Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Study Guide

Robert Putnam

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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Quotes


The most important [way social capital can vary] is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive).

Narrator, Section 1, Chapter 1

Putnam notes social capital can be very positive, but it also has negative aspects. When people bond together in groups but do not reach out to other groups, they can become extremists.


Our national myths often exaggerate the role of the individual heroes and understate the importance of collective effort.

Narrator, Section 1, Chapter 1

Putnam believes the myth of the "American individualist," who best serves the public by pursuing his or her own self-interests, undermines the national ability to pull together as a collective whole. For example, an entrepreneur such as computer guru Steve Jobs is heralded for pursuing his individual interests, an action which to some degree causes benefits to trickle into society in the form of technological advancements. On the other hand, is there more to be gained on a social level if computer experts, for instance, were to work collectively for the purpose of improving social conditions?


Social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness.

Narrator, Section 1, Chapter 1

Here Putnam gives one of his first explanations of the concept of social capital, saying it describes social connections that lead to social goods.


The external effects of social capital are by no means always positive.

Narrator, Section 1, Chapter 1

Putnam explains how—even though networks are generally beneficial for those inside—social capital can be exclusive, serving the needs of people in groups by excluding those on the outside.


What really matters from the point of view of social capital ... is ... active and involved membership.

Narrator, Section 2, Chapter 3

Putnam notes that, over the last quarter century, fewer groups offer opportunities for hands-on participation. Such opportunities are essential. When people, for example, donate to a cause but don't engage in working for the cause, they don't build social capital.


Faith communities ... are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America.

Narrator, Section 2, Chapter 4

Putnam writes at length about the value of religious community as a form of social capital in the United States. Participation in organized religion accounts for half the memberships, half the philanthropy, and half the volunteering in the United States.


Young Americans in the 1990s displayed a commitment to volunteerism without parallel among their immediate predecessors.

Narrator, Section 2, Chapter 7

This positive statement reflects Putnam's research, which shows young people at the turn of the 21st century were increasing their social capital. While they might not have the "joining" ethic of their baby-boom parents, they have a strong commitment to volunteering.


Social capital may turn out to be a prerequisite for ... effective computer-mediated communication.

Narrator, Section 2, Chapter 9

At the turn of the 21st century, when people were hailing the Internet as the cause of the rebirth of social capital, Putnam believed social capital would be required to engage in social interaction on the Internet.


The way to get something done is to give it to a busy person.

Narrator, Section 3, Chapter 11

This popular phrase suggests the most socially involved people are likely to become even more active, while those who are passive remain passive.


Civic engagement [has] diminished almost equally for both women and men, working or not, married or single.

Narrator, Section 3, Chapter 11

Putnam summarizes his findings regarding the increased number of women in the workplace by saying civic engagement and social connectedness have declined among all people—not just among stay-at-home wives.


In the civic mystery we have been unraveling [television and its electronic cousins] are ringleaders.

Narrator, Section 3, Chapter 13

Putnam believes television, passive video games, and other forms of electronic entertainment play a major role in decreasing Americans' social capital.


An unusually civic generation [is being replaced] by several generations ... that are less embedded in community life.

Narrator, Section 3, Chapter 14

The most significant reason for a decrease in social capital, according to Putnam, is generational change. Whereas the baby boomers were committed to civic engagement, their children and grandchildren simply are not.


If you ... decide to join [a social group], you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.

Narrator, Section 4, Chapter 20

Putnam states zero social capital creates a serious health risk; by increasing social capital even minimally, an individual can radically increase their life expectancy.


The Beatles got it right: we all "get by with a little help from our friends."

Narrator, Section 4, Chapter 20

Putnam quotes from the 1960s rock group The Beatles to affirm that social capital is necessary for everyone; fulfillment cannot be found in isolation.


TV-based politics is to political action as watching ER is to saving someone in distress.

Narrator, Section 4, Chapter 21

Putnam places much of the blame for the decline of American social capital on television. He believes watchers feel engaged in politics as they watch television—but that feeling is very misleading: passive television watching has no impact on political outcomes.

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