Solidarity is gaining currency at the moment. Against the background of global economic crises, climate change and environmental disasters, and armed conflicts, we hear calls for solidarity with increasing frequency. Global solidarity, national solidarity, or solidarity with refugees are causes that are becoming more prominent in public discourse after solidarity seems to have worked silently in the background for the last decades: as a principle guiding the design of health and social care systems in Europe and beyond, as a value that informs resource allocation or as a societal ideal.
The background assumption of this book is that in times of global crises we do indeed need more, and not less, solidarity. This is particularly true in the case of medicine, healthcare and the biomedical sciences. In these areas, mutual assistance and support in the face of human vulnerability play central roles. People helping each other in times of need, supporting disease research or organising communal healthcare, to name but a few examples, have all been described as practices of solidarity.
But what is solidarity? Within the wide literature on solidarity, it is used in different contexts, to support different goals and with many different meanings. Most authors treat solidarity as a prosocial notion. But beyond this small denominator, there is no unity. Some authors see solidarity as an emotion, others as a moral ideal, a ‘natural’ characteristic of groups or societies, a political idea or a regulatory concept – and some criticise it as an empty label. The meaning of solidarity seems difficult to pin down. Like with some of the fundamental concepts in our lives, such as love or friendship, most people have an intuitive understanding of what they mean, and yet they would struggle to define them. To some extent, this ‘vagueness’ is productive: Because love and friendship – and, as we will argue, solidarity – matter to everyone, these words must be open enough to accommodate a wide range of experiences, feelings and practices. Yet at the same time they need to be specific and firm enough, as concepts, to serve as points of reference to justify or explain actions. This is particularly important in connection to solidarity: while love and friendship denote explicitly personal and ‘private’ relations, solidarity is frequently invoked in regulatory and policy-making contexts, e.g. in the organisation of social care, healthcare or research.