Research studies

Social links : protection and recognition In the light of the thought of Serge Paugam


Prepared by the researcher : Dr. Hadia Al Aoud  Bahloul, Center for Economic and Social Studies and Research,  Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research -Tunis-Tunisia (CESSR).

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Human Resources Development for Studies and Research : Nineteenth Issue – January 2023

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
  ISSN 2625-5596
Journal of Human Resources Development for Studies and Research
:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link


The topic “Social link” has been of interest to sociology since its inception in the nineteenth century, with Durkheim, Tönnies, Simmel and others, when societies at that time witnessed profound social changes that affected the social structure and human relations.

The “social link” is the force that binds individuals, groups and society as a whole. The strength of this link varies with time, place and environment. Since the 1980s, interest in the subject of “social link” has returned strongly by a number of sociologists, the most important of which is the French sociologist Serge Paugam, Who studied this topic in depth, presented a classification of «social link», defined its dimensions and their fragilization and possible rupture.. He also invites to rethink, the social link today in order to ensure social solidarity, integration and cohesion .All this we will try to present and analyze in this article.

1/ Introduction

The question of “social link” has been at the heart of the sociological project since the time of the Founding Fathers in the nineteenth century, and its understanding cannot be separated from the social changes that affected society at that time.; This is particularly evident in Durkheim’s sociology, Who realized there was the emergence of anomie in industrialized societies, and that it was the role of sociology to contribute save society, and thus the “social link”, from disintegration. But, “the current use of this notion (social link) can be considered, says Paugam, as the expression of a questioning about what can still make society in a world where the progression of individualism seems inevitable”[1].

The social link is, today, at the heart of the research of Serge Paugam whose theoretical reflection is in the continuation of the Durkheim project. However, even «if the Durkheimian theory of the social link remains decisive, says Paugam, it is called, like any theory, to be extended and enriched” »[2] . This is moreover what Paugam has endeavored to develop in his research work for several years in the light of contemporary social changes, the main problem of which lies in the following question: ““by what ties are we attached to each other and to society?” He also inspired by the writings of G. Simmel and N. Elias, and relies on its own empirical research.

Addressing the theme of the “social link”, Paugam first raises the question of its definition. And as this term is very common and used in different ways, he considers it above all as a preconception; it is therefore a matter of constructing a conceptual device.

2/ Defining “the social link”

The “social link” is the link that connects the individual to others and the individual to society through different social groups (family, school, group of friends, professional group, etc.), and he raises the fundamental question of the necessity and the need to live together; Aristote said: “Man is created to live in society”. The social link is therefore essential to ensure deep social cohesion and the integration of individuals. Serge Paugam proposes to reflect on this based on Emile Durkheim’s thesis, “of the division of social work”, defended in 1893, “For more than a century, research in the social sciences has constantly referred to mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity, because these two concepts constitute the foundations of our understanding of the social world”[3].  Indeed, Durkheim Analyzes social change by examining the links of solidarity, and addresses, through the transformations of the concept of solidarity, the question of the social link. For him, solidarity is the foundation of social ties. Thus, he opposes two types of societies and two types of solidarity: traditional societies characterized by mechanical solidarity; The individuals there are similar, their unity comes from their resemblance, and they share the same collective consciousness, which Durkheim defines as “the set of beliefs and feelings common to the average member of the same society forms a determined system which has its own life » and which spontaneously produces the loyalty of individuals to the group. And modern societies characterized by an organic solidarity based on the complementarity and interdependence of individuals resulting from the division of social work: sexual division of tasks within the family, division of labor in companies, but also in society as a completely together. Each individual is then differentiated.

For Paugam, solidarity constitutes, at all stages of socialization, the basis of what could be called “homo-sociologicus”: man linked to others and to society not only to ensure his protection against the riskiness of life, in the face of man’s vulnerability in society, but also to satisfy his vital need for recognition, the source of his identity and his existence as a man[4].

