Putnam, R.D., R. Leonardi and R.Y. Nanetti 1993 Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy Princeton University Press
Length of book: 1-249
Abstract: Major impetus for the policy interest in social capital came from the publication of the work of Putnam et al (1993) on civic traditions in modern Italy. The concept of social capital (and variations in the social capital) was used to explain what makes democracy work and the link between well-functioning democracies / effective government and levels of economic performance. Explanation of differences in economic performance between the North and South of Italy linked the better performance of the Northern regions to higher levels of social capital. The authors argued that “communities in the north did not become civic because they were rich… they have become rich because they are civic”. Social capital embodied in the norms and networks of civic engagement were identified as a pre-condition for economic development and effective government (p. 37). Social capitalcentred on (i) dense networks of voluntary associations, particularly those involving face-to-face contact, and (ii) generalized trust and reciprocity as the key ingredients in the process of generating and sustaining social capital. An account of the process is as follows: As a result of face-to-face interaction in voluntary associations and informal networks, people learn to trust each other. This “spills over” into the wider society and “sturdy norms of generalised reciprocity and social trust” are generated (i.e. external effects on the wider society and polity). The networks “facilitate coordination and communication, amplify reputations” and create a context and capacity for collective action in pursuit of common interests. Because economic and political action are “embedded in dense networks of association, incentives for opportunism are reduced”. Networks of civic engagement “embody past successes at collaboration” and this serves as a “cultural template for future collaboration”. In these conditions, citizens expect and representatives provide competent and responsive government.
Review and comments: This publication brought attention to the concept of social capital particularly in economic development at different territorial levels (large territorial regions, nations, regions, neighbourhoods. It re-packaged ideas that have been in the theoretical literature for a long time, and ideas that are central to local development (understanding of the factors that influence capacity for local collective action). It also led to a spate of theoretical and empirical studies on social capital and outcomes (economic development at a spatial / territorial level, individual social mobility, positive health outcomes etc.). This includes some refinement of the concept in Putnam’s later work to include reference to types of social capital – bonding (strong socially homogenous ties), bridging (weak socially heterogenous ties), linking (vertical ties across power hierarchies). Empirical studies have shown different results – some confirming the association between social capital and economic performance, others finding no such relationship.