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Unformatted text preview: 1 Netscape: Robert Putnam - Bowling Alone - Journal of Democracy 6:1 http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/ journal_of_democracy/v006/putnam.html Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital Robert D. Putnam An Interview with Robert Putnam Many students of the new democracies that have emerged over the past decade and a half have emphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation of democracy. Especially with regard to the pos t communist countries, scholars and democratic activists alike have lamented the absence or obliteration of traditions of independent civic engagement and a widespread tendency t o ward passive reliance on the state. To those concerned with the weakness of civil societies in the developing or postcommunist world, the advanced Western democracies and above all the United States have typically been taken as models to be emulated. There is striking ev i dence, however, that the vibrancy of American civil society has notably declined over the past several decades. Ever since the publication of Alexis de To c queville's Democracy in America, the United States has played a central role in systematic studies of the links between democracy and civil society. Although this is in part because trends in American life are often regarded as harbingers of social modernization, it is also because America has traditionally been co n sidered unusually "civic" (a reputation that, as we shall later see, has not been entirely unju s tiFed). When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, it was the Americans' propensity for civic association that most impressed him as the key to their unprecedented ability to make democracy work. "Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition," [End Page 65] he observed, "are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types--religious, moral, serious, f u tile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. . . . Nothing, in my view, deserves more attention than the inte l lectual and moral associ a tions in America." 1 Recently, American social scientists of a neo- Tocquevillean bent have unearthed a wide range of empirical evidence that the quality of public life and the performance of social i n stitutions (and not only in America) are indeed powerfully in¡uenced by norms and networks of civic engagement. Researchers in such Felds as education, urban poverty, unemplo y ment, the control of crime and drug abuse, and even health have discovered that successful outcomes are more likely in civically engaged communities. Similarly, research on the var y ing economic attainments of different ethnic groups in the United States has demonstrated the importance of social bonds within each group. These results are consistent with r e search in a wide range of settings that demo n strates the vital importance of social networks for job placement and many...
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