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‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community’ By Robert Putnam

2107 words - 8 pages

‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community’ by Robert Putnam

In his book, ‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community’, Robert Putnam discusses ways in which Americans have
disengaged from political involvement and civil organisations. Much of
his reasoned writing is corroborated by a collation of graphs and
figures to explain the quality of American community. In this essay I
shall evaluate the proof offered by Putnam to support his claim that
community is in a decline in the U.S. To do this I must first provide
a working definition of ‘community,’ a term with wide implications and
varied definitions depending on the context of its usage. Putnam uses
it as a synonym for social capital, a qualitative investment to create
higher social cohesion through a civic virtue, rather than to describe
a specific structure within society. Social capital ‘refers to the
collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that
arise from these networks to do things for each other’ according to
Putnam (Putnam, 1995. p.14). I will break down the idea of social
capital into geographical locale and suburbanisation, association
membership, acts of charity and religious affiliation to assess more
easily Putnam’s evidence and suggest that community is not necessarily
in decline, rather is adapting to a more modern pace of living.

Geographical proximity to others is a factor that has altered in
recent American history and a factor which Putnam claims is
detrimental to cultural capital. Many residents of larger cities no
longer live and work in the same urban area, choosing instead to live
in suburbs and commute to work in other areas. From 1970 to 1990, more
than 30,000 square miles of once-rural lands in the United States
became urban, as classified by the U.S. Census Bureau (Associated
Press, 1991). Otherwise known as suburbanisation or urban sprawl,
Putnam is critical of this trend and goes so far as to call it ‘deadly
for a community’ (Putnam, 2003). He argues that as people live further
from their place of work they spend more and more time commuting
between the two, thus reducing the time they have to develop
relationships and community ties at either end and creating a conflict
of allegiance where it is unclear where you should be basing your
community. IT and transportation developments have habitually been
seen to lift people out of their reliance on local community and can
further differentiate home life and work life from each other and from
the wider community. Wirth predicted the major problems and
dissatisfactions of people living in suburbs in the 1930s, arguing
that they were becoming depersonalized, isolated and alienating, the
lack of distance between people leading to a ‘melting-pot’ effect
whereby primary relationships are broken...

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