Bowling alone

The essay should have a clearly stated thesis in the introductory paragraph that is supported with unified, coherent, well-developed body paragraphs that cite evidence from the two articles, or readings using MLA format.Your final exam essay should demonstrate your ability to correctly summarize, paraphrase, quote, and use MLA in-text citation, plus use standard academic English with adequate control of grammar and mechanics to clearly communicate.
The purpose of writing summaries is manifold:
1. To make you read deeply and extensively to understand the main ideas and supporting points
2. To reflect critically and purposefully on your reading
3. To learn how to paraphrase, which means to say in your own words what an author wrote
4. To e use in-text citation, which is a crucial academic writing skill that you need to learn in this class and use in your summaries and formal essays.
5. To learn how to incorporate correct MLA documentation when appropriate

· focus only on the primary ideas in Putnam’s argument and how you might then think about responding to those ideas.
· focus on his claim that diminishing civic engagement leads to a loss in social capital, which matters, in his view, because it weakens communities, both small and large, and ultimately weakens democracy/the society.
· do NOT focus on the minutiae (small details) of his supporting evidence but instead focus on the big picture
· keep in mind “Bowling Alone” was written 25 years ago, so think about life today-what forms of social civic engagement are common today and how we need to find more ways to be more involved indifferent forms of community (face to face versus digital/social network, etc.).

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A summary should include the following information:
1. the author and title of the text and reference to the part of the text if appropriate you are summarizing. Be careful to capitalize, italicize, and use quotation marks correctly as needed.
2. the main idea(s) and key supporting points
3. one supporting quotation with an accompanying in-text citation in MLA format and bibliographic citation at the end of the text in MLA format.
4. at the end of the text you include the summary in there should be a bibliographic citation in correct MLA form.

 

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995
1. In the new democracies that have emerged over the past 15 years, experts have
emphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society in strengthening democracy.
Especially with regard to the postcommunist countries, scholars and democratic activists alike
have lamented the absence or obliteration of traditions of independent civic engagement and a
widespread tendency toward passive reliance on the state. To those concerned with the weakness
of civil societies in the developing or postcommunist world, the advanced Western democracies
and above all the United States have typically been taken as models to be emulated. There is
striking evidence, however, that the vibrancy of American civil society has notably declined over
the past several decades.
2. Ever since the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the United
States has played a central role in systematic studies of the links between democracy and civil
society. Although this is in part because trends in American life are often regarded as harbingers
of social modernization, it is also because America has traditionally been considered unusually
“civic” (a reputation that, as we shall later see, has not been entirely unjustified).
3. When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, it was the Americans’ propensity
for civic association that most impressed him as the key to their unprecedented ability to make
democracy work. “Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition,” he
observed, “are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial
associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types—religious, moral,
serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. . .. Nothing, in
my view, deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America.” 1
4. Recently, American social scientists of a neo-Tocquevillean bent have unearthed a wide
range of empirical evidence that the quality of public life and the performance of social
institutions (and not only in America) are indeed powerfully influenced by norms and networks
of civic engagement. Researchers in such fields as education, urban poverty, unemployment, the
control of crime and drug abuse, and even health have discovered that successful outcomes are
more likely in civically engaged communities. Similarly, research on the varying economic
attainments of different ethnic groups in the United States has demonstrated the importance of
social bonds within each group. These results are consistent with research in a wide range of

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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settings that demonstrates the vital importance of social networks for job placement and many
other economic outcomes.
5. Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated body of research on the sociology of economic
development has also focused attention on the role of social networks. Some of this work is
situated in the developing countries, and some of it elucidates the peculiarly successful “network
capitalism” of East Asia.2

Even in less exotic Western economies, however, researchers have
discovered highly efficient, highly flexible “industrial districts” based on networks of
collaboration among workers and small entrepreneurs. Far from being paleoindustrial
anachronisms, these dense interpersonal and interorganizational networks undergird
ultramodern industries, from the high tech of Silicon Valley to the high fashion of Benetton.
6. The norms and networks of civic engagement also powerfully affect the performance of

representative government. That, at least, was the central conclusion of my own 20-year, quasi-
experimental study of subnational governments in different regions of Italy.

