What’s the deal with Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”?
Putnam’s main thesis is that there is striking evidence that the vibrancy of American civil society has notably declined over the past several decades (66) and that “there is reason to suspect that the democratic disarray may be linked to a broad and continuing erosion of civic engagement that began a quarter-century ago” (77).
According to Putnam, America has traditionally been considered unusually “civic” (density of associational life) and this was the key to Americans’ “unprecedented ability to make democracy work (Tocqueville)” (65). Putnam’s thesis develops around three main questions: what happened to civic engagement in America? – among Putnam’s reasons for the decline in America social capital (“features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit”(67)) in the last decades are the changing patterns of political participation (fewer voters); declines in attendance of public meetings, political rallies/speeches; psychological disengagement from politics and government.
We found there was no convincing evidence that his speculative theory of the decline is actually valid, plus the weird bowling metaphor popping up in the middle of it was daunting. The rise of solo bowling, i.e. decline of league bowling threatens democracy – poor solo bowlers!! And there is actually supporting evidence that a decline in votes correlates with an increase in class consciousness and intellect.
As much as I love the Dude, can we really expect someone whose regular outfit is a terry cloth robe to be the spokesperson for civic engagement? Editorial note: there is the suggestion at the beginning of the film that the Dude was actually a revolutionary activist in his college days, but that’s really only for super-nerds. I much prefer Walter’s mania tho….(PM to me)
Maude: What do you do for recreation? Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.
Now that’s what we call civic engagement!