Have you ever felt like you were bowling alone? Don’t worry, this isn’t a how-to article on making friends in a bowling league…it’s a brief look at Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, claims Americans are experiencing a decline in reciprocity. Through mounds and mounds of empirical evidence (yes, charts and graphs!), Putnam identifies what he believes are reasons for the decline and offers his opinion on how we can improve our social capital in the future.
First off, it is relatively hard to understand this book if you don’t know what social capital is. Now, I know when you all read this, you’re going to have an “aha” moment and realize you actually encounter social capital everyday. The term has gone through numerous phases and definition, but Putnam defines social capital as “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (Pg. 19). Putnam’s main argument in the book is that America has experienced a decline in reciprocity.
I would definitely recommend this book to others, because I do think Putnam presents an interesting argument that is stimulating. I believe Putnam’s work needs to be updated and re-evaluated for the current age, considering this book was released in 2000. Many could, and do argue that we are simply engaged in social capital in new ways, which is actually a question Putnam poses in his work.
Social capital plays an interesting role in the study of IMC. We can maximize positive social capital through IMC, and yes, there is negative social capital. With the recent focus on social networking in the marketing world, a whole new bowling alley has opened up for social capital. We have shifted from a mass media public to a more specialized media, and IMC plays a large role in identifying target audiences, and building social capital through these networks. Perhaps we must refer back to the question, are we engaged in social capital in new ways? Putnam emphasizes that the Internet has contributed to the decline in social capital, but many feel their social networks have grown because of these platforms.
We have referenced Putnam many times in our blog, and I encourage you to read back on the previous subjects discussed. His overall argument is generally convincing and resonates with many people. It is certainly a thought provoking read and makes you think about your own personal social capital and reciprocity.
Some of our other blog posts that discuss social capital:
Integrating Social Capital, The Court, and Beyond
Is “Doing For” a Form of Social Capital After All?
– Rachel Kaylor