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 July 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 19 : So What? (Economic Prosperity) | Summary

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Summary

According to Putnam, social capital (strong social connections through personal contacts and organizations) is not only good for individuals, neighborhoods, and institutions. It is also an important tool for "getting ahead." In fact, he says, "Where trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms, neighborhoods, and even nations prosper."

He goes on to describe how social capital can make a positive difference at the personal level. Individuals who have "contacts" can use those contacts to increase their chances of getting a job or promotion. Contacts need not be close friends; even "weak ties" can be the means for gaining special opportunities. In addition, contacts and social networks need not come from wealthy or powerful friends and relatives. Strong ties within families, ethnic groups, and other social networks are important at any economic level. Says Putnam, "Fully 85 percent of young men in one survey used personal networks to find employment."

While social networks don't necessarily lead to significant wealth, they can. Putnam describes the "economic miracle in California's Silicon Valley" which, he says, was led by a group of entrepreneurs and supported by "a resource-rich university community." He contrasts the success of Silicon Valley to the relatively poor performance of New England's Route 128. In New England he says, an "I'll succeed on my own" philosophy led to economic problems.

He concludes by saying research suggests "social capital of the right sort boosts economic efficiency, so that if our networks of reciprocity deepen, we all benefit."

Analysis

The idea that people with strong social networks do better in business is not new. In fact, personal and family connections have always been one of the best ways to start, build, or succeed in a business.

It's important to note Putnam points to social capital as important for economic success even when no one within a community is particularly wealthy or powerful. Whether through extended families, ethnic groups, churches, or other institutions, social capital is helpful at all economic levels. Those who grow up in areas or communities with poor social capital are less likely to succeed "not merely because they are socially deprived, but also because they are relatively poor in social ties that can provide a hand up."

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