Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Charlie Karlsson, Martin Andersson and Therese Norman
It is more than 20 years ago that the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam (1993) published his book about an administrative reform of the Italian regions. He could have connected his findings to a number of theoretical approaches, but he chose a concept developed by the Chicago sociologist James Coleman (1988, 1990), that is, social capital. The term had been used occasionally in a non-uniform manner ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, by, among others, the Swedish ethnologist Ulf Hannerz (1969) and the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1980), but it was Coleman who started to develop it into a usable theory of the social sciences. After the book, Putnam published a number of articles on the ‘declining American civic society’, in which he argued that a decline of social capital was the root of the problem. These articles represented an enormous breakthrough of the concept of social capital. Putman had made an important democratic problem visible – the decline of civic America – and he seemed to have the remedy: a restoration of social capital.
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