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." Course Hero. 6 Feb. 2018. Web. 12 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/>.

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Course Hero. (2018, February 6). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/

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Course Hero. "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed December 12, 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 3, Chapter 10 : Why? (Introduction) | Summary

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Summary

Though Americans at the start of the 20th century are more civically engaged than people in many other countries, they are far less engaged than they were during the 1960s and 1970s. Putnam asks, "Why is this the case?"

He suggests there are several possible answers to the question, all based on correlations between and among social trends. For example, he asks whether perhaps the increasing number of women in the workplace could explain some or all of the decline in American civic engagement. He says possible answers should be analyzed using four questions he calls tests or benchmarks:

  1. "Is the proposed explanatory factor correlated with social capital and civic engagement?"
  2. "Is the correlation spurious?"
  3. "Is the proposed explanatory factor changing in the relevant way?"
  4. "Is it possible that the proposed explanatory factor is the result of civic disengagement, not the cause?"

Analysis

When investigating the cause of trend or outcome, it is important to separate correlation from causation. While correlation can be a good indicator of causation, it can also be very misleading. To better understand this concept, it's helpful to define the two terms and to look at a few examples.

Correlation is simply a recognition that two or more things occurred in the same time or the same place. They may be related or unrelated. For example, the number of cell phones per American increased at the same time our awareness of climate change increased. Did one thing cause the other, or is their correlation coincidental? In this case it is coincidental—so drawing a connection by saying, "Ah ha! An increase in the number of cell phones used in the United States caused an increase in climate change" would be absurd or spurious.

Causation is a recognition that two or more things occurred in the same time or place and one of those things caused the other. For example, the number of smart phones per American increased at the same time more Americans started using mobile apps. There is an extremely good chance the availability and pervasiveness of smartphone technology actually led to a boom in the creation and use of mobile apps.

Putnam is proposing to investigate several possible explanations for civic disengagement. His plan is to use the four questions listed to separate simple correlation from causation.

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