The ABC is not responsible for the content of external websites.
Are we all less neighbourly, less engaged in politics, less trusting, less generous, less willing to help out at the local school, union or religious organization?
That’s what Robert Putnam appears to think.
In his essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” (1995) and later in the book, Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of the American Community, (2000), Putnam argues that in the last third of the 20th century the ‘social capital’ of the American community has taken a dive –
“ … social capital refers to social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness. The central insight … is that social networks have real value both for the people in the networks – hence, networking as a career strategy, for example – as well as for by standers. Criminologists, for instance, have shown that the crime rate in a neighborhood is lowered when neighbors know one another well, benefiting even residents who are not themselves involved in neighborhood activities.” p2 Better Together (2003)
Putnam distinguishes between a what he terms as ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital:
“Some networks link people who are similar in crucial respects and tend to be inward looking – bonding social capital. Others encompass different types of people and tend to be outward-looking – bridging social capital … Bonding social capital is a kind of sociological Super Glue, whereas bridging social capital provides sociological WD-40.” ibid p2
Apparently ‘bridging social capital’ is the most difficult to cultivate and is the most vital to society because it helps outsiders find their place in the new community.
Backing up Putnam’s theory about the erosion of social capital is a litany of statistics more or less evidencing a 25-50 per cent drop in various forms of civic engagement – from numbers of people who vote, join unions, participate in sport and social groups and who go bowling in leagues.
The factors contributing to this rapid decline, argues Putnam, are – the movement of women into the labor force (women previously being big participants in various community groups); the increased mobility and suburbanization of the population (being uprooted not conducive to forming strong social bonds), other demographic transformations like the implosion of the nuclear family (Putman sites these as more divorces, fewer children, lower real wages etc) – and, that ‘drug of the nation’ – television “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” (1995) p 75
… but does it resonate with your lived experience and what you understand to be your parents and grandparents stories about borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbour? In the next few weeks I’ll be exploring some of Putnam’s critics and trying to tease some of these ideas out more fully.
But in the meantime, social-capital is strong in My Tribe – despite the seeming zombie invasion.
The great image featured above was submitted to the Open exhibition by Contributor ssa6789 – view the full entry with accompanying poem HERE. I also highly recommend you check out Contributor emma_judd’s video ‘Zombie Love’ – it’s about her housemate’s love of the video game, ‘Left for Dead’ and how this affects their relationship with their girlfriends. The piece is shot on a mobile phone and while a little rough around the edges captures something funny and insightful (and perhaps universal) about the bonds that bridge and bind.