European societies have become increasingly unequal, ethnically diverse, and polarized. Spain is no exception: it has one of the highest levels of inequality in Europe, and polarization has been growing for two decades.

In this context of deepening, and also increasingly durable inequality and polarization, and with growing diversity, the question of what binds our society together has become of urgent importance, not only to deter inequality but also to be able to successfully address other key societal challenges that cannot be met without it, such as climate change.

Surprisingly, while social cohesion research is vast, it has almost entirely ignored one of the core dimensions of social cohesion, namely the networks of interpersonal relationships that hold complex societies together across categorical boundaries, such as those of citizenship, social class, and political orientation. This knowledge gap severely limits and even distorts our understanding of how cohesion forms.

This study intends to contribute to our understanding of societal cohesion for the Spanish society, by adopting a network-scientific approach. The method is currently being implemented in a large-scale survey in Spain to assess levels of cohesion and explore the conditions under which boundary-crossing relationships and heterogeneous networks form, as well as the conditions under which they contribute to (or conversely, deteriorate) intergroup solidarity, social welfare preferences, social and political trust, and political orientation. The results will be used to design evidence-based policies to increase social cohesion in Spain, particularly solidarity with economically vulnerable groups.

The project has four key objectives:

  1. To assess, based on new quantitative evidence, the cohesiveness of the Spanish social fabric across social fault lines of income, social class, and origin.
  2. To detect the micro-level conditions under which heterogeneous networks and bridging ties are likely to form.
  3. To identify network constellations and ties that favor (or conversely, decrease) solidarity with other social groups (particularly vulnerable groups), trust, preferences for social welfare models, and political orientation. A gender-sensitive analysis will be a part of this.
  4. To design evidence-based policy recommendations and plan further actions aimed at increasing social cohesion in Spain, and particularly solidarity with socially vulnerable groups.

The project, which has been funded by the La Caixa Foundation, is led by Miranda Lubbers, an associate professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The project has started in 2020 and will last until 2022.



Campus d'excel·lència internacional U A B