3
Although all these
regional governments seemed identical on paper; their levels of effectiveness varied
dramatically. Systematic inquiry showed that the quality of governance was determined by
longstanding traditions of civic engagement (or its absence). Voter turnout, newspaper
readership, membership in choral societies and football clubs—these were the hallmarks of a
successful region. In fact, historical analysis suggested that these networks of organized
reciprocity and civic solidarity, far from being an after-effect of socioeconomic modernization,
were a precondition for it.
7. No doubt the mechanisms through which civic engagement and social connectedness
produce such results—better schools, faster economic development, lower crime, and more
effective government—are multiple and complex. While these briefly recounted findings
require further confirmation and perhaps qualification, the parallels across hundreds of
empirical studies in a dozen disparate disciplines and subfields are striking. Social scientists in
several fields have recently suggested a common framework for understanding these
phenomena, a framework that rests on the concept of social capital.

4 By analogy with notions of
physical capital and human capital—tools and training that enhance individual productivity—
“social capital” refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust
that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.
8. For a variety of reasons, life is easier in a community blessed with a substantial stock of
social capital. In the first place, networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized
reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust. Such networks facilitate coordination

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

3

and communication, amplify reputations, and thus allow dilemmas of collective action to be
resolved. When economic and political negotiation is embedded in dense networks of social
interaction, incentives for opportunism are reduced. At the same time, networks of civic
engagement embody past success at collaboration, which can serve as a cultural template for
future collaboration. Finally, dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants’
sense of self, developing the “I” into the “we,” or enhancing the participants’ “taste” for collective
benefits.
9. I do not intend here to survey (much less contribute to) the development of the theory of
social capital. Instead, I use the central premise of that rapidly growing body of work—that
social connections and civic engagement pervasively influence our public life, as well as our
private prospects—as the starting point for an empirical survey of trends in social capital in
contemporary America. I concentrate here entirely on the American case, although the
developments I portray may in some measure characterize many contemporary societies.
Whatever Happened to Civic Engagement?
10. We begin with familiar evidence on changing patterns of political participation, not least

because it is immediately relevant to issues of democracy in the narrow sense. Consider the well-
known decline in turnout in national elections over the last three decades. From a relative high

point in the early 1960s, voter turnout had by 1990 declined by nearly a quarter; tens of millions
of Americans had forsaken their parents’ habitual readiness to engage in the simplest act of
citizenship. Broadly similar trends also characterize participation in state and local elections.
11. It is not just the voting booth that has been increasingly deserted by Americans. A series
of identical questions posed by the Roper Organization to national samples ten times each year
over the last two decades reveals that since 1973 the number of Americans who report that “in
the past year” they have “attended a public meeting on town or school affairs” has fallen by
more than a third (from 22 percent in 1973 to 13 percent in 1993). Similar (or even greater)
relative declines are evident in responses to questions about attending a political rally or speech,
serving on a committee of some local organization and working for a political party. By almost
every measure, Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily
and sharply over the last generation, despite the fact that average levels of education—the best
individual-level predictor of political participation—have risen sharply throughout this period.
Every year over the last decade or two, millions more have withdrawn from the affairs of their
communities.

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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12. Not coincidentally, Americans have also disengaged psychologically from politics and
government over this era. The proportion of Americans who reply that they “trust the
government in Washington” only “some of the time” or “almost never” has risen steadily from
30 percent in 1966 to 75 percent in 1992.
13. These trends are well known, of course, and taken by themselves would seem amenable
to a strictly political explanation. Perhaps the long litany of political tragedies and scandals since
the 1960s (assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, Irangate, and so on) has triggered an
understandable disgust for politics and government among Americans, and that in turn has
motivated their withdrawal. I do not doubt that this common interpretation has some merit, but
its limitations become plain when we examine trends in civic engagement of a wider sort.
14. Our survey of organizational membership among Americans can usefully begin with a

glance at the aggregate results of the General Social Survey, a scientifically conducted, national-
sample survey that has been repeated 14 times over the last two decades. Church-related groups

constitute the most common type of organization joined by Americans; they are especially

popular with women. Other types of organizations frequently joined by women include school-
service groups (mostly parent-teacher associations), sports groups, professional societies, and

literary societies. Among men, sports clubs, labor unions, professional societies, fraternal groups,
veterans’ groups, and service clubs are all relatively popular.
15. Religious affiliation is by far the most common associational membership among
Americans. Indeed, by many measures America continues to be (even more than in
Tocqueville’s time) an astonishingly “churched” society. For example, the United States has
more houses of worship per capita than any other nation on Earth. Yet religious sentiment in
America seems to be becoming somewhat less tied to institutions and more self-defined.
16. How have these complex crosscurrents played out over the last three or four decades in
terms of Americans’ engagement with organized religion? The general pattern is clear: The
1960s witnessed a significant drop in reported weekly churchgoing—from roughly 48 percent in
the late 1950s to roughly 41 percent in the early 1970s. Since then, it has stagnated or (according
to some surveys) declined still further. Meanwhile, data from the General Social Survey show a
modest decline in membership in all “church-related groups” over the last 20 years. It would
seem, then, that net participation by Americans, both in religious services and in church-related
groups has declined modestly (by perhaps a sixth) since the 1960s.

