Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Working through the social of capital

Robert Putnam’s visit to the Fianna Fail think-in is interesting for several reasons. Firstly it gives us an insight into Bertie’s bed-time reading. He says he has read Bowling Alone twice. Secondly its an indicator of possible future reactions to issues raised in the bye-election defeats in Kildare North and Meath earlier this year.

If you have not read the book let me save you from the bother. Putnam is looking at the demise of community participation (also known as social capital) by examining the demise in numbers involved in bowling league participation, Parent Teacher Association membership and other communities. He says that this drop off is mainly down to two reasons – the ageing profile of membership (and lack of replacement of new members and attractive campaigns to recruit new members) and the role of Television. He does not believe that the increased participation of women in the labour force has had a significant impact (about 10%)

Putnam has been heavily criticised for his lack of gendered analysis. See papers on social capital and gender here.

In fact he really fails to address the role of women in the community in the first place – women as fundraisers, grassroots political activists, trade unionists, educators and community developers.

Putnam’s thesis spends too much time looking at the demise of the past rather than the organising of the future – ie. the new organisations – environmental groups, online communities and new social movements including anti-globalisation activists, animal rights activists and those working in developing education.

The changing participation of people in sports in the late 20th century is also neglected. Team sports have moved beyond the bowling league. They are more accessible and different trends develop. The increases in technology and move from manual labour positions mean that bowling just does not do it for those seeking fitness and team sports/sessions at the gym are needed.

I doubt that any of the Fianna Fail TD’s questioned the lack of gendered analysis. In fact from Berties initial comments and the newspaper coverage I would think Putnam’s comments and the reaction to them are the following.
  • Society is breaking down as we know it.

  • The lack of commitment to church and community is a bad thing.

  • People don’t have time to do things anymore and become disenfranchised (not a bad thing if they don’t vote at all)
  • Governments end up paying for services that do not have volunteers – ie. services to old, sick, disabled. Former volunteers die off/move away and don’t feel that they can object to poor service delivery. Others don’t see what is happening – as they are too busy paying taxes and/or live too far away to see what is happening. Abuses in service delivery continue and are rarely noticed.

  • Single issue campaigns are not as politically threatening as the IFA, the ICMSA, women’s groups, and minority groups used to be. Government do not really have to listen to what they and others see as extremist, left wing crusties. New movements are also fractured politically and don’t work well together in their bids to grow membership. Government can say that older organisations don’t represent enough people anymore.

  • Partnership models only involve powerful groups who don’t consult or actually represent many people. Government still point out they do partnership so it must be ok then.

  • Existing old model organisations do not see the need to consult with actual or potential membership as everyone is so busy earning a crust to pay the mortgage, childcare and other expenses.

Failures in urban planning, lack of childcare, the increased participation of people in higher education and increased expectations and rising property prices as well as the commute to work won’t be addressed in the Governments response.

Cue a response by Bertie on a new programme to increase citizenship and participation to include people in their communities while he cuts the abilities/powers of residents associations, local government and others to actually work on shaping their communities in the first place.

To be capital neglecting social class.


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