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Unformatted text preview: 46 contexts.org safe at home by mark warr GettyImages/BertKlassen Social scientists are gradually coming to appreciate how pro- foundly crimeor more properly, public perceptions of crime shape how we live in the United States. Much suggests fear of crime is driving us out of the public square and into our homes. crime and social capital In a healthy society, the lives of citizens are knit together and intertwined. Neighbors share chats, and people interact at work, church, and social events like ballgames and picnics. They participate in government and feel trust and commonal- itya sense they belong to something larger than themselves. Sociologists use the term community to describe this gen- eral state of affairs, as well as terms like social capital to indi- cate mutual trust and social engagement among citizens. Robert Putnams influential book Bowling Alone docu- ments a major transformation in social capital in the United States during the latter half of the 20 th century: A widespread public withdrawal from civic and community life toward a more private, reclusive, home-centered lifestyle. Putnam argued this dwindling social capital was obvious in a variety of trends declining election turnout and waning interest in current affairs, decreasing enrollments in voluntary associations (like the PTA and Elks Clubs) and professional associations (like the Ameri- can Bar Association and American Medical Association), falling church attendance and membership, less participation in social forms of leisure (playing cards, visiting friends or neighbors, entertaining at home), the replacement of the local caf with impersonal fast food establishments, shrinking newspaper read- ership (a conventional barometer of civic involvement), and increasing mistrust and litigiousness. After describing these unsettling changes, Putnam set about to explain them. Time constraints brought on by the rise of dual-income families played a role, he concluded, as did suburbanization and long commute times. But the principal cause of public withdrawal, he asserted, was the rapid diffu- sion of television. It took only seven years for TV to penetrate 75 percent of American households, compared to 67 years for the telephone and 23 for the refrigerator. The rise in televised entertainment quickly supplanted ballparks, dance halls, and other public, low-cost entertainment as Americans major leisure activities. For Putnam, no other 20 th century develop- ment so profoundly affected our leisure: The single most important consequence of the televi- sion revolution has been to bring us home. ... Watching TV at night has become one of the few universals of contemporary American life. ... More television watch- ing means less of virtually every form of civic participa- tion and social involvement....
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