Soft Solidarity and Minimal Mutual Recognition

Mutual indifference is held together at its core by a fundamental equality between city dwellers; those who are mutually indifferent to one another are complicit, with their relationships, if not structurally symmetrical, being at least interactionally so. But this is the case only so long as their indifference is mutual. I began with the simple assertion that mutual indifference is a necessary condition of urban life, and out of this I want to conclude with two more pointed assertions. First, indifference is only just when it is mutual. When indifference ceases to be mutual, its potential for the development of individuality and expanding social solidarity is diminished. Non-mutual indifference reproduces and sustains existing inequalities and produces new ones. It depends on fundamentally asymmetrical orientations which severely undermine and even sever those bonds, however weak or abstract, upon which social solidarity depends. Solidarity is absent where an asymmetry of structural positions overrides and/or mitigates against the mutuality of orientations that necessarily characterize the urban interaction order. When indifference ceases to be mutual—when it is non-mutual or asymmetrical—then the principle of mutual recognition key to urban social solidarity in particular, and to social solidarity more broadly, is lost.

Connecting this first assertion to the earlier claim that justice depends on solidarity, I make a second assertion: the principle of minimal mutual recognition is essential not only to the urban interaction order, but more pointedly to any conception of just social relations amongst copresent strangers. As the relational mechanism upholding the urban interaction order, mutual indifference can be considered to be a kind of mutual recognition. Mutual indifference enacts a social bond, which, although minimal, nonetheless rests upon a base level of reciprocated recognition. However vague this recognition appears to be, those who are mutually indifferent implicitly collaborate in demonstrating their solidarity and thus also in creating and upholding a social relationship that is just—even if this is a thin project or sense of justice.

Mutual indifference is the active interactional negotiation, achievement, and sustenance of recognition under conditions of strangership. It animates social relationships characterized by a minimal recognition that is reciprocated; thus, we can say that mutual indifference relies upon this principle of minimal mutual recognition. A degree of collusion—in the sense of a secret and implicit collaboration—is necessary between those who are mutually indifferent to one another, whereby they implicitly agree to provide one another with minimal recognition: strangers conspire—con-spire, literally, breathe together—to be mutually indifferent and consequently, to collectively produce an ordinary, street-level, soft solidarity.

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