Robert Putnam's work on social capital

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Social capital: E Pluribus Unum

Robert Putnam, in his study, E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century, pointed out that social networks have value, ethnic diversity will increase, but in the short run, will challenge solidarity, successful diverse societies create new forms of solidarity, and a broader sense of 'we' must be created to for a diverse society to succeed.

Social Networks Have Value

Ethnic Diversity, With Its Advantages, Will Increase

Ethnic Diversity Challenge Social Solidarity

Successful Immigrant Societies Create New Forms of Social Solidarity

Broader Sense of ‘We’

Reception and Criticism

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Social capital: Bowling Alone

The simple act of being regularly involved in an organized group not only impacts individuals but society as a whole. Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital analyzes how the changes in the previous linchpins of American society are breaking and why the replacements are not meeting society's needs. The analysis covers politics, religion, unions, PTA's, and volunteering.

A Seismic Shift in Society

  • For the 60-70 years of the twentieth century a powerful force supported Americans into an ever more profound interest and engagement in the life of their communities
  • A few decades ago--silently, without warning--that wave reversed itself and Americans were swept along.

Issue #1 — Politics and the Lack of Trust in Government

  • Since 1973, the number of Americans who replied to an annual survey that they have attended a town or school affairs meeting fell from 22% in 1973 to 13% in 1998.
  • Between 1960 and the year 2000, voter turnout as a percentage of eligible voters shrunk by nearly 25%.
  • Americans have "also disengaged psychologically" from government and politics.
  • Lack of trust in the government rose from 30% in 1966 to 75% in 1998.

Issue #2 — Religion and the Reduction in Church Membership

  • Belonging to a church is the most common type of membership among Americans.
  • Over the last 40 years, religion and religious beliefs have become less tied to institutions and become more self-defined.
  • Weekly church attendance dropped from 48% in the late 50s to 41% in the early 70s.
  • By 2018, weekly attendance was reported by survey respondents at 22%, with 28% saying they never go to church.

Issue #3 — Union Busting during the 60s to the 80s

Issue #4 — Declining PTA membership

Issue #5 — Fewer Volunteers

  • Membership in and volunteering for civic and fraternal organizations have also strikingly dropped.
  • In women's organizations, membership in the National Federation of Women's Clubs dropped by 59% since 1964, while League of Women's Voters dropped by 42%.
  • Mainline civic organizations like the Red Cross dropped by 61%, and the Boys Scouts decreased by 26%.
  • At all levels of American society, the average number of memberships in social organizations has fallen by almost 25%.

Issue #6 — Why New Associations don't have the Same Societal Impact.

  • While membership in the above types of groups has fallen, membership in new organizations like the Sierra Group and the National Organization of Women has multiplied.
  • The impact of this shift is that in these organizations, centered on an issue like feminism or the environment, membership involves paying dues and reading newsletters,
  • The ties between members are to shared ideals and universal symbols, but not to each other.

Impact on Society

  • In an interview on NPR shortly after the book was released, the author stated that a broad set of archived information that had recently become available showed that it wasn't just the individual organizations he had looked at whose numbers were decreasing.
  • For example, in 1975, the average number of civic engagement meetings attended annually was 12. By 1999 it was five, with most interviewees attending none.
  • It was even broader and deeper than Putnam initially thought. The data showed that there were 60% fewer people going on picnics, 40% fewer spending time in bars with friends, and 30% fewer eating dinner with the family. Putnam stated that people who are divorced from community, occupation, or association are the first to become the supporters of extremism.

Origin of Book Title

Causes of Decrease in Engagement

Why this Matters to Individuals

  • Medical studies have shown that a person's chance of dying in the next year is cut in half if a person joins one group and is reduced to 25% if a person joins two groups.
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Social capital: Better Together 3

The five main points mentioned by Robert D. Putnam from pages 71-99 of Better Together are the quality of social capital impacts all aspects of young peoples lives, social capital is created and dependent on schools, youth organizations and families, there are 13 Recommendations and 3 principles for building social capital among young people, and social capital is a vital resource for achieving societal goals. A detailed overview of the above mentioned key points is provided below.

