CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Robert Putnam, the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, has been awarded the Talcott Parsons Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for distinguished and original contributions to the social sciences.
The award, announced on March 1, will be presented at the academy’s Cambridge headquarters on April 13.
“Robert Putnam is a prolific scholar and one of the most important social scientists of our time,” said David Oxtoby, president of the academy. “In our increasingly polarized country, his insights on opportunity, social fabric, and civic connection are as important as ever. His books are towering achievements in the field of political science, as are the vital institutions he has steered over the course of his career. Bob’s work at the intersection of theory and practice exemplifies the spirit of the academy.”
Putnam lauded the academy, founded in 1780 during the American Revolution, “as a vital incubator for debate and scholarship. Some of my work in which I take the most pride—on social capital and American democracy—began as a project with the academy, with early meetings taking place at Norton’s Woods. I remember those meetings very fondly and am grateful to receive this recognition from the Academy.”
A former dean of Harvard Kennedy School and former director of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Putnam is now an emeritus professor best known for what the academy called “his defining work on social capital and for developing the two-level game theory of international conflict resolution.” At HKS, he co-founded the Saguaro Seminar, bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners to develop actionable ideas for civic renewal.
He has written 15 books, and his works have been translated into 20 languages. His books include Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, and Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy. His most recent book is The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.
Putnam is past president of the American Political Science Association and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2006 he received the Skytte Prize, the world’s highest accolade for a political scientist, and in 2013 President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal.
He also is the subject of the documentary film Join or Die premiering at SXSW this month. The film follows Putnam’s discovery, understanding, and concern about the civic ties that strengthen a society and what happens when they unravel. Raj Chetty, Hillary Clinton, and Glenn Loury are among many in the film who speak about the influence and relevance of Putnam’s ideas about social capital.
Putnam is just the second political scientist to receive the Talcott Parsons Prize, following Robert Dahl, who was Putnam’s mentor at Yale University where he received his master’s and doctoral degrees.