Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy


Why do some democratic governments succeed and others fail? In a book that has received attention from policymakers and civic activists in America and around the world, Robert Putnam and his collaborators offer empirical evidence for the importance of "civic community" in developing successful institutions. Their focus is on a unique experiment begun in 1970 when Italy created new governments for each of its regions. After spending two decades analyzing the efficacy of these governments in such fields as agriculture, housing, and health services, they reveal patterns of associationism, trust, and cooperation that facilitate good governance and economic prosperity.


This book explores some fundamental questions about civic life by studying the regions of Italy. It is written with two very different audiences in mind-those who share my fascination with the subtleties of Italian life, and those who do not, but who care about democratic theory and practice.

The research itself began in conversations with Peter Lange and Peter Weitz in the spring of 1970, while we were all three in Rome studying various aspects of Italian politics. Unexpectedly, the Italian government agreed to implement a long-neglected constitutional provision for regional governments. Since these new institutions were to be built from scratch in each of Italy's diverse regions, the experiment offered an unusual opportunity to begin a long-term, systematic study of how institutions develop and adapt to their social environment. Had I realized, however, that the subsequent inquiry would last nearly a quarter century, or that it would eventually lead me into the farther reaches of game theory and medieval history, I am not sure that I would have had the good sense to embark.

With encouragement from the late Professor Alberto Spreafìco, and with financial support from the University of Michigan, in the fall of 1970 I directed an initial survey of newly-elected councilors in several regions scattered along the peninsula. Later, back in Ann Arbor, I began to analyze these interviews with help from two talented young colleagues, Robert Leonardi and Raffaella Nanetti. By 1975, when a new cohort of councilors had been elected, Bob and Raffi had become faculty members elsewhere, in political science and urban and regional planning, respectively. We agreed to join forces to conduct a second wave of interviews, thus formalizing a close, durable, and productive collaboration.

Over the ensuing decades, the three of us spent hundreds of hours together, planning and carrying out the research described in this book. In the later stages, Bob and Raffi had primary responsibility for the exhaustive field research. All three of us returned repeatedly to the six regions that formed the core of our research. In addition, as our study became better known in Italy, several other regional governments invited us to conduct parallel studies of their operations.

Some of the subsequent publications from the project were authored collaboratively, while others (such as this book and several that Bob and Raffi have produced ) were written independently, though drawing on evidence and ideas that had been produced collaboratively. Although neither of the other two scholars bears responsibility for the arguments developed . . .

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