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What evidence does Putnam offer for a decline in 'community' in America

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Introduction

What evidence does Putnam offer for a decline in 'community' in America? 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. ...read more.

Middle

The effects of this deteriorating involvement has been described as 'the dissolution of shared identities, which is tantamount to the dissolution of society as a meaningful social society' (Castells, 1997. p.355).The impersonal, contractual and heterogeneous nature of such organizations means that there is no widely agreed source of moral values and no traditional binding values within civic groups. It has been noted that at 1965, the point at which Putnam notes the beginning of the descent of society, crime rates grew conversely. Readings of these figures suggest that the wane in associational membership weakens the web of social ties and informal social control structures within a community and leaves room for criminals to operate. However, one might suggest that recession to the home could be a result of increased crime rates rather than a cause of it. Instead, it could be the case that increased crime rates have been brought about by the relaxation of laws such as those concerning firearms licensing. Sampson contends that we do not need associational affiliation so much to satisfy our personal needs, which are best met elsewhere, nor to meet our sustenance needs any more (Sampson, 1999. p.241-292). Instead, our personal needs for inter-personal contact are fulfilled in internet chat rooms and interactive television channels. ...read more.

Conclusion

Putnam argues that religion in necessary for social cohesion but does not assess the extent to which religious conflicts can damage society and exclude members based on religious differences, nor does he recognize the developing media in which religion can now be exercised. In this essay, I have taken a narrower view of social capital and community than is the norm among sociologists, touching on suburbanization, association membership and religion, themes offered by Putnam in 'Bowling Alone'. I have discussed factors that oppose Putnam's claims that 'community' in America is in decline. Instead, I have suggested a change in the ways 'community' is created and shared in this more modern world including developments in technology and transport. I have also assumed 'community' to be a positive and desirable entity throughout, though of course it's effects may have negative implications for a society, for example religious fundamentalism and the associated terrorism of late and the social exclusion of one community based on race. I conclude by recognizing that Putnam's work raises much debate about the nature of social ties within society but believe that modernization needs to be taken into account to fully assess the current 'community' in America and to direct research to areas where 'community' is increasing in the current climate. ...read more.

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