Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

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The book has six chapters in total, ranging from talking about institutions, the Italian devolution experiment of the 1970s, the history of the regions that influences politics and society in Italy to this day, how things work in some ways while not working in other ways, and looking to answer the question of the title of the book. Putnam uses a variety of methods to gather his evidence, and backs up many of his findings with not just statistics, but with historical facts and anecdotal evidence. Civic life is an important part of a democratic society, and Putnam uses Italy as the way to look at how that life affects and is affected by the regional politics in regions with long, historical backdrops.

Looking at all of this, Putnam comes to the conclusion that the sustenance of democracy lies in the hands of the people, and of society. Putnam puts a lot of emphasis on “Social Capital,” or “features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions” (167). Putnam comes to the belief that, in order for a government to function properly, social capital must exist. In terms of a hypothesis, Putnam basically says that, in a comparison of representative institutions, those having higher measures of social capital will be more likely to function properly and smoothly than will those have lower measures of social capital (however, in the book itself, he asks: “What are the conditions for creating strong, responsive, effective representative institutions?” ((6))).

His research question is simple: what makes democracy work? From the get-go, Putnam is very adamant in his opinion that his intent is purely theoretical, while his methods are empirical. Putnam asserts that the implied connection between the design of institutions and political behavior must be treated as a hypothesis. He sees the case of Italy’s devolution process of the 1970s as perfect fodder to test that connection. Putnam uses many methods in gathering evidence and data in his analysis of Italy and its regional, representative governments, and he uses historical and empirical evidence from the Italian case, in combination with formal analysis, to strengthen his model of institutional performance and the implications social context.

He conducted surveys and interviews of regional councilors, community leaders, and the masses of Italian society. He conducted institutional/political case studies, analyzed Italian legislation, initiated case studies of regional planning, studied how regional bureaucracies reached out to requests from citizens, and studied the regional government of Friuli-Venezia Giulia at the behest of the government. His multitude of studies, surveys, interviews, and analyses lent to a strong cross-sectional model. But his methods did not end there. He also went deep into the history of exploring the North, Central, and Southern regions of Italy during the medieval ages, finding out the sociopolitical data each region had to offer, and then applied that history to modern day.

Not only was his model cross-sectional, but longitudinal. His historical analysis of Italy reinforces his assertion that social context is crucially important to institutional performance. Putnam’s techniques in the measurement of key concepts such as new institutionalism, social capital, civic community, institutional performance, social context, and horizontal/vertical politics are easily explained, strong in use of evidence, and overall buttress his arguments. Throughout the books, Putnam uses many charts and graphs mapping out some of the statistical research he did when looking at things such as socioeconomic status, civic traditions, and community feeling are very helpful when thinking about his ideas in context of the greater framework he is building.

In conclusion, Putnam identifies the problem of institutional performance as a impasse of collective action, and also decided that social capital is needed for a functioning representative institution. These two viewpoints put a lot on the shoulders of the masses when it comes to making democracy work. However, he also points out and acknowledges that it is difficult to pinpoint why social capital is such a necessary element. Even though the contrasting measurements of social capital in Northern/Central and Southern Italy are largely due to centuries of historical context, Putnam argues that the institutions will have a gradual effect on improving social capital in places where it is weak.

He views social capital as simply one of two sides of a coin: societies must choose to either “defect” when they face day-to-day problems in their communities, or “reciprocate,” and in turn, build social capital and general social trust. When attempting to bolster cooperation in a community to build social capital and, in turn, create high institutional performance, Putnam argues that the answer can be found in “soft solutions.” “Soft solutions” are solutions to social-based issued found within community and trust.

These “soft solutions” say that the if societies are to become cooperative and to create high performance institutions, they must “allow trust to become transitive and spread” (169). In the end, Putnam somewhat answers his question in figuring out what makes democracy work, but there’s still a lot more research to be done and a lot more to understand when it comes to figuring out societal behavior and its effects on politics, but Putnam has been instrumental in taking the first steps to figure things out.

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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. (2021, Apr 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/making-democracy-work-civic-traditions-in-modern-italy/

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