[URBANTH-L]RE: Robert Putnam

Lisa Maya Knauer lknauer at umassd.edu
Sun Aug 12 14:05:41 EDT 2007

Just to underscore the importance of taking Putnam on in a sustained and 
thoughtful way. This is especially pressing, I think, because so many 
university administrations have "seen the light" and are now touting the 
gospel of "civic engagement" and/or "community engagement" (as vague, 
feel-good concepts). My university just went through a "strategic 
planning process" (interesting how administrations always seem to find 
funding for retreats and meetings to write reports that revise reports 
that were written in the last round of retreats) where these terms were 
bandied about without ever really defining them (and I sat through some 
sessions on "university/community partnerships" where it was clear that 
only certain "communities" or certain institutions standing in for the 
community were at the table). 

 Maureen O'Dougherty wrote:
> HI All,
> When Bowling Alone came out, I wrote a scathing critique of it. My 
> critique remained unpublished, but I was relieved to see that a number 
> of excellent critical book reviews did come out. I also had the honor 
> of attacking his position at a lecture he gave to a large University 
> of Minnesota audience, I believe in 2004.  He became livid.  It was a 
> kind of David and Goliath experience. Anyway, I haven't yet read his 
> new book, but if it continues along the lines of Bowling Alone, it 
> deserves a full counter attack, particularly as the findings are being 
> touted as an uncomfortable truth.  Unfortunately, the way to reveal 
> the distortions in his work is most likely through a critique of how 
> he defines civic life in his research (in Bowling Alone he used 
> organizations like the Boys Scouts but failed to note organizations 
> like Act Up) and how he defines social capital (eliding the 
> entitlements). I say this is unfortunate because an academic critique 
> may not reach a larger audience or even the important audience of 
> funders of community projects.
> Maureen O'Dougherty
> susan mazur wrote:
>> 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. > 
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