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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17. For many years, labor unions provided one of the most common organizational
affiliations among American workers. Yet union membership has been falling for nearly four
decades, with the steepest decline occurring between 1975 and 1985. Since the mid-1950s, when
union membership peaked, the unionized portion of the nonagricultural work force in America
has dropped by more than half, falling from 32.5 percent in 1953 to 15.8 percent in 1992. By now,
virtually all of the explosive growth in union membership that was associated with the New Deal
has been erased. The solidarity of union halls is now mostly a fading memory of aging men.
5
18. The parent-teacher association (PTA) has been an especially important form of civic
engagement in twentieth-century America because parental involvement in the educational
process represents a particularly productive form of social capital. It is, therefore, dismaying to
discover that participation in parent-teacher organizations has dropped drastically over the last
generation, from more than 12 million in 1964 to barely 5 million in 1982 before recovering to
approximately 7 million now.
19. Next, we turn to evidence on membership in (and volunteering for) civic and fraternal
organizations. These data show some striking patterns. First, membership in traditional women’s
groups has declined more or less steadily since the mid-1960s. For example, membership in the
national Federation of Women’s Clubs is down by more than half (59 percent) since 1964, while
membership in the League of Women Voters (LWV) is off 42 percent since 1969.
6

20. Similar reductions are apparent in the numbers of volunteers for mainline civic
organizations, such as the Boy Scouts (off by 26 percent since 1970) and the Red Cross (off by 61
percent since 1970). But what about the possibility that volunteers have simply switched their
loyalties to other organizations? Evidence on “regular” (as opposed to occasional or “drop-by”)
volunteering is available from the Labor Department’s Current Population Surveys of 1974 and
1989. These estimates suggest that serious volunteering declined by roughly one-sixth over these
15 years, from 24 percent of adults in 1974 to 20 percent in 1989. The multitudes of Red Cross
aides and Boy Scout troop leaders now missing in action have apparently not been offset by
equal numbers of new recruits elsewhere.
21. In sum, after expanding steadily throughout most of this century, many major civic
organizations have experienced a sudden, substantial, and nearly simultaneous decline in
membership over the last decade or two.
22. The most whimsical yet discomfiting bit of evidence of social disengagement in
contemporary America that I have discovered is this: more Americans are bowling today than

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

6

ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade or so. Between
1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10 percent, while league
bowling decreased by 40 percent. (Lest this be thought a wholly trivial example, I should note
that nearly 80 million Americans went bowling at least once during 1993, nearly a third more
than voted in the 1994 congressional elections and roughly the same number as claim to attend
church regularly. Even after the 1980s’ plunge in league bowling, nearly 3 percent of American

adults regularly bowl in leagues.) The rise of solo bowling threatens the livelihood of bowling-
lane proprietors because those who bowl as members of leagues consume three times as much

beer and pizza as solo bowlers, and the money in bowling is in the beer and pizza, not the balls
and shoes. The broader social significance, however, lies in the social interaction and even
occasionally civic conversations over beer and pizza that solo bowlers forgo. Whether or not
bowling beats balloting in the eyes of most Americans, bowling teams illustrate yet another
vanishing form of social capital.
Countertrends
23. At this point, however, we must confront a serious counterargument. Perhaps the
traditional forms of civic organization whose decay we have been tracing have been replaced by
vibrant new organizations. For example, national environmental organizations (like the Sierra
Club) and feminist groups (like the National Organization for Women) grew rapidly during the
1970s and 1980s and now count hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members. An even more
dramatic example is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which grew
exponentially from 400,000 card-carrying members in 1960 to 33 million in 1993, becoming (after
the Catholic Church) the largest private organization in the world. The national administrators
of these organizations are among the most feared lobbyists in Washington, in large part because
of their massive mailing lists of presumably loyal members.
24. These new mass-membership organizations are plainly of great political importance.
From the point of view of social connectedness, however, they are sufficiently different from
classic “secondary associations” that we need to invent a new label—perhaps “tertiary
associations.” For the vast majority of their members, the only act of membership consists in
writing a check for dues or perhaps occasionally reading a newsletter. Few ever attend any
meetings of such organizations, and most are unlikely ever (knowingly) to encounter any other
member. The bond between any two members of the Sierra Club is less like the bond between
any two members of a gardening club and more like the bond between any two Red Sox fans (or
perhaps any two devoted Honda owners): they root for the same team and they share some of
the same interests, but they are unaware of each other’s existence. Their ties, in short, are to
common symbols, common leaders, and perhaps common ideals, but not to one another. The

