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Category: Book Review

Subcategory: Education

Level: Academic

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Erosion of Social Capital in the United States
Name of Student
Erosion of Social Capital in United States
Social Capital is sum set of interactions which occurs between individuals in a society for achieving mutual co-operation on common issues and constructive criticism of governance. Putnam (1995) defined social capital as the expressions of societal networks, which was necessary to establish a potent democracy. During 19th century American population had higher degree of community involvement. They used various societal forums to discuss the economics, state-of –affairs and issues concerning their respective societies (McPherson et al., 2006, 353-375). According to Putnam (1995), “Many students of the new democracies that have emerged over the past decade and half have emphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation of democracy” (p. 65-78).
However, Putnam (1995, 65-78) also reflected that social capital is eroding fast in the United States under the current socio-economic scenario (Rose, 2000, 1395-1411). According to Putnam (1995),“There is a striking evidence, however, that the vibrancy of American civil society has notably declined over the past several decades” (p. 65-78). Such decrease in social capital has reduced the trust of the general population in Governance and democracy. Putnam (1995, 65-78) also mentioned that social capital can be measured by trust and reciprocation between individuals, which is evident through consensus building (Arefi, 2003, 384).
However, Rankin and Quane (2000, 139-164) reflected a unique finding that in spite of erosion of social capital in United States, high levels of engagement were noted amongst people in poorer neighborhoods. Rankin and Quane (2000, 139-164) also showed the limitations of earlier research which concluded social capital are eroding holistically. The article would try to evaluate the perspectives of this “surprising” finding through socio-economic, racial, ethnicity and religious aspects, which was missing in earlier researches.
Social capital is strongly tied to civic engagement (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). The principles and forms of civic engagement are changing very fast. Civic engagement was defined by union of individuals under the issues of religion, threat to democracy and safe guard of interests of the labor class. The earlier researches put stress on measuring social engagement through such issues (Coleman, 1988, 95-120). It was noted that Americans were strongly bonded through religion and churches provided the ideal platform of exchanging ideas, which led to development of social capital. According to Putnam (1995), “Religious affiliation is by far the most common associational membership among Americans. Indeed, by many measures America continues to be (even more than in Tocqueville’s time) an astonishingly “churched” society” (p. 65-78) However, church visits by general population in United States have decreased significantly because in the present context, people are more inclined to unite in their professional communities, rather than religious forums.
The other forms of engagement like women’s club, parent-teacher engagements, and labor unions have also reduced significantly which justified the basis of decrease in social capital as per earlier researches (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). Putnam further added the factors that led to decrease in social capital of America especially in the affluent (employed) class of society (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). According to Putnam (1995), “Over these same two or three decades, many millions of American women have moved out of the home into paid employment” (p. 65-78). He reflected that since civic engagement was mainly led by women, an increase in woman’s involvement in active employment was responsible for the decrease in social capital. The above finding is important because women raised important issues regarding their needs as a member of a civic society, which got undermined or restricted to the voices of women belonging to a working class only.
An increased mobility in the workforce of the United States has resulted in lesser bonding to the roots or society to which one belonged (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). According to Putnam (1995), “Mobility, like frequent re-potting of plants, tends to disrupt root systems, and it takes time for an uprooted individual to put down new roots” (p. 65-78). Coupled to such changes increased incidences of break-ups and divorces, lesser rate of marriages and stable relationships, has potentiated Putnam’s conclusion of decreased social capital (McPherson et al., 2006, 353-375). Findings of Putnam are true to some extent because there has been am increase in mobility of women out of the society, rapid changes in workplace and shifting of a family from one place to another (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). However, he and his contemporary workers researching on the philosophy of social capital undermined certain facts which will be reflected and critiqued in this article.
Perhaps what earlier researches failed to evaluate was the formation and engagement of various sub-societies within a given society or across society. Such engagements have been tailored to meet the needs and security of specific group of population on the aspects of race, health, pension, wages, socio-economic status and social causes. These factors would be the guiding factors to evaluate the level of “surprising” social engagement that persists in poor neighborhoods. Such engagements may be speculated, due to the dependency of individuals upon one another for security, shelter and health (Rankin &Quane, 2000, 139-154).
It is to be noted that several “save the environment” and ‘feminist groups” have been formed in the context of protecting the environment and safeguarding the rights of women in the current socio-economic scenario. Moreover, people who are challenged and deprived have united under an umbrella for their rights and security in the societal format. Such groups include veterans and specially United States –military veterans. They have united and reformed to claim their legitimate dues that Government and perhaps the civic society owes to them (McPherson et al., 2006, 353-375).
The above observations portrays an interesting finding that although it is true that social capital is losing its defined formats under the issue of homogeneity but there is also an unity in diversity which is observed (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). According to Rankin and Quane (2000), “While there are many possible explanations for these unexpected findings, we believe that greater family involvement among residents of poor neighborhoods is precipitated by attempts on the part of residents and communities to deal with the ecological effects of neighborhood disadvantage” {p. 139-154). The earlier researches were biased and evaluated social capital on predefined terms like “culture”, “religion”, “educational backgrounds” or “socio-economic status”. What went missing was an open ended question to those concerned that “which factors cause you to become socially unified and under what situations?”
