[URBANTH-L]Critique of Putnam

Allen Feldman af31 at nyu.edu
Mon Aug 13 22:58:35 EDT 2007

We should  not buy we into Putnam's idea of progress model in mounting critique. The civil liberty of freedom of movement  and settlement, is a foundational  civic value in itself in American society-- one that was intensely associated with the development of private life and private property-- and was not intended as a motor  for building social trust and volunteerism. American diversity has more often than not  been a founded on  inequity. The post colonial frontier settlement of the  18th and 19th centuries which created mixed settlement patterns of Europeans, displaced Native Americans,Mexicans, slaves and later ex slaves,  and mixed race fractions, was not   expected to promote communal trust and solidarity or an equitable public sphere. Nor is the antithesis  between diversity  and community solidarity exceptional. Racist social orders are inherently diverse as are  colonial societies.  What is so unique in American society to buck this trend-- the faithful guarantee and enforcement of civil rights? Tell that to African-Americans who were denied the right to vote in recent national elections or subjected to police profiling on the most diverse space in the country-- the nation's public road system. Do we have  a study from Putnam of communal solidarity and volunteerism on the highways? Are spatial mobility and  trans-local communication networks discussed? Is sedentary face to face interaction the sole  definition of community here?
Putnam's study from the summary below assumes, at baseline, an ideal Habermasian transparent public sphere  as his definition  of civic community with no communicative (media) distortion in which economic  inequity and historical  institutional racism play no role in inhibiting communal identification. Gemeinschaft was not originally associated  by Tonnies with a  culturally, racially and ethnically diverse and economically differentiated society with an extreme division of labor, but Putnam has here stood Tonnies on his head.

Allen Feldman
New York University

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