1. The Quality of Social Capital Impacts all Aspects of Young Peoples Lives. (p 74-75)

  • The quality of social capital influences how well young people learn, the probability of attending college, likelihood of committing crimes, and the probability of whether they will do drugs or commit suicide.
  • Young people and the organizations that they are a part of must be at the center of efforts to rebuild social capital since young people are integrated in societies hopes and carry out society dreams.
  • Putnam focuses specifically on young people specifically the age of 10 -21 because he believes they are old enough to understand civic obligations but still young enough to be forming civic habits.
  • Society cannot expect young people to create a better community without first learning the skills and habits of the heart necessary to civic engagement.

2. Social Capital is Created and Dependent on Schools, Youth Organizations, and Families (p. 74)

  • Young people meet and associate with the most important people in their lives at school, extracurricular groups and with family.
  • It is in these communities that young people learn powerful lessons, both good and bad, about the role of the individual in society, what is expected of them and what to expect from others.
  • Schools encourage civic engagement in many ways. Firstly by teaching the basic skills necessary to participate in civic life, secondly, students learn how American democracy works at school, children participate in a peer culture that vastly shapes their values and relationships and lastly, schools sponsor programs that provide hands-on training in civic participation.
  • The American family is an important medium for social capital. Young people ideally learn to share, cooperate, and contribute to a common good from their families.

3. There are 13 Recommendations for Building Social Capital Among Young People (Page 80)

  • The 13 recommendations mentioned for increasing social capital and civic engagement among young people are categorized into three categories: schools, community organizations, and families.
  • Putnam urge that schools and school boards fund community service-learning opportunities for students, create sub divisions of schools, offer more extracurricular activities, start more programs to re-connect high school dropouts with educational and community institutions. He also recommends that schools provide for active student government that has a say in some aspects of school operations.
  • In regard to community organizations, he is endorsing a generalized strategy that is "aimed at promoting youth engagement outside of school, including expanding inter generational mentoring programs, increasing funding for AmeriCorps, creating ways to involve young people in heading community organizations, and providing incentives for service".
  • He recommends that families spend more time connecting with their children so that in turn children will connect with their communities. Since an ethic of civic obligation is fading with the World War II generation, he is urging parents to have their children connect with the older generation.

4. There are 3 Principles of Building Social Capital Among Young People (Page 79)

  • Putnam believes that while all youth engagement opportunities are important, there are some that are more effective than others at creating meaningful, lasting patterns of civic engagement. According to Putnam the best opportunities for young people to contribute generally abide by three principles.
  • The first principle is to respect young people. By successful engaging young people in activities will allow them to be treated with dignity and commend their achievements.
  • The second principle is to provide meaningful engagement. Programs and organizations should address significant problems or passions in young people’s lives. Also, these efforts should allow young people to provide "consequential input into decision-making and to produce tangible solutions or products" instead of offering meaningless exercises.
  • The third and final principle is to Inculcate Civic Values. Efforts aimed towards successful youth-engagement should be grounded in practices that enhance young people’s development, through high expectations, sustained by adult support and a peer group with sound positive values.

5. Social capital is a vital resource for achieving societal goals (Page 96)

  • Putnam is interested in increasing social capital because it is a vital resource for achieving societal goals.
  • Putnam believed that trust and civic engagement lubricat society’s institutions.
  • Social capital helps to "ensure quality education, a more engaged citizenry and more accountable public decision makers", longevity, crime reduction, economic development and growth, appreciation for diversity, and greater citizen compliance with laws.
  • Social capital helps in combating materialism and self-centeredness, which are two values that currently prevalent in society.

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Social capital: Better Together 2

Pages 31 through 70 of Putnam's Better Together discusses how social capital building can be achieved through the arts and cultural institutions, governments and politics, and religion. Putman's main points about social capital are that each institution are able to impact social capital building through internal actions and collaborations between institutions such as government and secular agencies and religious groups. Churches are the largest creators and maintain the most social capital and have the most forms of social capital, however, reluctance to work with religious groups prevent collaborations that would largely enhance social capital building in communities. A detailed summary is provided below.

