Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society

Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society

Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society

Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society

Synopsis

In his national bestseller Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam illuminated the decline of social capital in the US. Now, in Democracies in Flux, Putnam brings together a group of leading scholars who broaden his findings as they examine the state of social capital in eight advanced democracies around the world. The book is packed with many intriguing revelations. The contributors note, for instance, that waning participation in unions, churches, and political parties seems to be virtually universal, a troubling discovery as these forms of social capital are especially important for empowering less educated, less affluent portions of the population. Indeed, in general, the researchers found more social grouping among the affluent than among the working classes and they find evidence of a younger generation that is singularly uninterested in politics, distrustful both of politicians and of others, cynical about public affairs, and less inclined to participate in enduring social organizations. On the bright side, social capital appears as strong as ever in Sweden, where 40% of the adult population participate in "study circles"--small groups who meet weekly for educational discussions. Offering a panoramic look at social capital around the world, this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of these phenomena.

Excerpt

According to popular accounts, social capital in the United States has been declining steadily since the 1950s. Having won World War II, then containing Russian aggression, and building new homes in the suburbs that were favorable to child rearing, churchgoing, and community involvement, Americans gradually settled into a complacency that would threaten to undermine the very foundations of their historic democratic freedoms. By the late 1960s, civic-mindedness was already being transformed into self-interestedness: Apart from the few who temporarily became social activists, protesting racism and the war in Vietnam, a generation came of age with little else to think about besides television, themselves, and their personal ambitions. in this view, the decline of social capital was largely a middle-class phenomenon; it characterized all but the older generation, that stalwart cohort who had learned through the trials of World War II to put country first, and it was rooted in suburban sprawl, the demise of the traditional malebreadwinner family, and too much television. But it was mostly a moral problem, a failure on the part of vast numbers of middle-class Americans to turn off their television sets, take their children firmly by the hand, and sign up for memberships at the ymca, Jaycees, League of Women Voters, pta, community soccer league, local Methodist church, or whatever other organizations that would have drawn them out of . . .

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