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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theory of social capital argues that associational membership should, for example, increase
social trust, but this prediction is much less straightforward with regard to membership in
tertiary associations. From the point of view of social connectedness, the Environmental Defense
Fund and a bowling league are just not in the same category.
25. If the growth of tertiary organizations represents one potential (but probably not real)
counterexample to my thesis, a second countertrend is represented by the growing prominence
of nonprofit organizations, especially nonprofit service agencies. This so-called third sector
includes everything from Oxfam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Ford Foundation
and the Mayo Clinic. In other words, although most secondary associations are nonprofits, most
nonprofit agencies are not secondary associations. To identify trends in the size of the nonprofit
sector with trends in social connectedness would be another fundamental conceptual mistake.7
26. A third potential countertrend is much more relevant to an assessment of social capital
and civic engagement. Some able researchers have argued that the last few decades have
witnessed a rapid expansion in “support groups” of various sorts. Robert Wuthnow reports that
fully 40 percent of all Americans claim to be “currently involved in [a] small group that meets
regularly and provides support or caring for those who participate in it.” 8 Many of these groups
are religiously affiliated, but many others are not. For example, nearly 5 percent of Wuthnow’s
national sample claim to participate regularly in a “self-help” group, such as Alcoholics
Anonymous, and nearly as many say they belong to book-discussion groups and hobby clubs.
27. The groups described by Wuthnow’s respondents unquestionably represent an important
form of social capital, and they need to be accounted for in any serious reckoning of trends in
social connectedness. On the other hand, they do not typically play the same role as traditional
civic associations. As Wuthnow emphasizes,
Small groups may not be fostering community as effectively as many of their proponents
would like. Some small groups merely provide occasions for individuals to focus on
themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together
asserts only the weakest of obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it.
Respect everyone’s opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied. . . .
We can imagine that [these small groups] really substitute for families, neighborhoods,
and broader community attachments that may demand lifelong commitments, when, in
fact, they do not.9

Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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28. All three of these potential countertrends—tertiary organizations, nonprofit
organizations, and support groups—need somehow to be weighed against the erosion of
conventional civic organizations. One way of doing so is to consult the General Social Survey.
29. Within all educational categories, total associational membership declined significantly
between 1967 and 1993. Among the college-educated, the average number of group memberships
per person fell from 2.8 to 2.0 (a 26-percent decline); among high-school graduates, the number
fell from 1.8 to 1.2 (32 percent); and among those with fewer than 12 years of education, the
number fell from 1.4 to 1.1 (25 percent). In other words, at all educational (and hence social)
levels of American society, and counting all sorts of group memberships, the average number of
associational memberships has fallen by about a fourth over the last quarter-century.
30. Broken down by type of group, the downward trend is most marked for church-related
groups, for labor unions, for fraternal and veterans’ organizations, and for school-service groups.
Conversely, membership in professional associations has risen over these years, although less
than might have been predicted, given sharply rising educational and occupational levels.
Essentially the same trends are evident for both men and women in the sample. In short, the
available survey evidence confirms our earlier conclusion: American social capital in the form of
civic associations has significantly eroded over the last generation.
Good Neighborliness and Social Trust
31. I noted earlier that most readily available quantitative evidence on trends in social
connectedness involves formal settings, such as the voting booth, the union hall, or the PTA.
One glaring exception is so widely discussed as to require little comment here: the most
fundamental form of social capital is the family, and the massive evidence of the loosening of
bonds within the family (both extended and nuclear) is well known. This trend, of course, is quite
consistent with—and may help to explain—our theme of social decapitalization.
32. A second aspect of informal social capital on which we happen to have reasonably
reliable time-series data involves neighborliness. In each General Social Survey since 1974
respondents have been asked, “How often do you spend a social evening with a neighbor?” The
proportion of Americans who socialize with their neighbors more than once a year has slowly
but steadily declined over the last two decades, from 72 percent in 1974 to 61 percent in 1993. (On
the other hand, socializing with “friends who do not live in your neighborhood” appears to be on
the increase, a trend that may reflect the growth of workplace-based social connections.)

