Cohesion instead of Integration – shifting Borders and the Role of Communication*


The contribution presents some theoretical and methodological considerations dealing with communication. The fundamental question is if and if so, to which extent communication plays a new role in today’s societies where borders shifted in multiple ways.

The aim is to provoke reflecting on the multitude of shifting borders, incompletely captured by the concept of globalisation. Furthermore, some ideas will be developed towards communication as part of overcoming the tensions that accompany globalisation. A guideline for achieving multilevel-integration reference will be made to the social quality theory.


It is some special and also strange pleasure for me to be here in Dublin, having been invited to address this conference.

I can only try to make a humble contribution – looking at the list of speakers and contributors I am too aware of the fact that I am not expert when it comes to the topic of this conference: Conflict and Communication: A Changing Asia in a Globalizing World.

Still, coming back to this special and strange pleasure, you may easily see why I may be able to make such small contribution as generalist. Dublin is actually the capital of the country where I spent up to not too long ago my life. If you want, I am now returning home after settling in Rome – and saying ‘after settling’ is a bit wrong as I still feel very much being commuter: not without fixed abode, though in some way without place where I am entirely rooted in a traditional sense. And this is finally a main part of the topic I’m supposed to look at: shifting borders.

Probably it would have been more correct to say that I am travelling to different places – but of course the textual dramaturgy suggested the term commuting. It goes back to the very same root as communication – the second pillar of the topic I am talking about: The role of Communication.

The root of both is in commonality – etymologically we see the following.

communication (n.)

late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio), noun of action from past participle stem of communicare ‘to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,’ literally ‘to make common,’ from communis (see common (adj.)).

( – 11.11.2014)

common (adj.)

c.1300, ‘belonging to all, general,’ from Old French comun ‘common, general, free, open, public’ (9c., Modern French commun), from Latin communis ‘in common, public, shared by all or many; general, not specific; familiar, not pretentious,’ from PIE *ko-moin-i- ‘held in common,’ compound adjective formed from *ko- ‘together’ + *moi-n-, suffixed form of root *mei- ‘change, exchange’ (see mutable), hence literally ‘shared by all.’ ( – 11.11.2014)

commute (v.)

mid-15c., ‘to change, transform,’ from Latin commutare ‘to often change, to change altogether,’ from com-, intensive prefix (see com-), + mutare ‘to change’ (see mutable). Sense of ‘make less severe’ is 1630s. Sense of ‘go back and forth to work’ is 1889, from commutation ticket ‘season pass’ (on a railroad, streetcar line, etc.), from commute in its sense of ‘to change one kind of payment into another’ (1795), especially ‘to combine a number of payments into a single one.’ Related: Commuted; commuting.

( – 11.11.2014)

Taking this as point of reference, it throws us of course into the very centre of the topic as communication is foundation and reflection of the way in which we live together, the way, and with this I come to the third part of the topic: cohesion instead of integration.

I do not want to make things too difficult – but it only means that I do not want to start immediately with the heavy theoretical considerations. Those who are interested in this – and we all should be – will not have to miss this part, but at least have to show some patience.

Let me first take you to a village in an African state. There is a regular event that employs several people. And mind the term ‘employs’ – it is in fact a very simple thing: the braiding of pigtails. Of course we find a division: some of the people gathering are doing the actual ‘work’ of beautification. But actually these roles change as at some stage everybody is barber or customer. There is something that is much more important here: At any stage of this event everybody is actually producing: and this makes the actually relatively simple act of braiding pigtails a real event: people are chatting, exchanging news, making plans etc.. In actual fact, people are producing and reproducing their social existence, the way in which they live together with all the controls and reassurances.

I am more or less just back from Havana. One of the days, I just walked back from the office, walking down the broad green belt that separates the two lanes of the Paseo, four or five cars passed, moving towards the monument of José Martí: obviously tourists, passing in the old neo-colonial USNA-cars of the 1950s: laughing and shouting, giving the street some of the flair of the old colonial times, and of those later times under the regime of the Batista regime. Oppression, violence had been part of the old time; but also a hegemony of which a friend from Havana said recently in a mail it is to impose not only the mode of production but a way of thinking that make [it] very difficult to explore other paradigms and new ways of sustainable development. In some peculiar way this little scene showed the entire ironical paradox: this group of tourists enjoying themselves, taking photos of the old villas, and at the same time ‘making pictures’: creating in some way an image of the good life: exuberance, romanticising a time that had been everything else than romantic for the majority of the people, for the people who then claimed Soy Cuba. And we may see ‘taking pictures’ in a metaphorical way: they took the picture away that actually dominated the area where I had been that moment. A small child, the mother throwing a colourful plastic ball towards him, the child ‘runs’ behind …, and kneels down … to catch some fruit from one of the trees. Some young lads playing football – they did not need anything else than just a ball, and probably they could have even taking something else for it.


