal fears about risks involved) and solidarity (the desire not to spread a disease to others).

However, the polarisation of the concepts of independency and dependency serves as a means to demarcate certain groups of people, such as people with dementia, and may contribute towards their loss of power and devaluation. They may sometimes be perceived by others and even themselves as not contributing and being a burden to the state and society. Drawing on disability studies, Adams (2008) questions whether independence means the same thing to disabled people as it does to the non-disabled and suggests that control over their lives might be more important to disabled people than actual ability to do things.



Last Updated: Monday 29 March 2010