3/ Classification, and foundations of social link: protection and recognitionSocial analysis leads to insisting on the plurality and diversity of social ties. These links which, although numerous and each belonging to a specific sphere of morality: the link of filiation to domestic morality, the link of elective participation to associative morality, the link of organic participation to professional morality and the link between citizenship and civic morality, all together guarantee both “protection” and “recognition”, the foundations necessary for the social existence of individuals[5]. Protection refers, according to Paugam, to the notion of “count on” and designates all the support that an individual can mobilize to cope with the vicissitudes of life (family, community, professional, social resources, etc.). Recognition refers to the notion of “count for” and refers to the social interaction that motivates the individual by providing him with proof of his existence and by valuing him through the eyes of others[6]; To exist as an individual, one needs to be recognized, to be appreciated, to feel that one is useful; in interactions, we want to be important, to have a certain value…Starting from these two common foundations of social links, namely “protection” and “recognition”, Paugam proposes to distinguish four main types of social ties: the link of filiation, the link of elective participation, the link of organic participation and the citizenship link.

The filiation link covers two different forms: The form which seems to us to have priority refers to kinship, that is to say to the so-called “natural” filiation which is based on the recognition of the biological filiation between the child and his parents. , as well as the extended family to which he belongs without choosing it.

There is also adoptive filiation, recognized in civil law, which is in a way a type of social filiation. For sociologists and psychologists, this filial link is fundamental; it has a socializing and identity function which contributes to the balance of the individual from birth, because it provides protection (physical care, material security) and recognition (emotional security). In the link of filiation, the child, for example, needs the protection of his parents but also their recognition; that is to say all forms of stimulation from his parents. Namely, parents are enthusiastic about the success of their children, and through this enthusiasm, the child feels invested with importance, usefulness and will develop even faster. On the other hand, the child who is constantly devalued does not progress in life, because he needs to feel useful and recognized.

The link of elective participation comes from extra-familial socialization during which the individual comes into contact with other individuals within the framework of different groups and institutions (neighborhood, gangs, groups of friends, communities, religious institutions, sporting, cultural, etc.). This link covers several forms of attachment without constraint, which refer to the relationship choices that are made on the basis of affinity. In the link of an elective nature, the individual has an autonomy, which gives him real freedom to establish personal relationships according to his desires, his aspirations and his affective valence, contrary to the link of filiation where the individual has no freedom to choose. We have a constant need to build friendly relationships throughout our lives, there are links that come undone, others that are built, and we spend a large part of our existence rebuilding this kind of relationship. We sometimes invest ourselves fiercely in these friendly relationships because we are in search of recognition. Friendship is a socially recognized and valued link and is not strictly regulated[7] Also, the conjugal relationship, says Paugam, in addition to the function of protection that it provides to the spouses, and that each of them can count on the other, the function of recognition can be apprehended through four looks: the look of the man on his wife, the look of the woman on her husband, and finally each of them judges the look of the other towards him. It is then a game where the valuation of each passes through a regular affirmation to prove its importance to the other[8]. Thus, the marital or romantic relationship is an exchange of protection and recognition, and if there is not this feeling that we are exchanging of protection and of recognition, the couple collapses, leads to ruptures, because indeed there is not this essential exchange to achieve the preservation of this link[9].

The link of organic participation brings us back to Durkheim’s concept of “organic solidarity”. This link is forged in the context of school and continues in the world of work and the relationships that are born there. Exercising a function in the world of work requires exchanges, complementarities, the exchange of everything, we occupy very specific positions which find meaning in the world of global organization, what is called organic solidarity; we are therefore attached to each other by the world of work. In this world, work also brings the sense of recognition through the valuation of a qualification that one has and which becomes a reality every day; when we work, we expect recognition of the work we do, because we will sell it, because it will have a certain value. In modern societies, for an individual to be recognized for his work, says Paugam, a value must emanate economic, social, and sometimes human; we must do everything to promote what we do. So working in this state sometimes leads to depressive symptoms, because the individual does not feel appreciated at all for the fact of working. Thus, in the world of work, we fight for our own value and this goes through this quest for recognition [10].