No, it is not about praying the sermon of the simplicity of life. And here Dublin, with this Ireland, is actually in some special way an interesting point to meet: When Ireland joined in 1973 the European Community (as it had been called at that time), it had been one of the poorest countries. Part of the already institutionalised Europe of which some complained at the time about the then new member state Ireland, later also about the accessing Greece and Spain. They had been seen as the poorhouse of Europe. And Ireland, in the beginning part of this poorhouse, moved onto a path which made it later the model pupil of the European Union. And the institutionalised Europe had been – for some time at least – happy to see the successful implementation of its claimed strategy proclaimed in Lisbon where the Heads of States declared in 2000:

The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

It had been obvious though that these tiger years had been a somewhat illusionary and short-sighted orientation. The Celtic tiger, or as we frequently say in Hungary: the dragon economy had been a deception. In short, the hope of a consolidation, of creating wealth by building on foreign sources and forces: foreign direct investment and export of goods and services as main sources of prosperity.

Of course, I do not want to talk about the political situation in Cuba, nor do I want to engage in discussing the economic development of Ireland; and the braiding of pigtails is only in one respect of immediate relevance for the following, namely as metaphor for cohesion which I want to understand here in a very simple and also unconventional way: it is the emergence of a new form of togetherness in which some form of adaptation can be found, though as such going beyond a simple naturalisation, emergence of a minimum common denominator, levelling by way of meeting on a statistical means or something like that. Instead, cohesion in the here understood sense takes a different point of departure: it is not about the distribution of a pool of resources, but about the pooling of productive potentials. With this perspective, we are actually taking a view that finds its sound and sole point of departure in political economy. And it is also profoundly ‘positive’, i,e, starting from the social as

an outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.

(van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan, 2012: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: Van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan (eds.): Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; 250-274; here: 260)

With this we may now reinterpret Niklas Luhmann’s stance – as well known amongst sociologists he opinionated that

social systems do not emerge without communication. The various reasons of the unlikelihood of processes of communication and the way, in which they are overcome and transformed into probabilities, regulate therefore the structure of social systems. We can thus understand the process of socio-cultural evolution as remodelling and extension of the probabilities of promising communication, around which society establishes its social systems; and it is obvious that this is not simply a process of growth but a selective process which determines which kinds of social systems become possible and what is excluded as lacking probability.

(Luhmann, Niklas, 1981: Die Unwahrscheinlichkeit der Kommunikation; in: Luhmann, Niklas, 20095: Soziologische Aufklärung 3. Soziales System, Gesellschaft, Organisation; Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften; 29-40, here: 31; own translation)

There are surely good reasons to criticise Luhmann. Taking a sufficiently wider understanding of communication, we have to accept however that the critical points have to be looked for in other areas and indeed we may say – in rewording Luhmann and also rewording the conference theme:

Looking at changing Asia in a globalising world, communication is decisive in marking the development as one of conflictual and or peaceful in its character.


Looking at the second part of the title

A Changing Asia in a Globalizing World.

we see on the one hand the huge difference of small changes of the wording – but we see with this also the ambiguity of the issue in question: It is about changes in Asia but also about changing China in the process of the globalisation and by this very process. Is there an end? Or a beginning?

This brings me to the one of the theoretical dimensions, namely the world systems theory – I only want very briefly point on it, highlighting the fact that differentiation had been something that took shape in different ways – and in one way or another, during history differentiation had been not least a matter of establishing and maintaining or changing power relationship. And these power-relationships can be understood as matter of social processes, i.e.

an outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment.

Taking such a perspective means not least these power relations are always a matter of communication, understood as process of exchange between people (understood both as individuals and as nations or regions) and their environment.