1. Art And Social Capital Are Declining Drastically

Observe art together p.31 -33

  • America has 21,750 formal non-profit arts, culture, and humanities organizations that hold $37 billion in assets and spend $13.3 billion each year. These organizations "include small-town volunteer-led preservation societies, big-city art museums", and others and are growing quickly with professional orchestras, opera companies, non-profit theaters, dance companies, and art museums. There are also tens of thousands of groups known as unincorporated arts that includes non-professional and loosely organized church choirs, quilting guilds, reading groups and others, and these groups represent a less visible form of social capital.
  • A troubling trend is the rate at which Americans now "observe art together far more often than we do art together". These activities can include visiting museums, attending musicals. In contrast, they acted in a play, performed in a choir or played music at drastically lower rates.
  • Spectatorship with others is intrinsically rewarding and creates social capital among spectators. Spectatorship is not a substitute for actual participation that require ongoing interactions, coordination, and trust and therefore is a richer form of social capital, however, participation is waning. The gap between the two is growing larger and citizens producing culture are becoming scarcer.
  • Generational patterns are furthering the decline of participation and furthering the trend towards spectatorship instead of participation which is troubling especially because art represents the most underutilized platform for rebuilding community by bringing people together and fostering a "sense of common connections and linked fate".

2. Arts and cultural institutions needs stronger community involvement without undermining the role of art institutions as forums of creation and display.

Principles and Recommendations p.31-36

  • Principles to follow when strengthening social capital through arts are to seek opportunities to form trusting ties across race, gender, faith, generations, etc, return to an era in which art institutions are not high-priced venues but instead used as a place for social capital building. Using arts as public spaces is said to be a way to "recycle social capital" as participation in entertainment can create new networks that will increase a person's involvement in social activities.
  • Community planning should include leaders of the local arts communities, artists and cultural institutions in planning efforts, commissions, and programs at neighborhood, city, state, and national levels. Policy makers have not fully realized the benefits of having a strong cultural sector.
  • It is recommended that a greater share of budgets should be allocated to financing art products and productions that are civically oriented and generally participatory for the community. Art institutions should also reach out to other institutions not like themselves to reach more people and create a more inclusive community.
  • Civic dialogue should be considered in artistic productions to critique and improve community and democracy. It is also recommended to incorporate arts in social problem solving. Cultural institutions and unincorporated groups are called on to find innovative ways to support community building and other institutions in their shared goals. There needs to be a new emphasis on finding ways for the arts to build social capital.

3. Financial Capital Has Steadily Replaced Social Capital

Reform requires increasing civic engagement and social capital (p. 36 -50)

  • The decrease of political engagement is most prominent among young and middle-class citizens and the forms of participation that have decreased the most are those that are most conducive to build social capital. This has led to declines in voting, political attention, political expression, campaign work, and attendance at political events/
  • It is stated that while the government can threaten social capital at times, there is also evidence that the government provides real incentives for the formation of social capital such as through its funding of the Cooperative Extension Service. That initiative created 4-H clubs and sparked rural social capital building.
  • Government mistrust is problematic because it hinders bolstering civic life when citizens are alienated from officials and leaders have trouble mobilizing people for public good. In addition, the mistrust makes it difficult to build social capital. Some question whether the government can or should try to bolster social capital, whereas some question whether there may not be unintended consequences.