Furthermore, to analyze the link of organic participation, says Paugam, it is necessary to take into consideration not only professional fulfillment and the relationship to work according to Durkheim’s analysis, but also attachment, outside the world of work; professional integration as a double guarantee of the material and symbolic recognition of work as well as the social protection of the social state that employment generates[11]

The link of citizenship is based on the principle of belonging to a nation that recognizes the rights and duties of its members (civil, political, social, etc.)

In the links of citizenship, the fact of being able to benefit from rights is an important protection; of course, we do not live in permanent security in a state of rights, but we know that we have possible recourse when we are injured or attacked, and that we are protected by a single system for all, based on the principle of equality in modern and democratic societies.

Moreover, the link of citizenship is founded on the recognition of the sovereign citizen, and the recognition through the possibility of participating directly in the affairs of the city[12].

Summary table

Types of social links, dimensions and characteristics

Link Types Forms of protection Forms of recognition
Filiation link (between parents and children) Count on intergenerational solidarity/ Close protection Count for parents and children/Affective recognition
Elective participation link (between spouses, friends, chosen relatives, etc.) Count on the solidarity of spouse, friends, chosen relatives…

Close protection

Count for spouse, friends, chosen relatives…

Affective recognition or by similarity

organic participation  Link (between players in professional life) Steady job

Contractualized protection

Recognition through work and the resulting social esteem
Citizenship link (between members of the same political community) Legal protection (civil, political and social rights) under the principle of equality Affective recognition or by similarity

      [Source: Serge Paugam, 2020, p65]

In view of the above, these four types of links are integrating links that we need throughout life; they are essential to ensure, in Durkheim’s sense, the integration of individuals into society and the integration of society as a whole. In his attachment to society, the individual needs to rely on his family, his friends, and his world of work and on the rights of citizenship. Then, without these links, the individual is fragile, it is enough that he misses one of the links not to feel safe[13]

Moreover, the intensity of these social links varies from one individual to another according to the particular conditions of his socialization, which means that the normative intersection of these links, which is realized in each individual through the process of socialization, is unequal. As well as each society does not grant the same importance to the four types of links; it most often ranks them so that it is very easy to determine which link is dominant in a particular society; the role of family solidarity, for example, and the collective expectations with regard to it vary from one society to another. The forms of sociability resulting from elective or organic participation are multiple and largely depend on lifestyle. In addition, the importance attached to the principle of citizenship as a basis for protection and recognition is not the same in all countries[14].

4/fragilization and rupture of social links:

The study of social links consists not only in analyzing the multiplicity and intensity of social links, but also their fragilization and their possible rupture. According to Paugam, the rupture of social links comes from a more or less severe lack of protection and a more or less intense denial of recognition [15].

Each of these links in its precarious expression corresponds to a problematic situation: the  link of filiation refers, for example, to the possible ordeal of not counting on one’s parents or children in the event of difficulties, and of not counting for the family: misunderstandings, mistreatment, rejection, etc…; the  link of elective participation refers, for example, to the ordeal of the rupture of the  link of friendship, rejection from the group of peers…,  also to the ordeal  of divorce or separation: being in relational isolation, more recognized , abandoned, betrayed… In this regard, some studies show that divorce can gradually lead to a loss of economic and social ties. With regard to organic participation, the main ordeal is the rupture with the labor market, when one is unemployed for a long time this can lead to poverty, to entry into a career of assisted. And in terms of lack of recognition, a feeling of social humiliation and uselessness sets in, especially in the case of precarious employment, and which develops in particular among the long-term unemployed; finally, in the bond of citizenship, we find tests of loss of certain rights, such as, from the angle of exile, the loss of rights linked to registration as a citizen: not having of identity papers, being discriminated against, etc. Indeed, we can speak of a rupture of the links of citizenship, says Paugam, each time there is a violation of the principle of equality of citizens before the law, and that individuals are detached from the society in which they live, the depriving them of citizenship rights[16], the most important of which is the satisfaction of their basic needs; just like, in many countries of the South, access to health services, education, drinking water, social assistance, etc.