Looking at the constructed environment, I want to come to the second theoretical perspective, namely the question of conditions that are of crucial importance in this context – conditions that allow to some extent as well explaining shifts in power positions on a global level. I want to refer to the work of Kondratieff who proposed that the economic development is characterised by major shifts in the technological development, he spoke of bol’shie tsiklys, i.e. major cycles, as elementary forms of an overhaul of the entire productive basis. Each of these cycles is characterised by a developmental pattern, namely prosperity, recession, depression and improvement. With this we find the ‘waves’ as succession of steam engine/cotton; railway/steel; electrical engineering/chemistry; petrochemicals/automobiles; and finally information technology.

There had been much debate about this model from its very beginning – and there had been surely misunderstandings and imputations. Be it as it is, at this point it is important to see Kondratieff’s argument – which I propose here as heuristic instrument – had been in the meantime interpreted as general pattern to be used for the development of the productive forces. As said, I see it primarily as heuristic tool. Some remarks have to do suffice. First, we can – and this is what Kondratieff himself emphasised – see such development simply in empirical terms – major inventions meaning major shifts in production and consumption. Second, he neglected however that this cannot be seen as a simple linear global development. Although we can surely see major developments of horizontal and vertical dispersion, such outreach is a matter of time and as such also causing major disruptions – such disruptions sometimes taking the form of power shifts or consolidation of power. Third, the relationship between the different shifts can take different forms – I any case a crucially important point is that the thus described development of the productive forces has important implications and consequences respectively: first we see hand in hand with this development a shift in patterns of consumptions – as matter of changing supply and also as matter of changing supply. Second, as much as the change of the productive forces is a matter of interaction with the organic environment, i.e. with nature, we see also a potential change of the centre in terms of space: depending on the resources that are linked to a specific stage of the development of the productive forces, we see a push-and-pull process: the centres of production do move towards profitability, and profitability is given where supply and demand in respect of the production is highest. In other words, where the production is most ‘effective’ where it finds the most fertile ground for establishing and maintaining the profitable process of production. (In this context it is important to note that the department I is that of producing mean of production, not that of consumer goods. In the second volume of Marx Capital we read in chapter XIX

The aggregate value of that part of the annual product which consists of means of production is divided as follows: One portion of the value represents only the value of the means of production consumed in the fabrication of these means of production; it is but capital-value re-appearing in a renewed form; another portion is equal to the value of the capital laid out in labour-power, or equal to the sum of wages paid by the capitalists in this sphere of production. Finally, a third portion of value is the source of profits, including ground-rent, of the industrial capitalists in this category.

(Marx, Karl, 1885 [First English Edition 1907, in different translation]: Capital, Volume II [German first edition 1885; second 1893]; in: Karl Marx. Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 36; London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1997)

This proofs the supposition that the price is determined by demand and supply wrong. Demand and supply are relevant in determining the ‘price of production’, and are less determining factors of the price of consumer goods).

This links to a next dimension of the present investigation – the emergence of knowledge and cycles of communication. The fundamental issue at stake is the multiple interweaving of production, power relationships between people and classes, power structures between regions and communication – it is here the point to recall Niklas Luhmann’s words, that

social systems do not emerge without communication. The various reasons of the unlikelihood of processes of communication and the way, in which they are overcome and transformed into probabilities, regulate therefore the structure of social systems. We can thus understand the process of socio-cultural evolution as remodelling and extension of the probabilities of promising communication, around which society establishes its social systems; and it is obvious that this is not simply a process of growth but a selective process which determines which kinds of social systems become possible and what is excluded as lacking probability.

Communication is in its as such ‘neutral’, a tool; however it is a decisive stimulator and implementer by which the potentialities are actually brought into shape. I come back to an observation I mentioned at the beginning, where I spoke in connection with the group of tourists of taking and making a picture. This may be applied here on communication: it tells the story about production, power relationships between people and classes and power structures between regions and at the very same time it makes this story: the narration is a productive process – something that is well known to those who engaged with Deleuze, Foucault and others.

But in the same way as it is true that

[m]en make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please

(Marx, Karl, 1852 b: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; in: Karl Marx. Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 11: Marx and Engels: 1851-1853: London: Lawrence&Wishart, 1970: 97- 197; here: 103 f.),

it is trued that communication makes stories, but it does not do so as it pleases but from the

circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past


And we have to add: it is not only the past but also the present: the conditions and resources it can draw. The conditions are objectively given but nevertheless they are – as relevant facts (thinking of and alluding to Durkheim we may speak of fait significatif) – only given by practice. … Relevance … – looking for a synonym my computer, working with Microsoft ® Word 2008 for Mac (Version 12.3.6 [130206]. Latest Installed Update: 12.3.6), suggests ‘appropriate’. And of course it is only a small step from appropriate, i.e. something being suitable, right, apt to appropriation.