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

9

33. Americans are also less trusting. The proportion of Americans saying that most people
can be trusted fell by more than a third between 1960, when 58 percent chose that alternative,
and 1993, when only 37 percent did. The same trend is apparent in all educational groups; indeed,
because social trust is also correlated with education and because educational levels have risen
sharply, the overall decrease in social trust is even more apparent if we control for education.
34. Our discussion of trends in social connectedness and civic engagement has tacitly
assumed that all the forms of social capital that we have discussed are themselves coherently
correlated across individuals. This is in fact true. Members of associations are much more likely
than nonmembers to participate in politics, to spend time with neighbors, to express social trust,
and so on.
35. The close correlation between social trust and associational membership is true not only
across time and across individuals, but also across countries. Evidence from the 1991 World
Values Survey demonstrates the following: 10
1. Across the 35 countries in this survey, social trust and civic engagement are strongly
correlated; the greater the density of associational membership in a society, the more
trusting its citizens. Trust and engagement are two facets of the same underlying
factor—social capital.
2. America still ranks relatively high by cross-national standards on both these dimensions
of social capital. Even in the 1990s, after several decades’ erosion, Americans are more
trusting and more engaged than people in most other countries of the world.
3. The trends of the past quarter-century, however, have apparently moved the United
States significantly lower in the international rankings of social capital. The recent
deterioration in American social capital has been sufficiently great that (if no other
country changed its position in the meantime) another quarter-century of change at the
same rate would bring the United States, roughly speaking, to the midpoint among all
these countries, roughly equivalent to South Korea, Belgium, or Estonia today. Two
generations’ decline at the same rate would leave the United States at the level of today’s
Chile, Portugal, and Slovenia.
Why Is U.S. Social Capital Eroding?
36. As we have seen, something has happened in America in the last two or three decades to
diminish civic engagement and social connectedness. What could that “something” be? Here are
several possible explanations, along with some initial evidence on each.

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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37. The movement of women into the labor force. Over these same two or three decades,
many millions of American women have moved out of the home into paid employment. This is
the primary, though not the sole, reason why the weekly working hours of the average
American have increased significantly during these years. It seems highly plausible that this
social revolution should have reduced the time and energy available for building social capital.
For certain organizations, such as the PTA, the League of Women Voters, the Federation of
Women’s Clubs, and the Red Cross, this is almost certainly an important part of the story. The
sharpest decline in women’s civic participation seems to have come in the 1970s; membership in
such “women’s” organizations as these has been virtually halved since the late 1960s. By contrast,
most of the decline in participation in men’s organizations occurred about ten years later; the
total decline to date has been approximately 25 percent for the typical organization. On the other
hand, the survey data imply that the aggregate declines for men are virtually as great as those

for women. It is logically possible, of course, that the male declines might represent the knock-
on effect of women’s liberation, as dishwashing crowded out the lodge, but time-budget studies

suggest that most husbands of working wives have assumed only a minor part of the housework.
In short, something besides the women’s revolution seems to lie behind the erosion of social
capital.
38. Mobility: The “re-potting” hypothesis. Numerous studies of organizational involvement
have shown that residential stability and such related phenomena as homeownership are clearly
associated with greater civic engagement. Mobility, like frequent re-potting of plants, tends to
disrupt root systems, and it takes time for an uprooted individual to put down new roots. It
seems plausible that the automobile, suburbanization, and the movement to the Sun Belt have
reduced the social rootedness of the average American, but one fundamental difficulty with this
hypothesis is apparent: the best evidence shows that residential stability and homeownership in
America have risen modestly since 1965, and are surely higher now than during the 1950s, when
civic engagement and social connectedness by our measures was definitely higher.
39. Other demographic transformations. A range of additional changes have transformed
the American family since the 1960s—fewer marriages, more divorces, fewer children, lower real
wages, and so on. Each of these changes might account for some of the slackening of civic
engagement, since married, middle-class parents are generally more socially involved than
other people. Moreover, the changes in scale that have swept over the American economy in
these years—illustrated by the replacement of the corner grocery by the supermarket and now

perhaps of the supermarket by electronic shopping at home, or the replacement of community-
based enterprises by outposts of distant multinational firms—may perhaps have undermined the

material and even physical basis for civic engagement.

