Arnold Kling  

I Distrust Robert Putnam

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I think that an academic web site should consist of links to papers, not self-promotion. Putnam's page does the reverse. About his latest PR success, it says,


Robert D. Putnam gave a talk on this issue as the Skytte Prize lecture, to be published in Scandinavian Political Studies in early 2007. The talk emphasized three key points: 1) increased diversity and immigration are essential and generally strengthen advanced nations; 2) but in the short-term, diversity/immigration challenges community cohesion; and 3) longer-term, successful immigrant societies overcome these challenges by reducing the importance placed on ethnic and racial differences and by building a broader conception of the "we". This can be done through popular culture, education, national symbols, or common experiences (like national service). The 10/8/06 Financial Times had two misleading articles on this research...By focusing almost exclusively on the 2nd of the 3 points above and painting it in an apocalyptic light, it painted a highly distorted view of our research.

But if Putnam did not want the second point emphasized, then he should not have used sound bites like "The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined."

Putnam is positioning his research in ways to maximize sensationalist coverage, and then complaining about sensationalist coverage.

As to the substance of the research, I want to examine it so that I can see what he is using to measure "trust." Maybe "trust" is simply rational skepticism. Until I see the research, I remain quite skeptical about what it means.

UPDATE: Read Barkley Rosser's comment on "bridging capital" vs. "bonding capital," in the comments to this post.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
superdestroyer writes:

You live in a county with virtually no blue collar white or blacks and you claim that people really like diversity.

The blue collar whites that used to live in Fairfax now live in Winchester, Fredricksburg, or Front Royal. Middle class blacks in the DC area will live in Prince Georges County with high crime and bad schools before they will live around white collar whites in Fairfax County.

Look at how middle class white have virtually abandon career fields like hursing or engineering because they do not want to work in places where they will be the only white.

Chris writes:

Superdestroyer - you project the worst of intentions upon people without any evidence to support your claims.

The middle class move to neighborhoods with low crime - if that happens to be a mostly white area that doesn't change the motivation. There are plenty of middle class neighborhoods that have mixed ethnicity. It could also reflect the desire of blacks to live in homogeneous neighborhoods.

TGGP writes:

Would you distrust him less if he left out point 2 and only pointed out the positives of diversity? Or is it really his method rather than his results that you object to?

Barkley Rosser writes:

As someone who has known Bob Putnam for nearly a half a century and knows his work very well, I will note that he is not a big fan of trust measures. He is the great advocate of social capital, but he is the great advocate of the idea of membership in civic organizations as its measure and deepest reality, not generalized trust, although the question of generalized social capital, the "bridging" variety to use his terminology from _Bowling Alone_, versus the narrow "bonding" social capital that occurs within narrow groups, ethnic or mafia or whatever, is very crucial. He wants the bridging kind, and that shows in this summary, as opposed to the narrow-minded ethnicist "bonding" kind.

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