Here we come another time back to Luhmann and this time in direct connection with the given definition of the social. Communication is one of the essential practices: allowing us to interact as people and to interact with our constructed and natural environment in order to produce and reproduce ourselves (so far taken from the definition of the social). And with this we are establishing by our practice probabilities, regulating therefore the structure of social systems, i.e. remodelling and extension of the probabilities of promising communication, around which society establishes its social systems (obviously taken from the paragraph cited from Luhmann).

Communication is then not least a matter of understanding social realities – and this understanding, given by the realities is also shaping these realities.

Here it is useful to refer to Thomas S. Kuhn and his view on ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. The core of his thesis, and the justification that Kuhn captures political and scientific development in parallel as at times revolutionary is that he sees over time a mismatch emerging between the reality, what we know about the reality and what we need to know in order to maintain our ability to act. Just short time earlier I referred to appropriateness and the fact that it is only a small step from appropriate, i.e. something being suitable, right, apt to appropriation. Taking directly Kuhn’s words in a lengthy quote:

One aspect of the parallelism must already be apparent. Political revolutions are inaugurated by growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution. Furthermore, though it admittedly strains the metaphor, that parallelism holds not only for the major paradigm changes, like those attributable to Copernicus and Lavoisier, but also for the far smaller ones associated with the assimilation of a new sort of phenomenon like oxygen or X-rays. Scientific revolutions, as we noted at the end of Section V, need seem revolutionary only to those whose paradigms are affected by them. To outsiders they may, like the Balkan revolutions of the early twentieth century, seem normal parts of the developmental process. Astronomers, for example, could accept X-rays as a mere addition to knowledge, for their paradigms were unaffected by the existence of the new radiation. But for men like Kelvin, Crookes, and Roentgen, whose research dealt with radiation theory or with cathode ray tubes, the emergence of X-rays necessarily violated one paradigmas it created another. That is why these rays could be discovered only through something’s first going wrong with normal research.

(Kuhn, Thomas S., 1962: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1962: 92 f.)

With this reference in mind we can also conclude that conflicts within communication are an essential part also of social quality: as matter of adapting life and living conditions to hat is appropriate – appropriateness, here understood not least as scope of opportunities defined by and defining

the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities [which] is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.


And of course, we arrive with this at the point of communicating knowledge – taken general it is the set of skills, understanding and adjunct values. In brief we may say that it is following a similar pattern of development – a graph from Alice Chamber Wygant’s/O.W. Markley’s 1988-book on Information and the future (page 122) proposes a cycle which we can suggest as communication cycle. This is characterised by the creative idea, moving to elite awareness, movong on to polular awarness and government awareness and arriving at enactment of new policies.

Interesting is not only the change of relevant actors and ‘media’ – from the general to the concrete – but also that the modes of communication, understood as link to ‘applicability’ and daily life are changing. In a nutshell – and here we return to the relevance of the social quality approach – we see the various means as artistic work, science ficiton and fringe media, mass media and novels or poetic works and legislative acts, all having different functions (see ibid.).

The subject matter of the different communicaitons refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.

The important part here is that the steering of communication is a process that makes things immediate part of the

circumstances in everyday life

and this is a fact that

concern[s] the heart of the matter for the determination of the quality of the social.

(Beck, Wolfgang/van der Maesen, Laurent/WalkerAlan Walker, 2012: Theoretical Foundations; in: in: Van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan (eds.): Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan;  44-69; here: 64)

I do not want to suggest independence nor do I think good communication can solve all problems. Nevertheless I think communication is an issue that needs increasing attention. And the reason is … the increasing lack of communication within an increasing multitude of communication. We all know the pictures: people sitting together, one speaking on the mobile phone, one writing an SMS and the third one being connected to the internet. Seemingly communication is getting tighter but actually it is a kind of non-communication as the contact to what is immediately tangible and in control is lost. In this way it is true that our technical means and access is increasing, the substantial dimension is however at least under severe pressure.

I do not want to go in details – especially in details of theory of communication, communication overflow and burden.

