Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Putnam - Bowling Alone

Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Related Simpsons Quote
"I haven't felt this energized since my last...er...boweling!" - Mr. Burns in the Pin Pals episode

Section II: Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital
Since the 70s, American participation in politics, civics, religion, community, and other social activities has decreased drastically, to the detriment of the society. Americans trust their neighbors less than they used to, engage beyond the nuclear family less than they used to, and give their time to society less than they used to.

Section III: Why?
The key factors are
pressures of time and money - only 10%, because while two-career families certainly was an important development in the period, in fact heavy time demands do not correlate to limited engagement in society - ie unemployed participate LESS than employed
suburbanization, commuting and sprawl - 10%, because disengagement is still seen in areas untouched by sprawl
electronic entertainment particularly television - 25%, because television sucks time and keeps people indoors
generational change - 50% (with overlap with TV). The generation that was born before the Depression were and continue to be more engaged.

Surveys, group membership data, and other relevant quantitative data. The evidence is presented in countless charts and graphs that perfectly illustrate Putnam's argument.

Key Terms
Social Capital - (p. 19) the value society gets from connections among individuals
specific reciprocity - (20) "I'll do this if you do that for me (in short term)"
generalized reciprocity - (21) "I'll do this without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road." (Golden Rule)
bridging social capital - (22) inclusive. outward looking and encompass diverse social groups. ie Civil Rights movement, ecumenical religious orgs
bonding social capital - (22) exclusive. inward looking, reinforce exclusive identities and homogeniety. ie church based reading groups, restricted country clubs.
Long Civic Generation - (chapter 14) - the generation born before the Depression. More likely to have served in military. Lived through the depression.

This is sociology at its best. Putnam takes a commonly held perception or sense - that America is less-community oriented and less active in the community than it had been - and applies a thorough quantitative analysis to it. He offers explanations, but only as his "best guess," giving each a percentage of how much he thinks they are a factor. This is a tremendously useful book for historians and thoroughly convincing. Plus, he's a good writer.

The latter chapters are interesting, but less useful to historians, as Putnam offers thoughts on how to improve civic engagement, and argues that civic engagement has come in waves throughout American history. (The Progressive Era ended a long period of disengagement throughout the Gilded Age).

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