Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Article excerpt

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam.

"The classic institutions of American civic life, both religious and secular, have been `hollowed out' . . . decay has consumed the load-bearing beams of our civic infrastructure." These words nicely summarize Putnam's measured, calm, and alarming book. Drawing on a wealth of statistical and qualitative survey research (a wealth which may seem ostentatiously on display to the reader in the early parts of the book), Putnam argues that civic affiliations have been declining in America across all registers since the 1960's (we no longer bowl in teams, we bowl alone-thus his title), and he seeks to explain and, if possible, reverse this declension. While he discusses a variety of potential causes for this decay in our collective "social capital"-among which he highlights television, changing work patterns, urban and suburban "sprawl"-he most notes the current dying-off of what he calls the "long civic generation" born in the first third of the 20th century. Putnam rigorously circumscribes his inquiry to the contingent causes of this decline in our civic-mindedness, ignoring (or arguing that it is legitimate to ignore) larger mythologies of general cultural "disenchantment," which have held so much modern social theory in thrall. …

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