chapter  2
30 Pages

Just Communities: Social Capital, Gender, and Culture

ByBarbara Arneil

Social capital is a term used by Robert Putnam, in his best selling book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival o f American C om - m unity .1 Putnam invokes an ideal community or civic society of the past (the Progressive Era) as the model by which to find solutions to American society’s contemporary political and civic ills. This harkening back to a bygone era, when the connections between people were robust, communities strong, and levels of solidarity and trust high is used to throw into sharp relief a story of “collapse” or decline in social capital since the 1960s. As one might expect, the promise of civic redemption lies in the redeployment of civic engagement, through civic participation and community involvement.2 M uch of this analysis is done with little consideration for the gendered and cultural dimensions of either the ideal community of the past, the nature of the decline in the present, or the prescriptions suggested for the future. In the same way that gender and culture were often invisible but p rofound forces in the construction of the liberal citizen or welfare state, so too this new literature based in the centrality of a civic community, has been shaped by largely hidden gender and cultural dimensions. It is these dimensions that will be made explicit in this analysis of social capital.