They say that you are not so much what you say as what you do, and in this sense the Catalans do many things, and the most important thing is that they do them together. There are 74,438 associations in Catalonia, according to data from the Department of Justice in 2020. A figure that serves to understand the magnitude of this network in the social sphere. Self-organisation marks and defines Catalan society
As a concept, associationism refers to the voluntary organisation of people seeking a common interest, be it cultural, political, sporting, social assistance, leisure or any other field. The important point is that this activity is done on a non-profit basis and for the benefit of society.
From clandestinity to the creation of a social fabric
Historically, the term associationism was born in the 19th century as a result of the theories of utopian socialism and although guilds and brotherhoods were already created in medieval times with the intention of defending common interests, it was not until the era of the Industrial Revolution that associations as such proliferated. The purpose has always been the same: to look after the needs of society. As the economic and business system moved towards incipient capitalism, the emergence of organised labour became necessary.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Catalan society created associations in different spheres, such as athenaeums, schools, cooperatives and trade unions. The emergence of many of these entities corresponded to the lack of these basic services, such as schooling, health or the defence of workers’ labour interests. In areas where there was no social protection, it was society itself that sought mechanisms to protect itself. It was also in these decades that the movement for the recovery of national consciousness emerged in an attempt to reclaim Catalonia’s own personality and fight for its preservation. A milestone that was blurred in the Franco era, when all Catalan national institutions and the network of associations were persecuted and repressed. In this context, the right of association was practically disqualified, but Catalan associations survived underground.
Associationism as a reflection of the Catalan people
The values of associationism mark the path towards a more committed and less individualistic society. In fact, if we analyse some basic elements of Catalan culture, we can see that this idea is in tune with the cultural reality. Pilgrimages, sardanes, local festivals, Sant Jordi? all involve getting together, organising, living together and sharing. It is no coincidence, therefore, that most Catalans spend part of their free time in associative or social activities with the aim of improving the quality of life of the country as a whole.
Variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to organisations, there is something for everyone. Any Catalan can nowadays find an association that is of interest to him or her, and where he or she can contribute his or her grain of sand. Sporting, historical, food-related, scientific, academic and social welfare concerns? everything has a place in the Catalan associative fabric because everyone has a place in the associative fabric.
Beyond the reach of public bodies, this network of unstoppable people can actively and significantly contribute to creating opportunities and ensuring the benefit of all groups; no one can be left behind from a social point of view. In particular, associations have done and continue to do essential work focused on excluded groups, social emergencies, people with fewer resources, those affected by banking or systemic abuses, minority illnesses, support groups, and a long etcetera. Entities that have had to organise themselves internally and, in many cases, without public support, to meet the basic needs of citizens, both physical and psychological, in order to improve their quality of life.
A task that has never received the support it deserves and which, in many cases, is financed through donations and aid from citizens. Fortunately, social awareness is becoming more and more important and cooperation goes beyond the association itself to open up to all citizens in a circumstance in which the support of each and every one of the collaborators is essential. This shows that the associative fabric has a double aspect: active participation from within or collaboration from outside, so that the whole of society becomes part of it.
Culture, a basic pillar of development
In Catalonia, the culture of an entire people has been maintained over the years in the face of all kinds of social and political situations, thanks in large part to the associations and their work to preserve and strengthen the cultural fabric. To give us an idea of the importance of this, of the 74,438 associations mentioned above, 34,261 are of a cultural nature. The result is that Catalan society is committed to culture, and thus to knowledge, freedom of expression and the promotion of critical thinking.
Culture plays a key role in the development of a territory and becomes an essential part of citizens’ lives. Beyond books, series or museums, culture is also the language, the way we relate to others and to the environment, the customs that make us live in a certain way, celebrating specific dates or giving value to a feeling of belonging to a territory. Social solidarity and cooperation are two values that are also highly influenced by culture and which, in turn, can have a great influence on the social functioning of a people. Culture is practically everything, and associations take on the role of preserving this identity value through organisations and activities that promote its preservation.
Social cooperation, a commitment to value
Associations understand the creation of a community on the basis of inclusion and with the aim of strengthening these links so that working together allows society to advance more and to advance better. In no case, however, should this union of people work on the basis of exclusion towards all those who are not part of it. This could lead to negative feelings on the part of the rest of the citizens and is far removed from the raison d’être of this type of organisation, where respect and teamwork mark its existence. Losing this essence would mean individualising the movement and condemning it to disappear.
The feeling of identity can have a great impact on a society and can be a determining factor in its development. A territory that believes in its people, that wants to defend culture and that promotes all kinds of activities based on self-organisation and voluntary work is, without a doubt, a territory with a desire to constantly evolve. In Catalonia, the associative fabric is witness to this desire and is growing every day with its sights set on the future, but without losing sight of its origins. Working collectively for a future with a fairer and more committed society is a commitment to people and to ensure that, from the associations, their welfare and that of the territory will be looked after.