The thesis of Bowling
Alone is that a variety of
technological, social, and economic changes over the last three decades
have "rendered obsolete" a stock of social capital. Shorthand
for saying that things like television, two-career family, generational
changes have made fewer of us go on picnics, join the Rotary or hang
out at the bar.
Approximately one century ago, Americans faced a similar pattern.
Rapid industrialization, immigration, and urbanization brought waves
of populations from a farm in Appleton Wisconsin to Chicago or from
a shetl to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the process millions
of Americans left friends, families and social institutions behind.
What's amazing about the Progressive Era is that from this civic
nadir, Americans were hugely inventive about creating the social
institutions to reconnect Americans in their changes circumstances.
And the founding dates of most of the civic pillars that endure to
this date were founded in a brief several decade period beginning
in the late 1800s: from Hasassah to the Boy Scouts to the League
of Women Voters to the Rotary to the NAACP. In the process, Americans
founded reading groups and playgrounds and kindergardens and settlement
houses and so much more.
Chapter 23 of Bowling
Alone describes the amazing parallels between
the Progressive Era and our current civic predicament and the moving
story of civic invention in that period. Putnam focuses on the shortcomings
of this period in the hopes that Americans sparking a similar civic
resurgence can do so in a way that better fosters a stronger civic
The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America is an exciting
initiative of Professor Robert D. Putnam at the John
F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University. The project focuses on expanding
what we know about our levels of trust and community engagement and
on developing strategies and efforts to increase this engagement.
A signature effort has been a multi-year dialogue we have held on
how we can increasingly build bonds of civic trust among Americans
and their communities.
"Bettertogether" the final report of
the Saguaro Seminar is now available at www.BetterTogether.org
Seminar participants were a diverse, exceptional group of 33 thinkers
and doers, including articulate leaders from all parts of the country
- from coast to coast, from small town and suburb to the inner
city - and from all walks of life - from government officials to
religious leaders, from labor union activists to high-tech and
business executives, from elected officials to street workers.
All participants demonstrate a deep commitment to improving the
infrastructure of national civic life. These twenty-five practitioners
and eight academic thinkers met for two-day sessions through
late-1999 to develop a handful of practical strategies with national
applicability for increasing Americans' connections with one another.
The Seminar met eight times, see Meetings for a description of some
of the issues and ideas considered at each session.
Also, linked from each Meeting page is a resource list
for more information on Civic Engagement and Youth, Government, Politics,
Faith-Based Efforts, Work, and the Arts. For information on how you
can increase social capital in your own community go to www.BetterTogether.org.