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. 17 Nov. 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 November 17, 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 November 17, 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 November 17, 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 15 : Why? (What Killed Civic Engagement? Summing Up) | Summary

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Summary

Putnam sums up his findings in this chapter, adding reviews of a few possible culprits for civic disengagement. These possible culprits include the loosening of family bonds, race, and big government and the growth of the "welfare state." After considering each of these in turn, however, he determines none is a significant factor.

At the end of the chapter Putnam provides the reader with pie chart labeled "Guesstimated Explanation for Civic Disengagement, 1965–2000." The pie chart offers this guesstimate:

  • The largest contributing factor is generational change.
  • Smaller contributing factors include work, sprawl, TV, and what Putnam describes as "The TV Generation."
  • Another portion of the pie chart is blank, and is labeled "other."

In conclusion Putnam says, "Work, sprawl, TV, and generational change are all important parts of the story, but important elements in our mystery remain unresolved."

Analysis

Putnam sets up several "straw men" as possible causes of civic disengagement and then proceeds to knock them down. It seems likely he doesn't take seriously the possibility race, looser family bonds, or "the welfare state" were likely causes of civic disengagement. Instead, it is probable he addressed these issues in order to cover all possible arguments and thus avoid a potentially negative response from readers.

After dismissing each of the three remaining possible causes, he returns to his earlier thesis: that generational change, urban sprawl, and TV/telecommunications have had a devastating effect on American social capital and civic engagement. In his conclusion Putnam sets up a question: what are the unresolved causes that have yet to be identified?

The practice of setting up and then knocking down "straw men" is a common rhetorical strategy because it is so effective. It gives the reader the sense that the author has taken all alternative arguments into account, addressed each in turn, and then settled on the only possible correct argument. The reality, however, is more subtle. Indeed, there are those who argue that Putnam's straw men—the loosening of family bonds, race, and big government and the growth of the "welfare state"—are real concerns. But there are many other alternative answers to the question "what killed social engagement?" Could older models of social engagement simply be outmoded? Are people gathering together in new and different ways? Many of Putnam's data points revolve around changes to very old institutions that may no longer reflect social norms or needs.

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