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Bowling Alone Author to Speak on March 9
Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, will speak at Storrs on March 9. The Harvard public policy professor will discuss "The Importance of Being Honest: Social Capital and Social Outcomes" at 2 p.m. in the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
In 1995, Putnam published a short article in an academic journal in which he described how participation in league bowling had declined while individual bowling had increased. He proposed that this apparently minor phenomenon symbolized a much broader and significant social change - the breakdown of community. The article caught the attention of both the popular media and the political world.
His book, based on a mountain of data, explores his original thesis: over the past 30 years, Americans have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and political institutions . Putnam says this alienation poses a critical threat to our personal health, local communities, and national well-being.
In the mid-1970s, he says, the average American attended a club meeting every month, but by 1998 that rate of attendance had been cut by nearly 60 percent. In 1975, the average American entertained friends at home 15 times per year - today the figure is barely half that. We spend about 35 percent less time visiting with friends than we did 30 years ago. American families have dinner together only two-thirds as often as we did a generation ago, he says.
Church attendance is off, card games are played less often, and PTA membership is down. Just about all leisure activity that involves doing something with someone else - from playing volleyball to playing chamber music - are declining, he says. And, though people are more tolerant of one another than they were in previous generations, they trust each other less.
Putnam says people are paying a heavy price for the loss of "social capital," the product of communal activity and community sharing. He says that television, two-career families, suburban sprawl, and generational changes in values are among the factors behind this decline.
Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and director of the Saguaro Seminar, a national workshop for civic leaders on civic engagement. He has served as dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Trilateral Commission.
He is the author or co-author of eight books, including Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics, Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries? and Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, and has written many scholarly articles.