Democracy in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society

For Putnam, "social capital" applies to a society's capacity to generate the kind of voluntary associations that encourage individuals to cooperate with each other, thereby sustaining democratic pluralism. This volume examines the condition of social capital in several countries, asking an awesome number of questions. How rich in social capital is each country? How does it evolve over time? How is it distributed among classes? How is it configured between formal and informal associations? In response, the chapters offer useful surveys on democracies young and old. Theda Skocpol, for example, studies the shift from membership associations to staff-led advocacy groups in the United States. Essays by Jean-Pierre Worms and Victor Perez-Diaz on France and Spain, respectively, are steeped in history. Peter Hall and Eva Cox stress the importance of the role of the state in the United Kingdom and Australia, respectively, while Takashi Inoguchi compares American and Japanese types of trust. Broaching the difficult task of drawing some conclusions from all this data, Putnam discerns a trend toward narrower forms of social participation, mounting discontent over political institutions, and evidence that the welfare state has sustained rather than eroded social capital. But unequal distribution of social capital remains a major problem, he argues, especially as the traditional groups that once organized the working classes fade.

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