Putnam (2000) suggests that trust already exists within societies, when clearly there is evidence that it does not exist, and that people are not confident in who is in control (Domhoff, 2005). Putnam (2000) argues that it is important to have a strong and very active and aggressive civil society within the United States to consolidate democracy. Many of the traditions of independent civic engagement have been lost according to Putnam, and are now replaced with passivity among the peoples of the United States; far too often civic engagements rely on the "state" making civil societies as described by Putnam (2000) weak and incapable of developing. Putnam's idea of social capital is the view that social capital is a resource that is ingrained in norms and in social trusts, and it is these norms and trusts that help facilitate collaborative actions and help communities cooperate so they can achieve mutual goals for mutual or similar benefits (Putnam, 2000).
By facilitating participative transactions allowing groups and the community to work together everyone benefits rather than a few elite members of society. Shapiro (1997) is proactive in his arguments suggesting it is necessary for the people in the United States to re-imagine the "spaces of civic engagement." Putnam (2000) suggests or addresses social capital noting its three major components which include the morals and norms people have, which form their obligations; the social values people have that determine who we trust and who we do not and the social networks people engage in particularly when they are not forced and are entered into with free will. Putnam suggests that in a well-operating world where the economy is strong and the political body is integrated, then social capital will accumulate, and political bodies can integrate this abundance into their own systems with little dissent from the American people. Social problems according to Putnam result when social capital stalls or is not present (Putnam, 2000).
Many argue against Putnam's idealized view of social capital however, because they note that in modern society there is no interconnected system that allows citizens to mingle with government agents and the electorate in a way that will form trusting relationships. The electorate does indeed become an elite group of people (Shapiro 1997) that tends to act in their own way, building its own social networks that may include citizens, their family members and civic associations that support the causes the government is aspiring to in office. For social capital to be abundance then modern society has to trust the authority it has placed in the electorate and in the judicial system and the government. This type of thinking more or less aligns with the ideals of Pluralism. They suggest that social forces can integrate seamlessly with non-social forces for the betterment of the American people.
Some argue that Putnam's social capital definition is outdated, claiming that it emphasizes conflict and power among individuals which always leads to oppression. However, Putnam is attempting here to show individual's how they can prevent oppression. Shapiro (1997) notes that alternative forms of communication including the mass media must also be involved in the dissemination of information. Shapiro (1997) would argue that many informal civil associations would not fit ideally with Putnam's version of social capital, because they are too narrow in scope and do not account for other areas of the community including the cultures and subcultures that cater to the American's youth. There are no homogenous organizations currently operating within the United States, and Putnam's definition of social capital and his thoughts on capital generally suggest that the views of all people, all civic associations and the electorate would be narrow and similar in nature which simply isn't true (Shapiro, 1997).
Domhoff (2005) Gaventa (1980) Jameson (1984) and others would suggest that Putnam's ideas are too narrow because they do not account for the many individuals in society that prefer to remain anonymous or alone; the people that do not want to participate in a socialist government or in civic associations of any kind, even if their goal is to better the community. Others like Gaventa (1980) would argue that to see everyone as the "same" or similar would be foolish and would lead ultimately to widespread rebellion because people would constantly be arguing for freedom from homogenous thinking. Since the United States prides itself on being a nation of democrats, one cannot assume the American people would easily swallow the idea that the electorate, the judicial authorities, the informal and informal societies in American and the individuals living in the United States would all agree as to the best ways to manage capital and to sustain themselves and the economy. In a realistic world, there are too many people that challenge the current government and shout for reform. These individuals would not be able to believe in the homogenous zone or community that Putnam clearly identifies with (Gaventa, 1980; Domhoff, 2005).
It all comes down to the question of "who rules America" as so delicately phrased by Domhoff (2005). The American people should rule America, but realistically speaking we do not live in a utopian society, and power, politics and other factors always lead to social change that one can accept or that one can rebel against (Domhoff, 2005). Putnam's philosophies are beneficial, for he proposes many ideas that would benefit the American people including the concept or notion of civil associations and individuals that network with each other. We see some of this in the modern governmental and business relationships that go on globally. However, communities and societies in general are not yet at a point where this is happening and that is why Domhoff, Gaventa and others would argue against the philosophies provided by Putnam (2000).
Dahl, Robert Who Governs? 2005. Democracy and Power in an American City, Second edition. Boston: Yale University Press
Domhoff, William G. 2005. Who Rules America? Power, Politics and Social Change.
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