Traditional Civic Associations

In the Robert Putnam’s reading, he points out the declining trend of Americans participating in civic life, meaning Americans generally do not willingly and actively participate in major organizational groups that range from political to religious and have an effect on society as a whole. Putnam uses the example of an increased amount of bowlers but a decrease in bowling leagues to show how the American society has become more focused on the individual and strays from groups and cooperation. However, in this reading it is a response listed just after Putnam’s article that caught my attention by Katha Pollitt.

No, the whole theory is seriously out of touch with the complexities of contemporary life. If church membership is down (good news in my book), it’s hardly because people are staying home to watch TV. More likely, organized religion doesn’t speak to their spiritual needs the way (for example) self-help programs do. Putnam dismisses the twelve-step movement much too quickly. At the very least, its popularity calls the TV-time-drain theory into question. I know people who’ve gone to A.A. every day, for years. As for building social capital, my own brief experience with Alanon more than fifteen years ago is still my touchstone of ordinary human decency and kindness. What’s that if not “trust”? My membership in the P.T.A., by contrast, is motivated mostly by mistrust: As another parent put it, we join the P.T.A. to keep our kids from being shafted by the school system.

I think Pollitt brings up a great point about motivations behind members of these more civic organizations. My generation participates in what Putnam labels simply writes off as “support groups focused on the individual” because these groups showcase more empathy, acceptance, equality, and a strong drive to change the status-quo for the betterment of the group or society. “Traditional civic associations” are often occupied by people who are motivated by power and control. America has gotten to the point where these traditional civic associations are so overpopulated by more individualistic people that there is no room for those who seek to change the system. Therefore, we do not participate in these associations because it is futile and instead turn to support groups. Perhaps these “traditional” civic associations should be considered just that… traditional. Old fashioned. The old way of doing things. Perhaps our society has changed so that people no longer desire such stuffy organizations and prefer more flexible and casual options as American life is now busier and even more fast-paced due to the technology and information age pushing the standard of operating hours to 24/7?


Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, Journal of Democracy, January 1995, pp 65-78


One thought on “Traditional Civic Associations

  1. Interesting take on organizational groups. I like the quote, because it does show that TV isn’t the only reason that people are isolating themselves from society. TV, technology, and our phones have become somewhat a means of distraction to avoid creating human relationships.


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