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Putnam: Making Democracy Work

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Putnam. 1993. Making Democracy Work. Princeton: Princeton Universitiy Press.

In Brief

From the conclusion: "In all societies, to summarize our argument so far, dillemas of collective action hamper attempts to cooperate for mutual benefit, whether in politics or in economics. Third-party enforcement is an inadequate solution to this problem. Voluntary cooperation (like rotating credit associations) depend on social capital. Norms of generalized reciprocity [for favors received] and networks of civic engagement encourage social trust and coooperation because the reduce incentives to defect, reduce uncertainty, and provide models for future cooperation. Trust itself is an emergent property of the social system, as much as a personal attribute. Individuals are able to be trusting (and not merely gullible) because of the social norms and networks within which their actions are embedded." (177)

For an important critique, see Jackman and Miller (1988).


A natural experiment: in 1970, the highly centralized Italian regime devolved much authority to 15 newly-created regional governments with essentially identical institutions. A most similar design. The treatment: differences in political culture. Areas with more social capital enjoyed better institutional performance than areas lacking in social capitial. Within this broad design, smaller designs were also at work. Some parts are based on a comparative case study of only 6 regions. Some use statistical techniques that also include 5 "special regions" that are similar but were created right after WWII (so N = 20). Chapter 3 discusses an experiment conducted by the researchers.

Chapter-by-Chapter Notes

Chapter 1:

Chapter 6:

Research on similar subjects


Putnam, Robert (author)Comparative PoliticsSocial CapitalCulture

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