4. Principles And Recommendations For Government And Politics To Build Social Capital

How governments and politics can help (p. 50-56)

  • Principles for building social capital through government and politics include viewing government and civil society as complements because social-capital rich communities accomplish more. Agencies should always try to avoid actions that harm social capital leaders and foster greater democratic deliberation.
  • Recommendations for government to build social capital are to strengthen local and national organizations that unite people in coalitions of "democratic deliberation and civic activity", political campaign reform that encourage participation rather than focus on discourage, and voluntarily help strengthen voluntary institutions. Broadening the role of citizens in government restructuring can build social capital, and governmental decision-making power so citizens know they can have an impact over the policies that affect their lives.
  • Governments should follow the examples of Georgia and Maryland and devise state governments and local governments should also enact regional planning principles to address urban sprawl. "New regionalism" and government collaboration can steer development in ways that foster social capital building. Government agencies and officials can create conducive conditions to encourage community engagement and make it more habit-forming and consistent.
  • He proposes a creation of a modern-day “Cyber Morrill Act” to sell the analog broadcast system and "use the proceeds to foster community-friendly "cyber-innovations", citing the previous success of the Morrill Acts as an example. It is also urged that governments and all public institutions examine their past activities and programs to learn from past mistakes.

4. Churches Build And Sustain More Social Capital Of Varied Forms Than Any Other Institution.

Religious institutions need to bridge social capital (p. 63-71)

  • Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship build and sustain the most and most-varied types of social capital than any other institution, and nearly half of America's stock of social capital is religious or religiously-affiliated. They spend $15- to $20-billion each year on social services. The actual houses of worship are also a prime platform for informal social capital building and provides a moral foundation for civic regeneration.
  • Houses of worship can explicitly emphasize social capital building and spirituality and effectively build both by reaching out to other congregations, denominations and religions to encourage a larger feeling of community.
  • Historical abuses of religious faith is seen as harmful consequences of religious social capital and can make realizing the full potential of religious contributions to civic life.
  • Indianapolis is an example of how churches and government can collaborate to build social capital. Through the Front Porch Alliance, the city government acts as a civic switchboard that connects houses of worships to local businesses, agencies, and community groups. The Alliance provides small grants to the houses of worships to try to solve social problems and cut through bureaucracy.
  • Secular leaders are urged to suspend their suspicion of religious organizations and work with religious leaders to achieve their common goals.

5. Principles and Recommendations for Religious Leaders To Build Social Capital

Guide for religious involvement in civic renewal (p. 69 – 71)

  • Congregations need to strengthen their status as civic institutions. Many ethnic groups use houses of worships as the organizers of their civic participation, and many are vitally important to their communities. Secular leaders from government, academia, philanthropists, and non-profits need to recognize the role of churches in civic life and their communities.
  • Bridge-building efforts such as Boston's congregations joining together to deal with the gang problem and cross-denominations support in response to humane events fosters social capital building across diverse communities. Churches should encourage inter-faith collaborations on social issues and should work together to be more effective as it has been shown to have remarkable results.
  • It is recommended that private organizations and corporations increase secular funds for faith-based organizations. Organized philanthropy play a vital role in strengthening the financial ability of churches that minister to the community. Intermediary agencies could be created to help smaller congregations get access to these agencies and bridge the communication gap between religious groups and secular grant makers as well as provide technical assistance to the churches.
  • Collaborations between faith-based organizations and secular services and advocacy groups is also recommended, and bringing secular activists and faith-based organizations together will bridge social capital across religious lines and "expand movements for social betterment". Secular organizations should stop avoid explicit commitments to values.
  • Religious organizations have the most capacity to create social capital building, and as many Americans feel a "spiritual void and a cynicism about their fellow citizens" they are naturally suited to uplift our national spirit.
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Social capital: Better Together 1

Below is a summary of pages 1-30 of the project document.

Why social capital matters(4)

  • Social capital "increases the productivity of workers".
  • It makes individuals less prone to depression and more helpful.
  • It decreases rate of suicide and promotes health.
  • It reduces crime, drug abuse and promotes academic performance.
  • It enhances the effectiveness of government agencies.
  • It makes individuals' lives enjoyable and easier.

Erosion of Social Capital in America(5)

  • An example of civic decline is increasing American's refusal to participate in polls over the years.
  • Pleasurable get-togethers are becoming more scarce.
  • Families are more segregated.
  • Communal obligations and trust levels have declined.

Causes of civic decline(6)

  • Dying of civic older Americans and replacement by less civil-minded generations.
  • Entertainment TV has replaced sociable leisure-time activities.
  • Absorption of women in formal labor force killing neighborhood and voluntary organizations that flourished under them.
  • Increasing work pressure and long working hours.
  • Development of isolated suburbs and exurbs.

