Individuality evolves and is being shaped by social interaction with others. We become what we are not just out of our own volition. It is important, therefore, to differentiate the social and cultural context in which individuals function. This has for long been the purview of sociologists and anthropologists and the challenge is how we make sense of it in the contemporary global context where people live under very different circumstances. Compare, for instance, a secular and civic country like Denmark with other places where either religion or ethnicity reigns. The point is that some individuals grow up in societies where they have a choice; where voluntarism prevails. Others find themselves confined to primary forms of social organizations like family, clan or tribe. Some are caught in social organizations that are inclusive; others in those that are exclusive in nature. As individuals they take in different values and help sustain, but also change, the environment in which they function. The following figure hopefully illustrates what I am arguing:
Different types of social capital
Bonding social capital is the context in which individuals find themselves wherever family and other ascriptive ties are strong. Blinding capital is found especially in religious organizations where individuality is shaped by strong beliefs in a God. Examples abound from around the world and this type of social capital has become increasingly important in shaping individuality in the contemporary context. It should perhaps be added that blinding social capital is also prevalent among sports fans although it could be argued that it is not likely to rest quite as deep as social capital rooted in religious beliefs. Bridging social capital is what Robert Putnam associates with civicness and is, in his view, the preferred type of social capital because it is most likely to support liberal democracy. Binding social capital, finally, is necessary in multi-cultural societies where compromise across cultural boundaries is necessary to keep them going. The consociational versions of compromise in the Netherlands and Switzerland would be cases in point, as would multi-ethnic countries, say in Africa, where successful political governance rests on pragmatic “deals” among elites.
So, like Winston Nagan has argued in his contribution, individuality is shaped in interaction with others. Who they are, and how they are organized matters – along the lines suggested in the figure above.