The term cohesion is a powerful one. In scientific terms, cohesion is an attraction between molecules of the same substance, whereas adhesion is an attraction between molecules of different substances.
"Social cohesion", a popular concept in the field of economic and social sciences, conveys the message of the "glue that holds us together". It attempts to describe the outcome of processes whereby people hold on to one another despite differences, hardships, or adverse circumstances. It is used widely in literature and in the field of conflict transformation and the prevention of violent conflict. For example, in Guyana I worked as a United Nations Peace and Development Advisor for the UNDP's Social Cohesion Programme.
What I find, especially when interacting with people at community level, is that the term "social cohesion" is not easily understood. It does not appeal to people. "I can't find the diamond in the concept", someone said yesterday in the Stellenbosch Social Cohesion Movement meeting. Furthermore, it's hard to pronounce for some non-English speaking persons. Hearing people pronouncing it as "co-heh-sion" (sounds like "heh-heh"!) makes people ever further confused.
Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain, dislikes the term and says it lacks clarity. He prefers to talk about "integrated societies". The Club of Madrid talks about "shared societies".
What I begin to understand is that the underlying value/intended outcome of social cohesion is a sense of "we-ness", as opposed to divisions and unhealed multiple woundedness (as Martha Cabrera calls it) that are usually characterized by blaming of "the other". Destructive conflict and dysfunctional relationships firmly create an "othering" or "you-ness", instead of a "we-ness".
I am therefore proposing the coining of a new concept: social cowesion: n. 1. the extent to which people unite and include others to constructively satisfy fundamental human needs and rights for everyone; 2. a sense of unity and purpose to design and implement societies, systems and institutions that are just, fair and empowering for everyone; 3. a description of the quality of relationships between people who value, build and respond to constructive conflict; 4. a description of a shared and integrated society that values "we-ness" instead of divisions.
This is work in progress, and your views are welcome. What do you think? Maybe the confusion will be even greater? Who knows.