University of Rochester

EVENT: Noted Scholar Discusses Impact of Decreased Civic Participation

October 12, 1999

Fewer Americans are voting and volunteering, and more are expressing distrust of government. The numbers concern political scientist Robert D. Putnam, who says that people's participation in civic activities influences the quality of American public life.

Putnam will talk about the notion of civil society in the next presentation of the Dean's Lecture Series at the University of Rochester. He'll discuss "What's Happened to Civic Engagement in America and How Can We Fix It?" at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, in 407 Schlegel Hall on the River Campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

In his widely cited 1995 article, "Bowling Alone," Putnam noted that membership in fraternal and service organizations, labor unions, churches---even in league bowling---has declined. He makes the case that such groups teach the cooperation, collaboration, and social trust that produce "better schools, faster economic development, lower crime, and more effective government." He'll expand on his continuing research for his new book, Bowling Alone: Civic Disengagement in America, coming in the spring from Simon & Schuster.

Putnam is the Stanfield Professor of International Peace at Harvard University, where he also has served as chairman of the Department of Government, director of the Center for International Affairs, and dean of the Kennedy School of Government. He is the author or co-author of seven books and more than 30 scholarly articles published in 10 languages, including the book, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy.

Putnam is also the principal investigator of "The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America," based at the Kennedy School. The Saguaro Seminar brings together leaders in government, religion, labor, business, and education to discuss and develop strategies to strengthen civic bonds between citizens and communities.

A recipient of numerous scholarly honors, Putnam is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a consultant to various governments and international organizations, including the World Bank.

Born in Rochester, Putnam grew up in a small town in the Midwest and received his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and his master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University.

The Dean's Lecture Series, sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College, was initiated to bring prominent figures to campus to speak with students and to provide a public lecture for the community. Putnam will be meeting with student leaders of the Undergraduate Political Science Council and the Community Service Network as well as with faculty and graduate students in political science while he is in Rochester.