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18. Nov 2017

An experimental view on solidarity

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When concepts meet science

Is it not always a good idea to ‘translate’ abstract ideas or theories into more vivid, concrete, and, if possible, touchable forms? A word, a thought, might get unnoticed by many, if you do not take care to clothe them by an appropriate metaphor, by a brilliant sentence, by a proverb – or, by downsizing it to a well-known aspect of the physical world. Even if you don’t agree, you get an easy understandable base for further discussing, for deepening the subject. That is what a Malagasy student in social anthropology, Mr. Heriniaina Danielson Ralaivaha, has done.

Recently, by getting interested in the ongoing project on the “Dynamics of Solidarity on Madagascar”, he proposed me his own, original way to translate the possible importance of the notion of ‘solidarity’ for building up society, and to understand more about the historical journey of that idea on the island of Madagascar in particular. One afternoon, when we had agreed to meet for discussion, he arrived with a couple of empty plastic bottles and two funnels, ready for a surprise. As his presentation allows to approach the subject central to the DySoMa project from a different angle, it fits perfect into this blog. And this is what he presented.

The experiment

Experimental setup: About ten empty water bottles, two funnels, a bucket with water. Two individuals ready for a competition.

The experimental setup

Application: Everyone gets a funnel with the order to fill up as many bottles as possible within one minute. However, they have to keep the funnel in two opposite ways. The first person is allowed to keep the funnel ‘normal’, i.e. according to his function: The wider side of the funnel is therefore above, and the pipe below. The second person, though, gets the order to keep the funnel upside-down, i.e. the pipe is above, and the wider side of the funnel is below. Who will triumph, with more bottles filled?

Funnel, upside-down

A competition in bottle-filling

Observation: The first individual had a comparatively easy task and he has no problem in filling quickly five or six bottles of water. The second individual, however, is confronted with a much more difficult situation, as most of the water drips beside the funnel and does not enter the bottle. Even with much more energy and commitment compared with his opponent, he hardly gets one bottle filled up – and necessarily loses.

Analysis: To hold the funnel the right way gives you a much superior possibility to complete your work.  To hold the funnel upside-down means that even with additional amount of energy you will lag far behind.

Heriniaina Ralaivaha and his experimental view on solidarity

Funnel, solidarity, and society

Mr. Ralaivaha proposes the following reading: To hold the funnel the normal, right way symbolizes a well-orchestred social group, supporting all member. Everybody is conscient that his effort will contribute to the well-being of the group, and to his own as well. The application of ‘solidarity’ allows a relatively easy performance of the work the group aims to. The productivity – in a large sense, including all kind of social, artistic, educational or material goods – is high, symbolized by the number of bottles filled. – To hold the funnel upside-down, however, means that the energy of the given group is not well canalized. A lot, if not most of all energy, of work, is futile and “drips” away, not contributing to the performance of that group. The productivity of this soiecty is fairly low.

To hold the funnel the right way, i.e. to use the secrets of ‘solidarity’, allows a group relatively easy to grow. If the virtues of solidarity are forgotten, i.e. if the funnel is hold the wrong way, the society will not progress.

Further, Ralaivaha even proposes a historical reading. Might the difference between the proper, and the wrong use of the funnels not stay for the important changes from pre-colonial to post-colonial society? But at this point it is perhaps better for everybody to start to reflect oneself about the possibilities to interpret the proposed experiment, and to develop even additional meanings.

Thank you Mr. Ralaivaha for your unusual presentation!


Mr. Heriniaina Ralaivaha

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 702497 – DySoMa.


Über Peter Friedrich Alfons Kneitz

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