Robert, in the article Turning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America, studies and evaluates Americans capital formation over the last century. He introduces the theory or thesis that America was slowly, in the post-war era, becoming a “bowling-alone” society in which people were continuing and increasingly turning into isolated persons who were less involved or concerned with civic activities. Putnam asserts that America’s social capital, social connections, social trust, social engagements, and social interactions have been dropping for more than quarter a century.
He uses a myriad of diverse associations and interactions in the study, most of which indicate a steady decline in membership in the past two decades. With this establishment, the author considers causes considers as most likely responsible for the decline by examining and reviewing the findings of various previous studies. Based on these findings, a comparison of current interactions, social engagement, and trust trends with that of past generations, it is clear that Americans today are far less connected with one another. The article answers the following questions(Putnam, 1995):
• Is America’s stock of social capital truly diminished?
• Does America’s stock of social capital matter?
• What can we do about America’s stock of social capital?
It is worth to note at this point that Putnam’s article is solely concerned with social capital forms that generally affect and serve civic needs.
In order to measure civic engagement, interaction, and associations, the author uses various variables including lasting imprints of the civil rights movement, often cited boom in working hours, education, television, and the role or effect of the family-specifically family instability. Additionally, Putman assess the impact of the constantly changing partplayed by women and time/money pressures on civic engagement. In regard to the varying role of women, time pressures and the conventional family unit, Putnam did not agree, believe, or did not find conclusive evidence to suggest that they were to blame for the declining and diminishing civic engagement. In fact, Putnam does not consider family instability as major contributor to the breakdown of larger social trends and civil associations/engagements. He argues that, the breakdown or decline in civil engagement predates the rising rates of divorce. He reports that, money and time pressures, for instance, dual-career family, were only partly to be blamed for breakdown in civic associations and engagement. In fact, Putnam completely disregards the family as being a major form of social capital-the form that serves/concerns civic ends. Putnam also notes that education play an essential and key role in social capital formation.
The author asserts that television, especially its invasion into people’s lives in the living rooms, closely coincided with onset of the breakdown of civic engagement. The influence of television is pervasive; average television viewers spend more time watching television as compared to previous generations. Thus, Putnam argues that television is one of the greatest contributors to the breakdown of civic engagement in America. Thus, he asserts that, the change in how people spend their leisure time greatly impacts on social capital. This is because the time that people today spend watching television replaces the time people previously spend on social activities (Putnam, 1995). Putman concludes by asking whether people are comfortable with privatising their private lives. He confirms the thesis that civic engagement – stock social capital – in America has been declining throughout the post war era.
I feel that, Putnam’s argument has been detracted by numerous omissions, which in my opinion are as a result of the research methodology used. The invasion of television is just one of the many factors that have changed/altered the way American’s socialize. The internet and telephone/mobile phones have completely changed the way people communicate since they have made communication between individuals far much easier (Sander & Putnam, 2010).
- Putnam, R. D. (1995). Tuning In,Tuning Out:The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America. Political Science & Politics, 28(4), 664–683. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/420517
- Sander, T. H., & Putnam, R. D. (2010). Still Bowling Alone? The Post-9/11 Split. Journal of Democracy, 21(1), 9–16.