The company as a fabric of social fabric

The health of the social fabric is a very good measure of the overall health of a country or region. Much of the discomfort we have experienced in recent years is caused by a fraying of the social fabric, a localized rupture of the social fabric, like a fabric that, worn to the point, tears in places after too much use.

Who makes this fabric? In this matter, the main “textile industries” are, of course, the institutions, but also the multiple levels of interaction between civil society, the media and economic actors.

From this point of view, nothing distinguishes the economy from the rest of society: any economic agent, be it a consumer, a producer or a distributor, can only exist because there are others. Besides, isn’t the term ‘society’ used to denote the whole social organization (society) as well as the businesses (the societies)? The social ‘division of labour’ is thus fully in line with the complementary division of economic functions.

The term “tissue” is not used metaphorically. The idea of ​​fabric is based on the fact that each thread is moderately robust, but the intersection of the fibers gives the whole a much higher resistance. There is therefore in the concepts of weaving and textiles, the idea ofa de facto solidarityas a result of which the whole only counts because there are the others† Moreover, the words are almost the same: solidity and solid(ar)ity. We are all the more united because the social fabric that connects us is solid and woven with care.

establish solidarity

Solidarity is also the basis of the concept of social fabric. This one was even built from the idea of ​​solidarity by Émile Durkheim. The founder of modern sociology distinguishes a mechanical solidarity, characteristic of the traditional world, and an organic solidarity, characteristic of the modern world. Mechanical solidarity means that the place and function of each member of society is predetermined from birth. Social mobility is almost non-existent. Organic solidarity, on the other hand, results in each member of society being able to define itself, for example according to an acquired skill.

For Durkheim, organic solidarity is more effective for economic growth and for technical progress, because it allows better adaptation by allowing the placement of social actors according to their skills, their desires, their results. But this effectiveness is paid for with greater vulnerability, since the fact that one can change one’s social position over the course of a lifetime presupposes that one can criticize existing institutions and thus doubt their legitimacy. In reality, the best image of organic solidarity is the social fabric : because it is more malleable, it can change shape, adapt, but also tear because it is thinner.

To protect organic solidarity, society needs what Durkheim calls the sacred, in other words symbols, hymns, rituals (political or not) through which everyone recognizes themselves as belonging to the whole society. The social fabric, which keeps society from falling apart, makes everyone feel like not just a free electron left to roam, but part of a whole that may give meaning to their lives.

Whoever speaks of solidarity speaks of donation. In anthropology, the foundation of the social fabric, the primordial element, as found in tribal societies, is the gift that creates in the other an obligation to return a gift (what Marcel Mauss calls a counter-donation), and this is how it creates the most basic relationship, from which the whole social fabric is woven. It is interesting to note that the relationship between gift is rather and more fundamental than the monetary relationship of purchase-sale or even explicit exchange. You could say that the explicit exchange is an extension of the gift, not the other way around. This allows us to understand that even today, even in the most economic (hypercommercial) relationships, we use the language of the gift, of the tip, of the offer. We are also talking about a commercial offer. A commercial relationship must always function in part as a gift to be effective because it is always part of a pre-existing social fabric based essentially on the gift against gift principle. In other words, to receive, you must give: the donation is essential for the benefit

We can also think of a concept that runs parallel to that of Mauss: the tsedaka, which in the Old Testament denotes the religious principle of charity. This term establishes the need to give a fixed amount of one’s income (the Ma’aser) to ensure a fair balance between the different strata of society, thus promoting the stability of the fundamental values ​​of each community : unity and cohesion. Significantly, this action, which can contribute to the good health of a society, is closely related to the Hebrew term meaning “justice.”

Social link and digitization: change or creation?

The social fabric is the background on which the social bond can be established and developed. But many people think that the generalized digitization we are dealing with means a reduction or alteration of the social bond. The link would become “virtual” and therefore less intense or less real.