Looking at the methodological dimension behind the Social Quality Theory, an important part is the critique of mainstream thinking in social science and its two central ideological pillars:

  • individualism – and its translation into methodological individualism


  • utilitarianism – and its translation into relations as matter of reciprocal and calculable exchanges.

It is an approach that is in a twofold way de-socialised and the different arrays of society stand in a somewhat isolated way side by side as pillars.

Economic Dimension

Social Dimension

Cultural Dimension

Environmental Dimension

Figure 1

In some respect we may speak of non-communicating vessels – based on a zero-sum-assumption, and taking the status quo: dominated by neo-liberal economic thinking and practice. The problems are obvious – sub-systemic functionality may be enhanced; however, systemic functionality is diminished or even completely undermined. Furthermore. Dysfunctions may be temporarily or partly or regionally overcome by exchange between the pillars – or we may say in the present context: by conflictual communication. In economic terms this would be about the internalisation of externalities (for instance by making environmental protection profitable; or including people outside of the employment system into employment based social insurance systems). However, the structural faultiness remains in place.

Against this background the alternative is offered by the Social Quality Theory, starting from the assumption that there is one decisive and ultimate ‘binding link’: the social, and taking up on the spirit of the definition we should better talk about the eco-social, i.e. people interacting in and as part of their environment. With this we can arrive at the de-utilitarisation of relations. With the inclusion of the eco-dimension directly linked to the social – and with this to societal practice – we can also work towards avoiding anthropocentrism. We arrive at the following sketch.

Eco-Social (as Concept and Criteria for Practice

Economic Dimension

Welfare Dimension

Cultural Dimension

Environmental Dimension

Figure 2

Though this seems to be a long detour, we find here also a point from which we can access the understanding of the contradiction between increasing means of communication and technical abilities to communicate and easily decreasing ‘meaning of communication’: communication is taken out of context. We may – alluding to what Karl Marx said about alienation – say that communicating people are not saying anything whereas people who are not saying anything are communicating. We can clearly see this when it comes to communication today where we even have to arrange phone calls: time is ‘dedicated’, not lived; contexts are constructed and do not exist.

I want to come to the point mentioned in the title: cohesion instead of integration – better to say: I want to make it explicit. Let me again bring the etymological question to the fore:

cohere (v.)

1590s, from Latin cohaerere ‘to cleave together,’ in transferred use, ‘be coherent or consistent,’ from com- ‘together’ (see co-) + haerere ‘to stick’ (see hesitation). Related: Cohered; cohering.

( – 11.11.2014)

cohesion (n.)

1670s, from French cohésion, from Latin cohaesionem (nominative cohaesio) ‘a sticking together,’ noun of action from past participle stem of cohaerere ‘to stick together’ (see cohere).

( – 11.11.2014)

As such cohesion surely goes beyond of and is different from integration:

integration (n.)

1610s, from French intégration and directly from Latin integrationem (nominative integratio) ‘renewal, restoration,’ noun of action from past participle stem of integrare (see integrate). Anti-discrimination sense is recorded from 1940 in a S.African context.

( – 11.11.2014)


integrate (v.)

1630s, “to render (something) whole,” from Latin integratus, past participle of integrare “make whole,” from integer “whole” (see integer). Meaning “to put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole” is from 1802. Integrate in the “racially desegregate” sense is a back-formation from integration, dating to the 1948 U.S. presidential contest. Related: Integrated; integrating.

( – 14/11/2013)

Sure, the terminological dimension is only heuristically meaningful. The point in question is concerned with dealing with the challenge of respecting ‘the other’ – not as social construct but as societal reality – and at the same time allowing something new to develop: communications as establishing something common, in common: a new, and possibly spatially, substantially or chronologically limited community.

– I want to end with a question. Can you imagine why a child and young people playing football in a large city, the latter even disturbing the traffic on the Paseo are communicating more and with less conflict than a group of tourists, exchanging words and laughing over distance while driving up the same Paseo? And though I am not Christian I am wondering if you can imagine why the current pope managed to call thousands of people for a 20-minutes silence against violence – and saying with this silence more than the weapons of wars and trade?


* Notes in Connection with the 5th Annual Conference of the Asian Studies Ireland Association (A.S.I.A.). November 15th/16th 2013 in Dublin

You will soon find the edited and complete version as working paper at WWW.WVFS.AT



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