So, for Serge Paugam, “the different types of links that bind individuals to society are today fragilized, and at the origin of deep inequalities. To try to remedy this situation, we must return to the foundations of these links: protection and recognition” [17].

  5/ Conclusion

“Heir” of Durkheim, founder of the theory of social solidarity, base of social links, Serge Paugam proposes a precise classification of social links (the link of filiation, the link of elective participation, the organic link, the link of citizenship). It is through the intersection of these links, which found and support it, that the individual can affirm his existence as a social being and as a human being. However, the strength of these links is unevenly distributed, says Paugam, and whose problem is based on the postulate that integration is fundamentally unequal due to the intrinsic fragility of these social links and the significant weakening of their intersection[18] . For those who are particularly from higher social categories, all these links are generally strong around them, and they work to avoid the possible risks of losing them, to stabilize these links and to succeed in their social integration. Conversely, in disadvantaged categories, there are those who do not benefit from protection and feel that they no longer count for anyone; high rates of unemployment and precarious employment, as well as the disintegration of the family unit and the rise in divorce and separation rates weaken the integration of many people. Moreover, since these social links do not break together, there is an alternative model of asserting oneself; We rely on what is left of it; some compensate by overinvesting in other spheres (quarter, community, associations, religious and ethnic groups, etc.) in which they seek recognition; Others, especially young people, rejected from school, from the world of work, enlist in gangs (of deviance, hip-hop, drugs, religious extremism, etc.) as a mechanism of resilience, or rather compensation. We seek to exist, to be recognized through an alternative elective link, that of the band, by embracing its norms and values, that is the culture of the band which serves as a reference for integration. Also, without social links: family, friends, work, and citizenship, the marginalized end up trying to survive, to satisfy their basic physiological needs (the homeless)[19] .

Finally, Serge Paugam’s detailed and in-depth analyses, based on several years of broad and empirical research, should have a lasting impact on the social field. They must also benefit everyone: researchers, to better understand social dynamics and better apprehend social phenomena; social actors: public authorities, associations, religious groups, etc., to better define their roles and fulfill their missions of reform or strengthening of social links, guarantor of social solidarity and deep societal cohesion. Paugam invites us, above all, to rethink social links today, to better meet the contemporary challenges of solidarity; “We should reconsider the foundations of our society – and contemporary societies in general – the foundations of the social link (protection and recognition), perhaps invent another doctrine to promote a more democratic, fairer, more realistic integration, a doctrine of integration for all” [20].

* Serge Paugam, French sociologist and director of studies at the « Graduate School of Social Sciences » (EHESS), director of research at CNERS, France. Author of the theory of “social link”.

[1] Paugam, Serge (2022). Le lien social, PUF, 5é édition corrigée, (1é. édition : 2008).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Durkheim, É. (2013). De la division du travail social. Presses Universitaires de France.

[4] Paugam, Serge, (06/07/2012). Le lien social, Interview dirigée par Anne Châteauneuf-Malclès for SES-ENS.

[5] Paugam, Serge, 2022, Op.cit..

[6] Paugam, Serge, (2012). Chapitre 15. « Compter sur » et « compter pour ». Les deux faces complémentaires du lien social, (pp. 215-230). In : Castel, R. & Martin, C. (2012). Changements et pensées du changement : Échanges avec Robert Castel. La Découverte.

[7] Paugam, Serge, (28 Mai 2020). “La solidarité comme urgence et orientation : construire une société de justice et de soins”. Interview dirigée par Thiago Panica (UFPB) and André Magnelli (Workshop of Humanidades).

[8] Paugam, Serge, (06/07/2012). Le lien social, Interview dirigée par Anne Châteauneuf-Malclès for SES-ENS.

[9] Paugam, Serge, (28 Mai 2020), op.cit.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Paugam, Serge, (2012). Chapitre 15, Op.cit.

[13] Paugam, Serge, 2022, Op.cit.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Paugam, Serge, (2014). L’intégration inégale : Force, fragilité et rupture des liens sociaux. Presses Universitaires de France.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Paugam, Serge, (2014). L’intégration inégale…, Op.cit.

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