[URBANTH-L]RE: Robert Putnam

susan mazur susanmazur at hotmail.com
Sat Aug 11 16:35:13 EDT 2007

His recent Skytte Award Lecture, on the same topic, in the Scandinavia Journal of Political Studies, can be accessed in full here:http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x Susan Mazur-Stommen, Ph.D. www.indiciaconsulting.com 951.687.8661> From: jancius at ohio.edu> To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu> Date: Thu, 9 Aug 2007 19:30:02 -0400> Subject: [URBANTH-L] REV: Is Diversity Bad for Cities? (A review of Robert Putman's latest book)> > The downside of diversity> A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What > happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?> > The Boston Globe> By Michael Jonas  |  August 5, 2007> http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/04/the_downside_of_diversity/?page=1> > IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity > as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from > political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us > stronger.> But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 > people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political > scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on > declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a > community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they > give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse > communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in > the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic > engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are > lower in more diverse settings.> "The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of > Michigan political scientist.> The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the > focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions > to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. > The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm > large-scale immigration causes to the nation's social fabric. But with > demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater > diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling > social changes that Putnam's research predicts.> "We can't ignore the findings," says Ali Noorani, executive director of the > Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "The big question we > have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?"> The study is part of a fascinating new portrait of diversity emerging from > recent scholarship. Diversity, it shows, makes us uncomfortable -- but > discomfort, it turns out, isn't always a bad thing. Unease with differences > helps explain why teams of engineers from different cultures may be ideally > suited to solve a vexing problem. Culture clashes can produce a dynamic > give-and-take, generating a solution that may have eluded a group of people > with more similar backgrounds and approaches. At the same time, though, > Putnam's work adds to a growing body of research indicating that more > diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective > needs and goals.> His findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for > Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the > pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam > has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data > in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. > He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.> When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis in June in the > journal Scandinavian Political Studies, he faced criticism for straying from > data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of > diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity > may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.> "Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such > social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk," wrote > conservative commentator Ilana Mercer, in a recent Orange County Register > op-ed titled "Greater diversity equals more misery."> Putnam has long staked out ground as both a researcher and a civic player, > someone willing to describe social problems and then have a hand in > addressing them. He says social science should be "simultaneously rigorous > and relevant," meeting high research standards while also "speaking to > concerns of our fellow citizens." But on a topic as charged as ethnicity and > race, Putnam worries that many people hear only what they want to.> "It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny > the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity," he > writes in the new report. "It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical > and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is > both feasible and desirable."> Putnam is the nation's premier guru of civic engagement. After studying > civic life in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, Putnam turned his attention to > the US, publishing an influential journal article on civic engagement in > 1995 that he expanded five years later into the best-selling "Bowling > Alone." The book sounded a national wake-up call on what Putnam called a > sharp drop in civic connections among Americans. It won him audiences with > presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and made him one of the > country's best known social scientists.> Putnam claims the US has experienced a pronounced decline in "social > capital," a term he helped popularize. Social capital refers to the social > networks -- whether friendships or religious congregations or neighborhood > associations -- that he says are key indicators of civic well-being. When > social capital is high, says Putnam, communities are better places to live. > Neighborhoods are safer; people are healthier; and more citizens vote.> The results of his new study come from a survey Putnam directed among > residents in 41 US communities, including Boston. Residents were sorted into > the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, > and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those > of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes > and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement > in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse > communities was a bleak picture of civic desolation, affecting everything > from political engagement to the state of social ties.> Putnam knew he had provocative findings on his hands. He worried about > coming under some of the same liberal attacks that greeted Daniel Patrick > Moynihan's landmark 1965 report on the social costs associated with the > breakdown of the black family. There is always the risk of being pilloried > as the bearer of "an inconvenient truth," says Putnam.> After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time > "kicking the tires really hard" to be sure the study had it right. Putnam > realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, > have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among > their residents -- all factors that could depress social capital independent > of any impact ethnic diversity might have.> "People would say, 'I bet you forgot about X,'" Putnam says of the string of > suggestions from colleagues. "There were 20 or 30 X's."> But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection > remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his > findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to > "distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to > withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community > and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on > community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for > social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a > difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."