The countertrends in the above observations and the lack of evaluation of such open ended questions might be the key why a “surprising” relation was observed in poor neighborhoods. It is a common observation that people are not ignited or united under the intangible issue of religious unity (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). According to Putnam (1995), “Meanwhile, data from General Social Survey show a modest decline in membership in all church related groups over last 20 years” (p. 65-78). People are more worried for safety for food, shelter and sustenance. Further there are so many economical boundaries that have been created in the modern context, that status is not limited by financial background. Moreover, with the spread of corporate and multinational ideology in work practice, labor unions are becoming obsolete under specified and measurable performance systems (Coleman, 1988, 95-120). This is because employee unions cannot safeguard workers who are non-performing through consensus or social unity.
The study which focused on the “surprising” finding concentrated on the African-American population of Chicago. Such neighborhoods were united and engaged actively under the name of “race” (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). According to Rankin and Quane (2000),“This argument recalls the notion of the community of limited liability, wherein community involvement is generally limited but can be activated by a perceived threat” (p.139-154).
In the United States racial discrimination persisted through decades and for the sustenance of a race, its members became united. Interestingly, in the Presidential elections when Mr. Barrack Obama was named the President of United States, the television channels flashed the tagline as “United States gets its first Afro-American President”. This tagline is enough to portray the racial discrimination and sufferings of a particular race and the first feeling of enjoyment for dominating on general Americans. May be in higher classes of society racial discrimination has minimized and such undercurrents are ignored. However, racial violence does affect the lower class or poor neighborhoods and hence they became united and show greater engagement to sustain in the American environment.
The next issue that might have resulted in such “surprising” engagement is the lack of economic dependency, while there is an increase in social dependency amidst social isolation (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). According to Rankin and Quane (2000),“ Higher levels of family participation in the poorest neighborhoods may reflect the fact that these families and neighborhoods take proactive measures to defend themselves against the forces of disorder and deterioration” (p.139-154).
Poor neighborhoods have been affected by crime, lack of security and a place for social isolation (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). To ensure safety in their own community, these individuals are united to resist threats from outside of their community. These individuals show greater amount of compassion and extend their help to each, other in times of safety crisis (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). They have the ability to jointly resist crime or even to the extent of resource partitioning between them, which helps them to make greater bonding with each other. Research indicated that social capital is potentiated through homogeneity in interacting society (Coleman, 1988, 95-120). This finding was important because the definition of homogeneity is very broad, which includes race, religion, socio-economic status, cultural status, and educational status.
Since, there is a lack of homogeneity based on economical status, educational status, and cultural status, the more affluent neighborhoods show decreased contribution to the development of social capital (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). On the other hand, all such status if fairly uniform in individuals belonging to poor neighborhoods, which lead to increased contribution to the development of social capital (Rankin & Quane, 2000, 139-154). Hence, it should not be “surprising” to find that erosion of social capital is minimized in individuals belonging to poor neighborhoods, as homogeneity is evident in different aspects.
Further, adhering to Putnam’s (1995, 65-78) logic, there is a decreased involvement of women in the workforce and decreased mobility of individuals from their roots (Putnam, 1995, 65-78). This is because the competency and the educational qualifications required to drive such processes are limited in these group of individuals. Such limitations itself imposes a situation of homogeneity amongst these individuals, leading to decreased erosion of social capital. According to Putnam (1995),“For example, a neighborhood watch program in poor, gang-infested neighborhood may inspire high levels of involvement because of critical issues related to personal safety, whereas the neighborhood watch program in a more affluent, crime-free neighborhood only receive tepid interest” (p.65-78)
To conclude, from the above discussion erosion of social capital should be measured in the context of specific issues. Such issues include threat to existence, safety and security of food and living and safeguarding the interests of an individual or a group of individuals. Religion, culture, social statuses are obsolete factors for defining the development of social capital under the current socio-economic scenario. I am sure that if such measurements and contexts were included in earlier researches, such “surprising” findings could have been revealed in other communities too.

Arefi, M. (2003). “Revisiting the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI): Lessons for
Planners”. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 22(4):384
Coleman, J. (1988). “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of
Sociology, Vol. 94, Supplement: Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and
Economic Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structure (1988), pp. S95-S120
McPherson, M., Lynn, S., & Matthew. B. (2006) “Social Isolation in America:
Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.” American Sociological
Review, 71(3): 353-375
Putnam, R. (1995). “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Journal of
Democracy, 6 (1): 65-78.
Rose, N. (2000) “Community Citizenship and the Third Way”, American Behavioural
Scientist, 43: 1395-1411
Rankin, B. & Quane, J. (2000). “Neighbourhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-
City African American Families”. Social Forces, 79(1): 139-164

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