Robert Putnam's Views on American Politics Being Less Civic Oriented

Robert Putnam asserts in his book, Bowling for Soup, that American politics has become less and less civic oriented and participatory to being more individualistic and that this shift has come at the cost of social capital, Putnam describes this through the guise of a metaphor, likening bowling leagues of yesteryear to bowling alone today. In the novel, he insists that ‘bowling alone’ is a problem, at the cost of an individual’s social capitalr Social capital is ‘the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively’ Essentially, politics are no longer a matter of community, rather a selfish endeavor.

He goes on to cite technology as the impetus for individualizing our leisure time, and extending to the political realm, Personally, I agree with Putnam on his assertion of the increasing individualization of politics, however, I disagree with his thesis of technology being the cause.

He ignores several attributes of American culture that factor into the political arena in modern day America.

Bowling Alone was published originally in 1995, so Putnam did not have the last 20 years of experience as a guide in his thesis. If he did, I believe his opinion may have been swayed, The advent of the modern internet and its becoming accessible to all allows for anyone to get more information on literally anything in the matter of seconds; as well as cellphones allowing us to carry that internet around in our pocketr As a result of this, my current generation of college of college kids is the most politically active one since the 19605; Putnam‘s reference point for the decline in civic oriented politics Student-led protests are common events, and nearly all of them are politically charged, often for civil rights, (namely Black Lives Matter, or LGTBQ+ rights) This increase in activism, which is incredible community»based, can be directly correlated to the internet, as it allows the rapid spread of news and information, as well as the quick garnering of support for a cause.

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Finally, the voter turnout for ages 18-24 is rising to new levels that haven’t been seen since the Vietnam War, I believe that this generation will be one that reverses Robert Putnam’s insertion that we are bowling alone, in that we will finally start a new bowling league together Perhaps technology has come full circle, in that it first isolated people, but is now uniting them and bringing them together once again. In the nonfiction work, Putnam cites the rise of technology since 1960, as well as the distrust in government due to the frequent scandals since the same yeari In doing so, Putnam ignores a huge piece of evidence for his cause, the Middletown Studiesi These studies focused on the average American city between 1890 and 1925, a period of economic and cultural change; 35 years before Putnam’s asserted impetus. Leisure time was one of the facets ofAmerican life that the study focused on.

Their findings noted that the introduction of the affordable, mass produced automobile (1908), and the first commercially available radio (1920) became the primary forms of entertainment during free time in the mid-19205. Two of the most popular activities during recreation time were going for drives and listening to radio shows The Middletown Studies prove that participation in community activities such as book clubs, public lectures, and other civic oriented political activities declined, This directly refutes the part of Putnam’s claim that states that the lonely bowling syndrome began in the 1960‘s, while that is not the case. The final part of the prompt asks if it is possible to get Americans bowling again and if so, how would that be achieved? As previously mentioned, I believe that Americans are coming back together with the advancement of more technology, past that which was invented when Putnam’s work was released Advances in the internet especially, allows for rapid communication between people, as well as individuals to politicians, news sources, and research resources.

College students are a perfect example of this, as their involvement in politics is higher than any in 50 years in the face of this evidence, I refute Putnam‘s claim that the bowling issue hasn’t begun to be resolved yet, In my opinion, the issue has already begun to be remedied, We aren‘t completely there yet, as a country, but every day we move on step closer. This generation is more active politically, more involved, partially due to advanced technology, As time goes on, technology will advance further, and this generation will have children fostered by this political activism Higher education is a huge proponent of political involvement as well, the discussions and contacts students make greatly increase both their knowledge, as well as their social capital, Robert Putnam was only half correct in his assertion that the United States’ political culture has shifted from civic oriented to individualistic at the expense of social capital.

He is correct in noticing the trend, but he is wrong in both the time frame he identifies, as well as the current state of the situation. In Bowling Alone, Putnam states that the shift began in the 19605 because of several political scandals, government distrust, and new technology The Middletown Studies directly disprove this by quantifying the shift not in the 19605, but rather in the early 19005 as a result of new technology (i.e., the radio and automobile), not the 19605. A common criticism of Putnam’s book is the very ignorance of this study, as it directly disproves part of his thesis. Finally, Putnam cites technology as part of the reason for more individualized political culture. I refuted this, as advancements in technology are actually increasing civic oriented political activity, especially in college students, This is evidenced by the massive increase in student-led activities such as demonstration or protests over race, sexual orientation, or environmental issues.

This is evidence of the beginning of change, caused, at least partially, by one of Putnam’s reasons for the opposite. It is a little bit more complicated, however, when one considers the date that BowlingAlone was published, which was 1995, In 1995, only 06% of the population of the world used the internet, today it is more than 40%, In addition to that, the internet is can also be carried in our pockets. Therefore, Robert Putnam is only half wrong, as it is unfair to penalize him in his assertion, if it was correct when he wrote it, and has only changed after publication. That being noted, he is still incorrect about the timeframe, as the Middletown Studies occurred before his book was published, He was, however, correct in his observation in the shift of American political culture and its effect of social capital.

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Robert Putnam's Views on American Politics Being Less Civic Oriented. (2022, Oct 25). Retrieved from

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