- The erosion of America’s social capital is a matter of urgency and concern, and it does matter to the general society at large.
- Despite the detrimental effects that the erosion of social capital in America has brought, there still exist ways that can result in the replenishment of social capital.
In measuring the level of civic engagement in America, Dr. Putnam uses some variables that he believes can help in the explanation of the malady – erosion of social capital. Some of these variables that he uses include:
- Education; as Dr. Putnam puts it, education has a very powerful effect on association membership as well as in establishing trust. It also plays a major role as a determinant of other forms of social capital and political participation. He states that education is the greatest correlate factor of civic engagement in all its patterns in the society, including membership in various groups and social trust.
- Pressures of Time and Money; as clearly put, Americans generally feel busier nowadays than they might have felt some decades ago. Going by statistical work done by Robinson and Godbey (1995), it is clear that the number of Americans who reported feeling always pressed and out of time jumped by more than half between mid-1960s and the mid-1990s. Putnam continues to say that perhaps it is pervasive busyness that makes Americans drop out of societal affairs.
- Mobility and Suburbanization; to a great extent, residential stability and home ownership are linked to greater civic engagement. From his earlier work, Dr. Putnam (1995) observed that mobility tends – in a way - to disrupt social connectedness, which takes time to rebuild.
Dr. Putnam argument rests majorly on an earlier work done by Ithiel de Sola Pool, “Technologies Without Borders (1990)”. Putnam considers this work as a discerning work attributing its relevance to the current debates about complicated links in social connectedness and culture. In his argument, Putnam proposes that Pool’s prediction about revolutions in communication technology is indeed relevant to the civic engagement crisis that is being evidenced. From what he talks about, Pool had predicted of technological advances that would come to have a profound decentralization and fragmentation effect on the society and culture in decades to come. He therefore, supports his arguments as a fulfillment of what Pool seemed to predict. He also likens his argument to Pool’s in stating that Pool would have been open to such a scenario or argument as his. As much as Dr. Putnam tries to consider Pool’s work as a prediction of what he currently addresses, he fails to show evidence on why he presumes technology advancements are a major determinant of civic engagement erosion. Though his research methodology is valid to a great extent, Putnam ought to have included an analysis of technology as perceived to be a great determinant of civic engagement erosion.
The internet and media outlets have been pin-pointed as some of the contributors of an upswing in civic engagement in recent years in America. This is especially after the 9/11 attacks, where there seemed to be more of a resolve to bring back American civic engagement and social capital back on track. Through the advent of cutting edge technology, political participation – narrowly related to social capital – has been seen to spring up despite its earlier decent to its deathbed. This has stood to appeal that in the same manner, social capital and civic engagement could be springing up. The Obama campaign was seen to utilize young supporters and cutting edge technology in the mobilization of voters, especially from friends and relatives who lived in swing states. Campaign officials utilized the technology to find volunteers, record people’s political leanings, and decide on which regions to visit (Putnam, 2010). However, the principal means of connecting with voters was the old-school door-knocking technique. This approach served well to bring in a new approach of springing up civic engagement. Brilliant as that might be, however, the long-term civic effects of the Obama campaign remain vague. This is especially true considering a scenario where the Obama administration fails to deliver on its promises on issues such as healthcare, reforms in the financial sector, and parity of opportunity. On the other hand, the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other digital platforms of connecting socially seem not to have attained maximal effects, despite their supporters claiming otherwise. There is no tangible evidence that can point to the strengthening of civic engagement as a result of the internet and increased media outlets.
Putnam, R. & Sander, T. Still Bowling Alone? The Post-9/11 Split. Democracy, 21, 1(2010), 9-16.
Putnam, R. Turning In, Turning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America. Political Science and Politics, 28, 4(1995), 664-683.