Social Structures, Social Capital, and Personal Freedom

Social Structures, Social Capital, and Personal Freedom

Social Structures, Social Capital, and Personal Freedom

Social Structures, Social Capital, and Personal Freedom

Synopsis

The essays in this collection examine the relationship between institutional structures and community integration. Each chapter emphasizes the practical, realistic ways that social institutions create and sustain social capital and protect personal freedom. The chapters examine neighborhoods, family, religion, voluntary organizations, education, government, the military, and the economy.

Excerpt

The social sciences are currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts, refocusing on the perennial concerns over the demise of community in modern societies. Terms such as communitarianism and social capital are now commonplace as researchers seek new ways to understand the social forces that exert undue pressure on the civil and moral bonds of contemporary communities. Liberal democracies struggle to find a proper balance between personal freedom, so fondly cherished by Americans, with a sense of social responsibility and civic duty so necessary for the functioning of any society. This book examines how contemporary social institutions contribute to achieving this balance.

The founders of social science all sought to understand and critique the rapid industrialization of European society, and preeminent among their concerns was the changing relationship between self and community. August Comte and Alexis de Tocqueville both lamented the erosion of traditional bonds found between parent and child, priest and parishioner, and serf and noble in nineteenth-century industrial society, and they worried that no functional equivalent would replace these relationships. Emile Durkheim shared these concerns, although he thought that the "mechanical solidarity" fostered in traditional societies by means of moral sentiment would be replaced by an "organic solidarity" that united industrial citizens through specialized division of labor. Still, Durkheim feared that economic ties would not be enough to ebb the rampant individualism and accompanying anomie that characterize the modern condition. Similarly, Karl Marx saw industrial relationships as insufficient, even antithetical, to producing what we now call social capital, as it inevitably alienated workers from their labor, their coworkers, and themselves. Max Weber also feared the latent effects of industrialism, contending that the "disenchantment" of traditional worldviews results in highly rationalized bureaucracies that drown . . .

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