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

Robert Putnam

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Section 2, Chapter 6 : Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital (Informal Social Connections) | Summary

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Summary

Putnam starts off this chapter by describing two types of social individuals termed, in Yiddish, machers and schmoozers. Machers, he says, are "people who make things happen in the community." Schmoozers, on the other hand, are "those who spend many hours in informal conversation and communion."

According to Putnam, America has seen a significant rise in schmoozers and a corresponding drop in machers. In fact, he says, "we get together with friends about twice as often as we attend organized meetings."

Unfortunately, however, even our schmoozing is on the decline. According to several studies, Americans are less likely to visit with or invite friends to their homes. This, says Putnam, is not just because Americans are busier at work or because Americans are more likely to meet up outside the home. Instead, he says, "the practice of entertaining friends ... seems to be vanishing entirely," along with the practice of eating a nightly family dinner or going out to a local bar to find opportunities for social interaction. In short, we are allocating our time "toward ourselves and our immediate family and away from the wider community."

Putnam also discusses declines in Americans' interest in such social activities as card playing and participatory sports. Fewer people are engaged in bridge clubs, softball leagues, or bowling leagues (though bowling with friends is among the few group activities that is still popular).

In addition to general loss of social capital, Putnam believes social disconnection can lead to serious problems for the community. He ends the chapter with a question about whether "silent withdrawal from social intercourse" will lead to unwillingness to "pitch in on common tasks" or "show consideration for bystanders."

Analysis

Putnam's major point in this chapter is social interaction at all levels is on the decline. He suggests such a decline creates a sense of distance from other people, leading to the belief that others' misfortunes are irrelevant.

To lay the foundation for this suggestion, Putnam reviews a number of different theories about social interaction at the turn of the 21st century. One by one, he examines these theories and shoots them down. No, he says, Americans are not socializing at work. They are not socializing outside of their homes. They are not taking part in traditional social activities, but at the same time they have not found new ways to engage with one another.

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