Robert Putnam

From Academic Kids

Robert David Putnam (born January 9, 1941 in Rochester, New York) is a political scientist and professor at Harvard University, well-known for his writings on civic engagement, civil society, and social capital, a concept of which he is probably the leading exponent.

His most famous (and controversial) work, Bowling Alone, argues that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences. Though he measured this decline in data of many varieties, his most striking point was that virtually every traditional civic, social, and fraternal organization -- typified by bowling leagues -- had undergone a massive decline in membership.



Putnam graduated from Swarthmore College in 1963, won a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Oxford University, and went on to earn master's and doctorate degrees from Yale University, the latter in 1970. He taught at the University of Michigan until going to Harvard in 1979, where he has held a variety of positions, including Dean of the Kennedy School, and is currently the Malkin Professor of Public Policy.

His first work in the area of social capital was Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, a comparative study of regional governments in Italy which drew great scholarly attention for its argument that the success of democracies depends in large part on the horizontal bonds that make up social capital.

In 1995 he published "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital" in the Journal of Democracy. The article was widely read and garnered much attention for Putnam, including an invitation to meet with then-President Bill Clinton. The article was not without its critics, however, who argued that Putnam was ignoring new organizations and forms of social capital.

In 2000, he published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a book-length expansion of the original argument, adding new evidence and answering many of his critics.

Since then, he has focused on efforts to revive American social capital, notably through the Saguaro Seminar, a series of meetings among academics, civil society leaders, commentators, and politicians to discuss strategies to re-connect Americans with their communities. These resulted in the publication of Better Together.

Published works

  • The Beliefs of Politicians: Ideology, Conflict, and Democracy in Britain and Italy (1973)
  • The Comparative Study of Political Elites (1976)
  • Bureaucrats and Politicians in Western Democracies (with Joel D. Aberbach and Bert A. Rockman, 1981)
  • Hanging Together: Cooperation and Conflict in the Seven-Power Summits (with Nicholas Bayne, 1984, revised 1987)
  • Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (with Robert Leonardi and Raffaella Nannetti, 1993)
  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)
  • Better Together: Restoring the American Community (with Lewis M. Feldstein, 2003)


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