Principles for Building Social Capital(8)

  • "The Social Capital Impact Principle".
  • "The Recycling Principle".
  • "The Bridging principle".
  • "The Community to Community (C2C) Principle".

A Civic Renaissance(9)

  • During the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era (1870-1915), rapid industrialization and other changes disrupted traditional community organization patterns causing a decline in social capital.
  • Concern about the trends led to creation of new institutions to help harmonize communities in the new lives.
  • The result was a legacy that has served America since then.
  • As demographics and technology have changed the society, there is need for new institutions to suit current times.

The Saguaro Seminar Journey(10, 11)

  • The seminar is made up of leaders of institutions they have each been working to "rebuild civic bonds and restore connection between individuals".
  • It tackles the issue of civic decline under five institutional arenas as follows:
  • The Workplace.
  • The Arts.
  • Politics and Government.
  • Religion.
  • Schools, Youth Organizations, and Families.
  • There is need to work both at individual level and collectively to improve the state of Social Capital.

Work and Social Capital(12, 13)

  • The workplace is an "important source of social capital for millions of Americans".
  • There are concerns that the current nature of work take control of people's lives, depriving them of time with loved ones and community.
  • There is need for workers, employers and policy-makers to change the work culture that undermines civic culture.
  • Employers stand to gain in many ways from social capital.

Role of the Workplace in Building Social Capital(13)

  • The American workplace generates social capital in three ways:
  • First, it is where people build trusting relationships based on mutual assistance.
  • Second, they are "recruiting grounds for individuals and community organizations that are building social capital outside the office or factory walls".
  • Third, employers contribute as organizations to worthy causes.

Changes in the Social Organization of Work(15-19)

  • Movement of women into paid employment has placed new strains on families and community organizations that traditionally relied on female labor.
  • "At-home workers and flexible workers are leading an important revolution in the social organization of work."
  • Some "far-sighted employers, policy entrepreneurs and political leaders have taken bold steps to move America toward the goal of aligning work with social capital."
  • "At the government level, policy-makers have begun to introduce legislation that would ease the time bind on working families".

Challenges to work-based strategies for building social capital(19-21)

  • Providing convincing "economic rationale to employers".
  • The "uncertainty, anxiety, and distrust that often mar workplace relations".
  • Economic transformations and changes in demography of employment cause shifting grounds in the workplace making it a difficult place to plant seeds of community.
  • Political obstacles may hinder implementation of strategies to "regenerate social capital in the workplace".

Principles of building work-based social capital(21-22)

  • "Bridge occupational divides."
  • "Legitimize social capital from the top."
  • "Make social capital pay."
  • "Boost the civic potential of the new workforce."

Recommendations for Building Social Capital(22-26)

  • "Create workplace-based civil associations".
  • "Use the workplace as civic forum".
  • "Turn workplaces into sites of civic education".
  • "Expand leave benefits for parents".
  • "Give time off for community service".
  • "Institute a system of individualized work contracts".
  • "Provide incentives for community service".
  • "Put social capital formation at the center of corporate".
  • "Forge community-based partnerships with other sectors".
  • According to Sara Horowitz, Executive Director of Working Today, "Social capital is a by-product of doing something and not a product in itself."

The Arts and Social Capital(29-30)

  • Czech president Vaclav Havel observed that arts offer a unique means of connecting people to the common humanity.
  • Research suggests that the arts can be a "valuable engine of civic renewal".
  • "Social capital can be built among spectators, performers, and producers-as well as across those groups."
  • "Beyond the individual effects, the arts allow for public celebration and exploration of the meaning of community."
  • "For native-born Americans and recent arrivals alike, the arts provide a safe means of bridging differences and resolving community conflict."
  • The arts can "serve as a powerful spur to civic dialogue".
  • Participation in the arts strengthens democratic institutions.
  • The arts "have charms to soothe the savage breast", especially appropriate in these uncivil times.