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Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital

Robert Putman is a renowned public policy expert, scholar and the owner of the Bowling Alone series. He has participated in many public policy forums and is an educator on the same. He has openly challenged the existing systems of public policy and societal constructs, and his works have gained applause in many different domains in the world. The open-mindedness of his works has challenged many existing and upcoming policy makers on the issue of critical thinking and exploring issues from a perspective of reason and unbiased outlook. This paper is a reflection of Putman’s article titled “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” The reflection will look into how the author brings out the main arguments and how articulate these arguments are in representing the current American society. The reflection will also explore the new changes in the society that have emerged after the article was written or that were not covered in the article but still support the writer’s thesis.

According to Putman, the American Society has, for the last thirty years or so, moved from being community oriented to being too individualized. The need for social capital as a resource has declined. This is supported by research evidence which indicates a decrease in family dinners, club meetings and family-to-family invitations among other features that demonstrate social trust and facilitate communalism. By comparing this change to bowling, a popular competitive sport in America, Putman achieves to illustrate the deterioration of the social capital in two different ways. First, life is itself competitive; this means that like the sport, there are prizes to be won by each of the competitors. Secondly, the use of bowling as the competition in life indicates that there is the need for a team for success to be achieved. However, the individualized nature of the American society is analogized as a sole player in the bowling game, the chances of winning when bowling alone are slim.

As a governing concept in the article, social capital is portrayed as having been destroyed by the society itself. According to Putman, for anyone to be productive, critical tools and training must be used. Having connections, valid networks and relationships are just a few of the required tools. The argument here is that without being in a relationship with other human beings, no one can be productive and no success can be achieved. Just as no success is possible when bowling alone.

Robert Putman wrote this article more than twenty years ago. During this time, the current connectivity characterized by social media interactions and relationships were not possible. However, the advent of these technologies does not change the reality of his arguments. Whereas from the surface one might think that the technologies have enhanced connectivity and increased the ability of relationships, the relationship in social media is only skin-deep. What is observed is that the advent of social media exposed the deficiency for interaction that had existed among the people for over quarter a century. The virtual relationships cannot be depended upon to change the ‘bowling alone’ concept or increase the social capital in the American society. What instead requires to be done is to ensure that there are real interactions between people to increase the chances of success and productivity.

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