The Public Interest

Community and the social scientist

Wilfred M. McClay

Spring 2001

MOSt readers of this journal will already know, Robert utnam’s important and massively documented new book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, † represents an elaboration of his memorable and enormously influential 1995 article of the same name, published in the Journal of Democracy. In that article, Putnam argued that a decline in the number of organized bowling leagues (among other such voluntary organizations) signified something deeper and more ominous: a shift in our culture toward an ethos of radical individualism and away from one in which the pervasiveness of such organizations encouraged social connectedness and civic engagement. Such a shift was reason for profound worry, he argued, for if allowed to continue unchallenged, it would deplete and in time exhaust the reserves of “social capital” built up by previous generations of Americans, and upon which our democratic institutions rely for their very existence.

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