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 April 21, 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 4, Chapter 16 : So What? (Introduction) | Summary

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Summary

Putnam says Americans have a visceral, or gut, sense that social ties are eroding—and that this is a problem for contemporary America. He asks, "Are we right? Does social capital have salutary effects on individuals, communities, or even entire nations?" He answers the question with a resounding Yes and describes social capital as working "magic" to produce socially desirable outcomes.

Putnam describes several ways in which social capital helps Americans and America:

  • First, he says, "Social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily."
  • Second, "social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly." By this he means that when people trust one another it's easier to do business and make agreements.
  • Third, social capital widens "our awareness of the many ways in which our fates are linked." Without social capital, he suggests, we lean toward thinking of ourselves as disconnected loners.
  • Fourth, social capital helps individuals to manage trauma and even fight illness.

In short, says Putnam, social capital isn't just about "warm fuzzy" civic outcomes; it has a significant positive impact on society as a whole and on individuals within that society. In the conclusion of this chapter Putnam sets the stage for the next section of the book, which will prove "in many disparate domains important to Americans today more social capital and civic engagement would improve things."

Analysis

In this chapter, Putnam pulls together the ideas he has carefully presented and proved in the first portion of the book. He tells the reader, in essence, "So you see that social capital really is plummeting in America for reasons I have laid out, and this is a bad thing." He also lays the groundwork for a new section in which he will explain just why loss of social capital is a problem for America and for Americans.

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