Robert Putnam's work on social capital


To understand how Robert Putnam defines social capital and what role he sees it having in society, and to have a general summary of his works - including Bowling Alone, Better Together, and E Pluribus Unum.

Early Findings

Definition of Social Capital

  • Social capital is the value of social networks, according to Putnam.
  • Putnam says, "Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]."
  • Social capital benefits and works through four key channels: Information flows (eg learning about jobs, exchanging ideas), norms of reciprocity (ie mutual benefits), collective action (eg movements), and broader identities and solidarity (we mentality).
  • Examples of social capital in action include neighbors keeping an eye out on eachothers' houses, or cancer patients sharing experiences through a social forum.
  • "Social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, bridge clubs, civic associations, and even bars. "

Robert Putnam's Works

  • Most of Putnam's works aren't available to be read in the public domain - even book excerpts are scarce.
  • His book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is only availble through Amazon and other vendors. However, there is an interview with him where he discusses the main ideas behind it on NPR and this summary article, written by Putnam, here.
  • Some excerpts and summary points on his report Better Together can be found on his website, and we did find a full PDF version of this book here.
  • Some of the key points made in his book American Grace are also available on his website.
  • E Pluribus Unum isn't available as an e-book, it is only available in print.
  • Some further direct quotes from Putnam's books are available on GoodReads.
  • Summaries and reviews of his works include thsoe by the Guardian, Sparknotes, enotes, and Beyond Intractability.

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