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

11

40. The technological transformation of leisure. There is reason to believe that deep-seated
technological trends are radically “privatizing” or “individualizing” our use of leisure time and
thus, disrupting many opportunities for social-capital formation. The most obvious and probably
the most powerful instrument of this revolution is television. Time-budget studies in the 1960s
showed that the growth in time spent watching television dwarfed all other changes in the way
Americans passed their days and nights. Television has made our communities (or, rather, what
we experience as our communities) wider and shallower. In the language of economics,
electronic technology enables individual tastes to be satisfied more fully, but at the cost of the
positive social externalities associated with more primitive forms of entertainment. The same
logic applies to the replacement of vaudeville by the movies and now of movies by the VCR. The
new “virtual reality” helmets that we will soon don to be entertained in total isolation are merely
the latest extension of this trend. Is technology thus driving a wedge between our individual
interests and our collective interests? It is a question that seems worth exploring more
systematically.
What Is to Be Done?
41. The last refuge of a social-scientific scoundrel is to call for more research. Nevertheless, I
cannot forbear from suggesting some further lines of inquiry.
• We must sort out the dimensions of social capital, which clearly is not a unidimensional
concept, despite language (even in this essay) that implies the contrary. What types of
organizations and networks most effectively embody—or generate—social capital, in the
sense of mutual reciprocity, the resolution of dilemmas of collective action, and the
broadening of social identities? In this essay I have emphasized the density of
associational life. In earlier work I stressed the structure of networks, arguing that
“horizontal” ties represented more productive social capital than vertical ties.11
• Another set of important issues involves macrosociological crosscurrents that might
intersect with the trends described here. What will be the impact, for example, of
electronic networks on social capital? My hunch is that meeting in an electronic forum is
not the equivalent of meeting in a bowling alley—or even in a saloon—but hard
empirical research is needed. What about the development of social capital in the
workplace? Is it growing in counterpoint to the decline of civic engagement, reflecting
some social analogue of the first law of thermodynamics—social capital is neither
created nor destroyed, merely redistributed? Or do the trends described in this essay
represent a deadweight loss?

• A rounded assessment of changes in American social capital over the last quarter-
century needs to count the costs as well as the benefits of community engagement. We

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Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

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must not romanticize small-town, middle-class civic life in the America of the 1950s. In
addition to the deleterious trends emphasized in this essay, recent decades have witnessed
a substantial decline in intolerance and probably also in overt discrimination, and those
beneficent trends may be related in complex ways to the erosion of traditional social
capital. Moreover, a balanced accounting of the social-capital books would need to
reconcile the insights of this approach with the undoubted insights offered by Mancur
Olson and others who stress that closely knit social, economic, and political organizations
are prone to inefficient cartelization and to what political economists term “rent seeking”
and ordinary men and women call corruption.12
• Finally, and perhaps most urgently, we need to explore creatively how public policy
impinges on (or might impinge on) social-capital formation. In some well-known
instances, public policy has destroyed highly effective social networks and norms.
American slum-clearance policy of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, renovated physical
capital, but at a very high cost to existing social capital. The consolidation of country post
offices and small school districts has promised administrative and financial efficiencies,
but full-cost accounting for the effects of these policies on social capital might produce a

more negative verdict. On the other hand, such past initiatives as the county agricultural-
agent system, community colleges, and tax deductions for charitable contributions

illustrate that government can encourage social-capital formation. Even a recent
proposal in San Luis Obispo, California, to require that all new houses have front porches
illustrates the power of government to influence where and how networks are formed.
42. The concept of “civil society” has played a central role in the recent global debate about
the preconditions for democracy and democratization. In the newer democracies this phrase has
properly focused attention on the need to foster a vibrant civic life in soils traditionally
inhospitable to self-government. In the established democracies, ironically, growing numbers of
citizens are questioning the effectiveness of their public institutions at the very moment when
liberal democracy has swept the battlefield, both ideologically and geopolitically. In America, at
least, there is reason to suspect that this democratic disarray may be linked to a broad and
continuing erosion of civic engagement that began a quarter-century ago. High on our scholarly
agenda should be the question of whether a comparable erosion of social capital may be under
way in other advanced democracies, perhaps in different institutional and behavioral guises.
High on America’s agenda should be the question of how to reverse these adverse trends in
social connectedness, thus restoring civic engagement and civic trust.