In reality, the social bond evolves according to the progress of digitization and thus reinvents itself† The Covid-19 pandemic and successive incarcerations have brutally accelerated the use of digital technologies to continue to guarantee work, production or distribution. For example, the partnership creates a new kind of social bond. What wasn’t called “face-to-face” a few months ago established a kind of real, physical link, which has partially suppressed the partnership. Granted, the partnership removes this link, but by making the physical distance disappear, it creates another that wouldn’t have been possible by the physical exchange alone. The partnership created a new type of link that did not allow face-to-face.

The idea that you have to be physically present to build a relationship has faded into the background. Digitization has partly “damaged” the social link, as an increasing part of this link is now being made, thanks to the digital ecosystem, ie “virtual”, all by evolving it. Just as it destroys jobs and creates others, digitization has made it possible to maintain or even strengthen social ties through recreation during the pandemic. Due to digitization, new all-round promotional offers have appeared. And the methods developed during this time will undoubtedly provide a solid foundation for social and work ties in the future.

So we have to realize that the evolution of the social fabric is not necessarily negative. In an optimistic logic, we must conclude that new technologies do indeed change the social bond, but in a positive way. Digitization creates new forms of connection: new social bonds are created between people who had never been able to meet each other before. Through new customs, connection and non-physical encounter, new relational layers enrich social bonds

This new social bond supported by digitization is perhaps less profound. Indeed, the physical encounter hides micro-expressions, elusive chemical exchanges and a body language largely erased by the virtual and the screens: we are less “present” in video, we perceive less clearly the physiological parameters that are all indicators of mood or dispositions of his interlocutors. We don’t have the same attitude behind a camera as we do in physics. Even though we are in video, we are not face to face. There are things that cannot be said, cannot be seen, cannot be felt. There may also be other values ​​related to the consumer society: we consume social ties, and the latter takes a much more standardized form than before.

It’s a more quantitative version of what a relationship is: friends on social networks can be infinitely more numerous than friends in physical life, for example. Even though we never met them.

Weaving, improving, mending

Like all fabrics, the social fabric can be of more or less good quality, it can be woven with more or less care from more or less synthetic materials. It may also be damaged, torn, worn and then need to be repaired, if at all possible.

This maintenance of the social fabric can be seen as one of the functions of the company, especially when it is supported by innovation. By working on making old companies competitive through, for example, innovation, it is possible to strengthen or breathe new life into the social fabric. Because companies in the regions, especially in Europe, are a real supplier of the social fabric through the work they do and the sociality they generate and maintain. In fact, because of their geographic location and history, medium-sized enterprises (ETI) play an important role in sustaining or developing economic activity in the region, with the support of very small enterprises (TPE) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) ). Often patrimonial, the fruit of several successive generations of entrepreneurs, ETIs are solid structures whose size usually allows direct knowledge of all employees and therefore allows the maintenance of very strong social ties.

In short, companies should be seen as production units, but in a broad sense. This presupposes that they are conceived in relation to a new frontier that goes beyond their strict economic function. When we talk aboutan innovation that broadens the scope of profitability, which is not only economic but also social and societal, we can say that the company, in particular the ETI, produces the social fabric through its anchoring in the territories. In addition to the products or services they design, produce and distribute, the VSE, the SME and the ETI are therefore also production locations of the social fabric, textile factories specialized in the social fabric

This new frontier of the business enabling innovation is not limited to these two company sizes. There can be complementarity between VSEs, SMEs or ETIs and large groups to build local social fabric. Because the four entities operate at different scales.

It is undoubtedly beneficial to bet on very solid industrial players, who still work with models that are certainly old, but whose size and robustness allow them to devise expensive innovation policies that will work. TotalEnergies, for example, has the resources to rethink energy, based on very solid foundations, which are still largely anchored in fossil fuels, but it is precisely this that will enable change. In addition, TotalEnergies has announced its plan for carbon neutrality by 2050. Above all, they should not oppose tomorrow’s innovative programs, on the contrary, large groups are essential pillars.

Innovation is an incentive to make progress. It can also be a very useful needle to strengthen or restore the social fabric. It is a very noble and very necessary role. do not forget that without a strong social fabric there is less solidarity, so less overall gain for everyone in society.