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Thesis defence

On Solidarity

Its Origins, Legacy, and Critique in Social and Political Thought

Add to calendar 2023-05-18 15:30 2023-05-18 17:30 Europe/Rome On Solidarity Sala del Capitolo Badia Fiesolana YYYY-MM-DD


18 May 2023

15:30 - 17:30 CEST


Sala del Capitolo

Badia Fiesolana

PhD thesis defence by Rouven Symank

This dissertation is a set of three essays connected by the common theme of solidarity: the way solidarity emerged as a distinct concept and was mobilised for political ends; how its key sociological version was influenced by, and used in, a colonial context; and how liberalism has long worried about solidarity’s social and political uses and how we could respond to this concern. The first essay argues that the primary concept of solidarity proper — Léon Bourgeois’ doctrine of interdependence — was inspired by Louis Pasteur’s microbiological discoveries. I reconstruct and examine Bourgeois’ legalistic doctrine of social debt in the light of the biological episteme of the time, and show how it influenced public policy during the Fin de Siècle. The second essay argues that the common national view of solidarity distorts our understanding: Using the Durkheimian School as a historical lens, I show how this concept of solidarity emerged as tied to colonial ethnographies and reflected a civilisational divide at the turn of the century. I argue that a strand of sociological solidarity influenced French colonial administrators in promoting a developmentalist agenda, as well as international lawyers' early visions of European unification. The third essay offers a post-foundational response to liberalism’s "fear" of solidarity as perpetually at risk of descending into authoritarian rule. I distinguish a positive and negative concept of solidarity — based on shared identity or in concerted action against adversity — and ground this distinction in a critical reconstruction of Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt’s thought during the decolonization period. I posture that the account developed can avoid this liberal fear and is particularly useful for addressing injustice. The dissertation’s upshot is two-fold. First, if solidarity came to mean different things in its legacy, it was also mobilised for political ends. Second, to fend off its political dangers we have conceptual resources at our disposal which address the idea that solidarity is not about who we are, but what we do together.

Rouven Symank holds an MSc from the London School of Economics (LSE) and an MA from Humboldt University Berlin. During his PhD at the European University Institute (EUI), he was a visiting researcher at the University of Oxford and at UC Berkeley from 2021-2022, and his doctoral research was awarded the Charles V European Award Research Grant in 2021. Working at the intersection between sociological and political thought, he is interested in conceptual and historical approaches to political theory. Rouven also has work experience in management consulting and as a Carlo-Schmid-Fellow at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in New York. Currently, he is a postdoctoral fellow at the Cluster of Excellence "Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)" in Berlin.

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