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

13

Notes
1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J.P. Maier, trans. George Lawrence (Garden
City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1969), 513-17.
2. On social networks and economic growth in the developing world, see Milton J. Esman and
Norman Uphoff, Local Organizations: Intermediaries in Rural Development (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1984), esp. 15-42 and 99-180; and Albert O. Hirschman, Getting Ahead
Collectively: Grassroots Experiences in Latin America (Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press, 1984),
esp. 42-77. On East Asia, see Gustav Papanek, “The New Asian Capitalism: An Economic Portrait,”
in Peter L. Berger and Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, eds., In Search of an East Asian Development
Model (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987), 27-80; Peter B. Evans, “The State as Problem and
Solution: Predation, Embedded Autonomy and Structural Change,” in Stephan Haggard and
Robert R. Kaufman, eds., The Politics of Economic Adjustment (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1992), 139-81; and Gary G. Hamilton, William Zeile, and Wan-Jin Kim, “Network Structure
of East Asian Economies,” in Stewart R. Clegg and S. Gordon Redding, eds., Capitalism in
Contrasting Cultures (Hawthorne, N.Y.: De Gruyter, 1990), 105-29. See also Gary G. Hamilton and
Nicole Woolsey Biggart, “Market, Culture, and Authority: A Comparative Analysis of
Management and Organization in the Far East,” American Journal of Sociology (Supplement) 94
(1988): S52-S94; and Susan Greenhalgh, “Families and Networks in Taiwan’s Economic
Development,” in Edwin Winckler and Susan Greenhalgh, eds., Contending Approaches to the
Political Economy of Taiwan (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1987), 224-45.
3. Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1993).
4. James S. Coleman deserves primary credit for developing the “social capital” theoretical
framework. See his “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital,” American Journal of
Sociology (Supplement) 94 (1988): S95-S120, as well as his The Foundations of Social Theory
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 300-21. See also Mark Granovetter, “Economic
Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness,” American Journal of Sociology 91
(1985): 481-510; Glenn C. Loury, “Why Should We Care About Group Inequality?” Social
Philosophy and Policy 5 (1987): 249-71; and Robert D. Putnam, “The Prosperous Community:
Social Capital and Public Life,” American Prospect 13 (1993): 35-42. To my knowledge, the first
scholar to use the term “social capital” in its current sense was Jane Jacobs, in The Death and
Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961), 138.
5. Any simplistically political interpretation of the collapse of American unionism would need to
confront the fact that the steepest decline began more than six years before the Reagan
administration’s attack on PATCO. Data from the General Social Survey show a roughly 40-
percent decline in reported union membership between 1975 and 1991.
6. Data for the LWV are available over a longer time span and show an interesting pattern: a
sharp slump during the Depression, a strong and sustained rise after World War II that more
than tripled membership between 1945 and 1969, and then the post-1969 decline, which has
already erased virtually all the postwar gains and continues still. This same historical pattern
applies to those men’s fraternal organizations for which comparable data are available—steady

Bowling Alone: Americaʼs Declining Social Capital
Robert Putnam
Journal of Democracy
January 1995

14

increases for the first seven decades of the century, interrupted only by the Great Depression,
followed by a collapse in the 1970s and 1980s that has already wiped out most of the postwar
expansion and continues apace.
7. Cf. Lester M. Salamon, “The Rise of the Nonprofit Sector,” Foreign Affairs 73 (July-August
1994): 109-22. See also Salamon, “Partners in Public Service: The Scope and Theory of
Government-Nonprofit Relations,” in Walter W. Powell, ed., The Nonprofit Sector: A Research
Handbook (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 99-117. Salamon’s empirical evidence does
not sustain his broad claims about a global “associational revolution” comparable in significance
to the rise of the nation-state several centuries ago.
8. Robert Wuthnow, Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and America’s New Quest for
Community (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 45.
9. Ibid., 3-6.
10. I am grateful to Ronald Inglehart, who directs this unique cross-national project, for sharing
these highly useful data with me. See his “The Impact of Culture on Economic Development:
Theory, Hypotheses, and Some Empirical Tests” (unpublished manuscript, University of
Michigan, 1994).
11. See my Making Democracy Work, esp. ch. 6.
12. See Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and
Social Rigidities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982),2.

