Pillarization ('Verzuiling'): On Organized 'Self-Contained Worlds' in the Modern World

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Movements and groups abound in modern society. Sometimes, a movement or group succeeds in mobilizing a large section of the population and thoroughly knitting it together, by building a pervasive subculture and by setting up a vast interrelated network of organizations, resulting in a seemingly impenetrable and powerful bloc. This happened to different degrees in most Western countries, including the United States and Canada. It is also occurring now in the non-Western world. Belgium and the Netherlands were particularly affected by extensive bloc building. In both countries, Catholic, Socialist, and Liberal pillars – plus a Protestant pillar in the Netherlands – divided society and determined political and social life from the late nineteenth century up to the late twentieth century. As a consequence, the phenomenon has been studied there more thoroughly and under a specific label, ‘verzuiling’ (pillarization).

The first section of this article offers a review of pillarization theory in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere. In the second part, to advance the study of organized blocs all over the world, I argue for a broad, international perspective on pillarization against the particularistic tendencies of many pillarization researchers, especially in the Netherlands. In a shorter third part, I address the isolation of pillarization theory from general sociological theory. Self-reinforcing processes of segregation and organization in large population groupings were and still are a common feature in the modern world. They have resulted in more than one case in divided societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-147
Number of pages24
JournalThe American Sociologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Belgium
  • Divided societies
  • Modern world
  • Pillarization
  • The Netherlands
  • Verzuiling


Dive into the research topics of 'Pillarization ('Verzuiling'): On Organized 'Self-Contained Worlds' in the Modern World'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this