Shows how changes in work, family structure, women's roles, and other factors have caused people to become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and democratic structures--and how they may reconnect.
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Shows how changes in work, family structure, age, women's roles, and other factors have caused people to become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and democratic structures--and how they may reconnect.
From the author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids, a “sweeping yet remarkably accessible” (The Wall Street Journal) analysis that “offers superb, often counterintuitive insights” (The New York Times) to demonstrate how we have gone from an individualistic “I” society to a more communitarian “We” society and then back again, and how we can learn from that experience to become a stronger, more unified nation. Deep and accelerating inequality; unprecedented political polarization; vitriolic public discourse; a fraying social fabric; public and private narcissism—Americans today seem to agree on only one thing: This is the worst of times. But we’ve been here before. During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, America was highly individualistic, starkly unequal, fiercely polarized, and deeply fragmented, just as it is today. However as the twentieth century opened, America became—slowly, unevenly, but steadily—more egalitarian, more cooperative, more generous; a society on the upswing, more focused on our responsibilities to one another and less focused on our narrower self-interest. Sometime during the 1960s, however, these trends reversed, leaving us in today’s disarray. In a sweeping overview of more than a century of history, drawing on his inimitable combination of statistical analysis and storytelling, Robert Putnam analyzes a remarkable confluence of trends that brought us from an “I” society to a “We” society and then back again. He draws inspiring lessons for our time from an earlier era, when a dedicated group of reformers righted the ship, putting us on a path to becoming a society once again based on community. Engaging, revelatory, and timely, this is Putnam’s most ambitious work yet, a fitting capstone to a brilliant career.
"The bestselling author of Bowling Alone offers [an] ... examination of the American Dream in crisis--how and why opportunities for upward mobility are diminishing, jeopardizing the prospects of an ever larger segment of Americans"--
In his acclaimed bestselling book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam described a thirty-year decline in America's social institutions. The book ended with the hope that new forms of social connection might be invented in order to revive our communities. In Better Together, Putnam and longtime civic activist Lewis Feldstein describe some of the diverse locations and most compelling ways in which civic renewal is taking place today. In response to civic crises and local problems, they say, hardworking, committed people are reweaving the social fabric all across America, often in innovative ways that may turn out to be appropriate for the twenty-first century. Better Together is a book of stories about people who are building communities to solve specific problems. The examples Putnam and Feldstein describe span the country from big cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago to the Los Angeles suburbs, small Mississippi and Wisconsin towns, and quiet rural areas. The projects range from the strictly local to that of the men and women of UPS, who cover the nation. Bowling Alone looked at America from a broad and general perspective. Better Together takes us into Catherine Flannery's Roxbury, Massachusetts, living room, a UPS loading dock in Greensboro, North Carolina, a Philadelphia classroom, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, naval shipyard, and a Bay Area Web site. We meet activists driven by their visions, each of whom has chosen to succeed by building community: Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande Valley who want paved roads, running water, and decent schools; Harvard University clerical workers searching for respect and improved working conditions; Waupun, Wisconsin, schoolchildren organizing to improve safety at a local railroad crossing; and merchants in Tupelo, Mississippi, joining with farmers to improve their economic status. As the stories in Better Together demonstrate, bringing people together by building on personal relationships remains one of the most effective strategies to enhance America's social health.
American political scientist Robert Putnam wasn’t the first person to recognize that social capital – the relationships between people that allow communities to function well – is the grease that oils the wheels of society. But by publishing Bowling Alone, he moved the debate from one primarily concerned with family and individual relationships one that studied the social capital generated by people’s engagement with the civic life. Putnam drew heavily on the critical thinking skill of interpretation in shaping his work. He took fresh looks at the meaning of evidence that other scholars had made too many assumptions about, and was scrupulous in clarifying what his evidence was really saying. He found that strong social capital has the power to boost health, lower unemployment, and improve life in major ways. As such, any decrease in civic engagement could create serious consequences for society. Putnam’s interpretation of these issues led him to the understanding that if America is to thrive, its citizens must connect.
Does contemporary Internet technology strengthen civic engagement and democratic practice? The recent surge in online community participation has become a cultural phenomenon enmeshed in ongoing debates about the health of American civil society. But observations about online communities often concentrate on ascertaining the true nature of community and democracy, typically rehearsing familiar communitarian and liberal perspectives. This book seeks to understand the technology on its own terms, focusing on how the technological and organizational configurations of online communities frame our contemporary beliefs and assumptions about community and the individual. It analyzes key structural features of thirty award-winning online community websites to show that while the values of individual autonomy, egalitarianism, and freedom of speech dominate the discursive content of these communities, the practical realities of online life are clearly marked by exclusivity and the demands of commercialization and corporate surveillance. Promises of social empowerment are framed within consumer and therapeutic frameworks that undermine their democratic efficacy. As a result, online communities fail to revolutionize the civic landscape because they create cultures of membership that epitomize the commodification of community and public life altogether.
This collection tackles the theme of isolation and the breakdown of mediating social institutions. It is, in part, a response to Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone as well as an attempt to create a broader idea of civil society.
Updated to include a new chapter about the influence of social media and the Internet—the 20th anniversary edition of Bowling Alone remains a seminal work of social analysis, and its examination of what happened to our sense of community remains more relevant than ever in today’s fractured America. Twenty years, ago, Robert D. Putnam made a seemingly simple observation: once we bowled in leagues, usually after work; but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolized a significant social change that became the basis of the acclaimed bestseller, Bowling Alone, which The Washington Post called “a very important book” and Putnam, “the de Tocqueville of our generation.” Bowling Alone surveyed in detail Americans’ changing behavior over the decades, showing how we had become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and social structures, whether it’s with the PTA, church, clubs, political parties, or bowling leagues. In the revised edition of his classic work, Putnam shows how our shrinking access to the “social capital” that is the reward of communal activity and community sharing still poses a serious threat to our civic and personal health, and how these consequences have a new resonance for our divided country today. He includes critical new material on the pervasive influence of social media and the internet, which has introduced previously unthinkable opportunities for social connection—as well as unprecedented levels of alienation and isolation. At the time of its publication, Putnam’s then-groundbreaking work showed how social bonds are the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction, and how the loss of social capital is felt in critical ways, acting as a strong predictor of crime rates and other measures of neighborhood quality of life, and affecting our health in other ways. While the ways in which we connect, or become disconnected, have changed over the decades, his central argument remains as powerful and urgent as ever: mending our frayed social capital is key to preserving the very fabric of our society.