“ Putnam assumes that defined institutions — national organizations with local branches — are the only way for people to form communities.”
Putnam makes no such assumptions. He did get some of his data from large national organizations but that is because they had data going back decades. But he collected historical data from the records of any organization that had data. That included local farm co-ops, libraries, local school boards, churches and any other group that had records of their membership rolls. The book Bowling Alone got it’s name from the data that was collected from local bowling alleys.
It’s no longer the churches and BSA that bind us together, but other less formal institutions, like maker spaces, meetups, gym classes, etc.
You must have found some older critique to come up with this. While that was true back in 2000 when he released Bowling Alone, that was because maker spaces and meetups didn’t exist at the time. I questioned him on this back in 2002 the very first time I met him and we had a lengthy discussion about the impact of on-line forums.
Since then, he’s been collecting data from numerous “new” groups and thusfar his data shows that they don’t provide social cohesion (aka “community”) at anywhere near the same level. (And his original data did include data from local gym memberships.) But his data tracking is group by group looking at historical trends. So he compares Boy Scouts to Boy Scouts and MeetUp to MeetUp. The newer groups don’t have a lengthy historical background to determine/map long-term trends.
MeetUp groups are great for what they are but you can’t compare the level of interpersonal relationship developed by a local civic group of 100 people that all live in the same city/town and have 50 of them show up together every week to a meetup group of 3,000 people spread over half of a State that has a gathering once a month where 10 to 20 random group members show up.
I belong to several fraternal groups and a boat-load of on-line groups (including meet-up). If my car broke down at 2am I know at least a dozen guys from the fraternal groups I could rely on to get my car towed home and to be at my house the following morning to help me fix the car. If I posted that I was broken down on any of the on-line “communities” I’d get several hundred people telling me “I hope you work it out!”and asking if I’m a AAA member but I doubt one single person would even offer to get off their computer and do anything about it.
Ask yourself this: If one of your parents or grandparents died today, how long would it take you to find someone from one of your Meetup groups or Maker Spaces that would be willing to come to your home every day and take care of your pets, water your plants, pickup your mail and mow your lawn for you AND do it free of charge?
If you packed up and flew across the country tonight to tend to family matters and didn’t have time to post a notice on some web site, how many of them would even notice you were gone and how long would that take them?
…it’s not the lack of a shared identity that is robbing our nation of class mobility, but a lack of programs (federal or local) that facilitate it.
No, it’s the lack of money that is robbing us of class mobility. Because the government programs favor you paying more taxes and relying on a paid (and often licensed) service provider for all of your needs.
Right here in the State of MA, if my neighbor calls me and asks for help replacing the faucet on his kitchen sick, I can’t do that without violating the law. I have the tools and the skills needed but State law prohibits anyone but a licensed plumber from replacing a faucet. So my neighbor will have to spend several hundred dollars to get his faucet replaced even though I could do it for him at no cost at all.
I could also build him a nice shed so he could get all his crap out of his lawn but the city requires that he go get a set of plans drawn up by a licensed architect so he can get permits and then have it built by a licensed contractor. It turns a $500 project into a $10,000+ project.
So he can spend every dollar he earns trying to maintain his property or he could get things done via social capital and then save/invest his money and building wealth.
Government only permits him to do one of those and it isn’t building wealth.
For one reason or another, people stopped going to church and they stopped joining the BSA. These trends are unlikely to reverse. Now those in favor of small government are fighting its expansion to fill the vacuum these groups left behind.
Well that’s a bit of a chicken-egg problem. Is government filling the vacuum left by the decline of those organizations or did those organizations decline because government programs provided for (at least some of) the needs they filled? When you map the timelines against each other, the declines follow the implementation of major government programs.
The old ways may still work in Utah, but small government no longer works in states like MA, NY, CA, or any other highly urbanized community — and the trend is towards urbanization.
It has nothing to do with urban vs. rural. Both have always had neighborhood civic organizations and all of them are in decline. This isn’t even an issue that is unique to the U.S..