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The Avatars of Solidarity

Alain Supiot
p. 26-27
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les avatars de la solidarité

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 37, December 2013

Texte intégral

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1Solidarity, an ancient notion drawn from Roman liability law, has gained currency ince the end of the nineteenth century, especially in sociological and political language.

2It partly owes its success to the fact that it is presented as a pure technique which, unlike fraternity, is rid of any mythical­ reference to a common paternity. This is why solid­arity could provide a basis for the nascent sociology and the construction of the social State.

3From a legal perspective, the principle of solidarity was consecrated by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that was adopted in 2000. This charter, now as legally binding as the Treaties are, innovated by adding solidarity to the otherwise unsurprising list of principles (dignity, freedom, equality, citizenship, justice). In fact, this is not an absolute novelty since the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights was the first, on 27 June 1981, to recognize solidarity as a fundamental legal prin­ciple, a source of duties for both indivi­duals and States. The consecration of the principle of solidarity at EU level attests that there was an ambition to establish a new under­standing of solidarity at this level, which could be informed by the diversity of cultures rather than by seeking to subject them to the domination from any one of them.

4This imperative applies a fortiori at the international level. Through the ease it affords and the risks to which it gives rise, technological development links together all the States of the world and makes them objectively solidary. Not one of them can think of itself as shielded from epidemics, poverty, environmental disasters, fanaticism or the surges of violence affecting the others. And they all face worsening inequality and the disintegration of social ties, forcing them to rethink their solidarity systems. This applies equally to countries of the “North”, which must deal with these systems’ financial crisis, as to those of the “South”, which must invent new mechanisms of solidarity, as Brazil, China and India are doing for instance, to tackle the tensions and risks spawned by economic development.

5The aim of the symposium organized on 5 and 6 June 2013 at the Collège de France was to revisit the idea of soli­d­arity, looking­ at its different historical, linguistic, geographic and institutional dimensions. To this end, three different per­spectives were articulated. First, a genealogical perspective allowed us to follow the development of the idea of solidarity, in legal, theological, sociological and biological terms. Second, through a philological perspective we considered the trans­latability of this Western concept into other systems of thought. Finally, the contemporary legal perspective shed light on the implementation of the idea of solidarity in the positive law of the countries associated with these different systems.

6The symposium’s contribution was first to highlight the various­ dimensions of the principle of solidarity and the multiple combinations afforded by this diversity: the emotional dimension of compassion, the sacrificial dimension of abnegation, the commutative dimension of reciprocity, the cooperative dimension of action, the objective dimension of interdependence, and the institutional dimension of redistribution. Solidarity can therefore be seen as much as a principle of responsibility, as one of action or of organization. A second contri­bution was to identify the main issues that are raised by the implement­ation of this principle in the contemporary­ world. This actualization gives rise to multiple tensions: between equality and hierarchy, reciprocity and assistance, universalism­ and exclusion, monet­ization and the feeling of belonging. These points of tension are all points from which to observe the evolution of solidarity systems. The ability of these systems to control them is a good indicator of their lastingness. Finally, the papers shed light on the emergence of the idea of environmental solidarity and on the appli­cation of the solidarity concept in liability law, which has become current again

Prof. Édouard Bard

The Alfred Wegener Medal

7The European Geosciences Union (EGU) has honoured Édouard Bard with the highest distinction, making him an honorary member and awarding him the 2013 Alfred Wegener Medal.

8The ceremony took place on 10 April 2013, as part of the EGU’s annual general assembly which brought together over 11,000 scientists in Vienna. Other French researchers had received the Wegener Medal in the past, notably climatologist Gérard Mégie, as well as two Collège de France professors, Barbara Romanowicz and Xavier Le Pichon. Édouard Bard’s citation was presented by André Berger, emeritus professor and senior researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain, honorary member and former president of the EGU and of the former European Geophysical Society. The following is an excerpt from his speech:

9“Édouard Bard has been a pioneer in the use of acceler­ator mass spectrometry, which makes it possible to measure radiocarbon directly on samples of very small size. This technique, first developed in the 1980s, enabled him to quantify the penetration of thermonuclear radiocarbon in the ocean, and thus to monitor and understand the natural seques­tration of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Édouard Bard is also renowned for his research on sea levels. Using mass spectrometry to measure the isotopes of uranium and thorium in corals, he reconstructed sea level variations over the last glacial cycles in fine detail. His studies of corals around Barbados and Tahiti are being used to model the current and past geo­phys­ical response to eustatic changes. One of his main research findings has also been sudden variations in sea levels at rates that have sometimes exceeded several meters per century, which is much faster than the rise foreseen for the coming century. Édouard Bard and his colleagues at the CEREGE in Aix-en-Provence have convinced the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) to perform new drilling off the coast of Tahiti, and they have recently complemented the initial studies based on cores drilled from the modern barrier reef.”

Édouard Bard’s speech is available on the European Geosciences Union website:

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Alain Supiot, « The Avatars of Solidarity », La lettre du Collège de France, 8 | 2014, 26-27.

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Alain Supiot, « The Avatars of Solidarity », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 8 | mars 2014, mis en ligne le 11 août 2015, consulté le 23 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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