> "People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' --  > that is, to pull in like a turtle," Putnam writes.> In documenting that hunkering down, Putnam challenged the two dominant > schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the "contact" theory and > the "conflict" theory. Under the contact theory, more time spent with those > of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between > groups. Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and > discord.> Putnam's findings reject both theories. In more diverse communities, he > says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor > heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the > most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between > groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.> "Diversity, at least in the short run," he writes, "seems to bring out the > turtle in all of us."> The overall findings may be jarring during a time when it's become > commonplace to sing the praises of diverse communities, but researchers in > the field say they shouldn't be.> "It's an important addition to a growing body of evidence on the challenges > created by diversity," says Harvard economist Edward Glaeser.> In a recent study, Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that > roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and > Europe -- Europe spends far more -- can be attributed to the greater ethnic > diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare > spending in the US is a "macro" version of the decreased civic engagement > Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.> Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent > studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of > social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower > school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa's > own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union > Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, > occupation, and birthplace.> Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also > less likely to look out for one another. "Everyone is a little > self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff," says Kahn.> So how to explain New York, London, Rio de Janiero, Los Angeles -- the great > melting-pot cities that drive the world's creative and financial economies?> The image of civic lassitude dragging down more diverse communities is at > odds with the vigor often associated with urban centers, where ethnic > diversity is greatest. It turns out there is a flip side to the discomfort > diversity can cause. If ethnic diversity, at least in the short run, is a > liability for social connectedness, a parallel line of emerging research > suggests it can be a big asset when it comes to driving productivity and > innovation. In high-skill workplace settings, says Scott Page, the > University of Michigan political scientist, the different ways of thinking > among people from different cultures can be a boon.> "Because they see the world and think about the world differently than you, > that's challenging," says Page, author of "The Difference: How the Power of > Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies." "But by > hanging out with people different than you, you're likely to get more > insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive."> In other words, those in more diverse communities may do more bowling alone, > but the creative tensions unleashed by those differences in the workplace > may vault those same places to the cutting edge of the economy and of > creative culture.> Page calls it the "diversity paradox." He thinks the contrasting positive > and negative effects of diversity can coexist in communities, but "there's > got to be a limit." If civic engagement falls off too far, he says, it's > easy to imagine the positive effects of diversity beginning to wane as well. > "That's what's unsettling about his findings," Page says of Putnam's new > work.> Meanwhile, by drawing a portrait of civic engagement in which more > homogeneous communities seem much healthier, some of Putnam's worst fears > about how his results could be used have been realized. A stream of > conservative commentary has begun -- from places like the Manhattan > Institute and "The American Conservative" -- highlighting the harm the study > suggests will come from large-scale immigration. But Putnam says he's also > received hundreds of complimentary emails laced with bigoted language. "It > certainly is not pleasant when David Duke's website hails me as the guy who > found out racism is good," he says.> In the final quarter of his paper, Putnam puts the diversity challenge in a > broader context by describing how social identity can change over time. > Experience shows that social divisions can eventually give way to "more > encompassing identities" that create a "new, more capacious sense of 'we,'" > he writes.> Growing up in the 1950s in small Midwestern town, Putnam knew the religion > of virtually every member of his high school graduating class because, he > says, such information was crucial to the question of "who was a possible > mate or date." The importance of marrying within one's faith, he says, has > largely faded since then, at least among many mainline Protestants, > Catholics, and Jews.> While acknowledging that racial and ethnic divisions may prove more > stubborn, Putnam argues that such examples bode well for the long-term > prospects for social capital in a multiethnic America.> In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to > help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only > inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the > divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can > help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding > support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers > and other places that allow for "meaningful interaction across ethnic > lines."> Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering > ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out > of the role of dispassionate researcher. "You're just supposed to tell your > peers what you found," says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan > Institute, a conservative think tank. "I don't expect academics to fret > about these matters."> But fretting about the state of American civic health is exactly what Putnam > has spent more than a decade doing. While continuing to research questions > involving social capital, he has directed the Saguaro Seminar, a project he > started at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government that promotes efforts > throughout the country to increase civic connections in communities.> "Social scientists are both scientists and citizens," says Alan Wolfe, > director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston > College, who sees nothing wrong in Putnam's efforts to affect some of the > phenomena he studies.> Wolfe says what is unusual is that Putnam has published findings as a social > scientist that are not the ones he would have wished for as a civic leader. > There are plenty of social scientists, says Wolfe, who never produce > research results at odds with their own worldview.> "The problem too often," says Wolfe, "is people are never uncomfortable > about their findings."> Michael Jonas is acting editor of CommonWealth magazine, published by > MassINC, a nonpartisan public-policy think tank in Boston. > _______________________________________________> URBANTH-L mailing list> URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu> http://lists.ysu.edu/mailman/listinfo.cgi/urbanth-l

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