Helpful Resources for helping your understand the final exam article “Bowling Alone” and ‘Social Capital
There is a treasure trove of information about “Bowling Alone” since the author Robert Putnam wrote a book with the same title : Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community published in 2000 and there is a website: bowlingalone.com with amongst others the following information: (when at the website if you click on the underlined words, you are taken to the indicated information)
-A description of the book helps to clarify what Putnam means by ‘social captial’ along with other interesting information.
o Listen to Prof. Putnam’s interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered”
o Find information on Prof. Robert D. Putnam
o Learn about efforts to help Americans reconnect, and how you can get involved, at BetterTogether.org, an initiative of the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Notes on “Bowling Alone”
Primary ideas:
Political scientist Robert Putnam expresses in this 1995 essay a strong concern that we are losing
social connectedness.
This matters, in his opinion, because when we live more privatized lives and disconnect from our neighbors and community (giving up on what he calls “civic engagement”), we in turn lower the store of “social capital” on which we can rely.
Social capital refers to the mutually beneficial relationships we build within a community. Examples of this can range from the small-scale—when I’m sick and have no way to get to the doctor, I call my neighbor, who steps up and says “you can count on me” for a ride; next time, I will do the same for my neighbor—to the large-scale—say, when residents of a community form a citizens group and bond together to fight for a common cause, like bringing a new community center or park to the neighborhood, or advocating with the city for better lighting, cleaner streets, etc. In each of these cases, the small-scale and the large-scale, beneficial things get done because of people’s interest in getting to know each other, working together, and helping each other out. With these connections, social capital is strong; without these connections, social capital is weak.
Structure of the essay:
Putnam lays out his thesis, or at least the first part of it, right where you’d think: in the last sentence of the intro, where he highlights the erosion of American “civil society.” Several paragraphs of background/context follow to demonstrate that America has been known for 150+ years as an emblem of participatory democracy, where citizens get involved with their communities and engaged with civic life. This contextual section eventually leads him to the second part of his thesis, regarding the importance of social capital, about 2/3rds of the way down page 2.
The first main section on social capital—what it is, how it works—is on the bottom of page 2/top of page 3. This material is really part of the heart of the essay, or at least the arguable part of the essay, so it bears some good attention, and it could really benefit from some efforts at paraphrasing, on the part of both instructors and students. Discussing these passages with an eye toward unpacking some of the dense language and restating the concept in plain English could be a huge help.
Putnam begins laying out his evidence to prove the case that social connections/civic engagement has declined on pages 3-5; here he shows how in the 70s and 80s, membership numbers in groups or institutions—ranging from political groups, to church affiliation and attendance, to labor unions, to Boy Scouts and PTA groups, on down to the humble bowling league—have all declined considerably. On page 6-8 he recognizes an opposing view by looking at examples of “countertrends”—groups/organizations whose numbers have actually grown during that same period. He is able to show in each case, though, that these types of groups are not the sort that build much community connection and thus social capital, for a variety of reasons. Near the bottom of page 8 he returns to his theme of the disintegration of social capital and why it matters. From the bottom of 9 through the middle of 11 he speculates on reasons why social capital has been eroding.

It might be helpful to zone in on the points made at the bottom of page 10 and top of 11. Here he discusses the role of technology in pulling people toward leading more privatized lives; it’s interesting to see him speculate, from a quarter-century ago, and long before the rise of Amazon, on how online shopping might diminish social interactions in public shopping places. There is much to discuss on this point, as there is in the paragraph at the top of p 11, where he goes further into electronic media and how it can lure us into a state of what he calls “‘privatizing’ or ‘individualizing’ our use of leisure time” (11). Again there is a lot of room there to ponder, talk, write about in discussion boards, etc. That mini-section on technology closes with a question seemingly made for our times: “Is technology thus driving a wedge between our individual interests and our collective interests?” It will be interesting to see what everyone thinks about that.
Finally, the essay concludes on mid-page 11-12 with suggestions for what can be done about the issues raised.
Possible areas to look at/questions to think about in applying the ideas of this reading
Where can you find examples of community connections and social capital in your life?
It’s been 25 years since this essay was written: Do you think that the trend Putnam described in 1995, of people withdrawing from community connections, has continued since then? Or have things gotten better? Or worse? Can you think of examples to support your ideas on this?
Has digital entertainment (streaming services, etc.) nudged us more into a kind of privatized experience of our leisure time, as Putnam thought it would?
Putnam wrote this essay entirely before the rise of social media; we now have entire alternate universes of “community” connections online. What do you think of these communities—do they serve the same functions as “real-life” friendships and communities, and do social networks provide us with social capital as well, or no?
Putnam worries about people disengaging with politics and their own government, but the recent presidential election saw the highest percentage voter turnout in the last 120 years. So, it seems that participatory democracy is alive! But is it alive and well? Can people of different political persuasions talk civilly to one another anymore?
A few brief videos that could be of help/interest
In this video, Prof. Alexander Dreiling offers a user-friendly introduction to the concept of social capital. Think of this as a starting place for getting a sense of what social capital means. The cartoons make it easy to watch and occasionally amusing.
In this video, a bit more in-depth than the previous one, communication coach Alex Lyon offers a useful and easy to follow overview of the concept of cultural capital. He explains Robert Putnam’s take on the issue, and then compares that to the viewpoint of the person who coined the concept of cultural capital, the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu. The last 3 1⁄2 minutes of this video turn toward issues of professional life, which are not as related to our area of concern, so we will skip them. But the first 6:45 of this video are quite useful.
Hats-off to Sam Freeman for brevity in this 2-minute video about Putnam’s theory in “Bowling Alone” and how it holds up against the realities of our current age of digital technology and social media.

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