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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy
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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  705 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Why do some democratic governments succeed and others fail? In a book that has received attention from policymakers and civic activists in America and around the world, Robert Putnam and his collaborators offer empirical evidence for the importance of "civic community" in developing successful institutions. Their focus is on a unique experiment begun in 1970 when Italy cre ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published June 16th 1994 by Princeton University Press (first published November 30th 1992)
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May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Informative, quick, but slightly disjointed read on social capital exemplified by civic life in the two main regions of Italy.

Social capital, the academic centerpiece of this book, got surprisingly little development: it's pasted on in the last chapter--a short chapter at that. In other chapters, Putnam weighed competing explanations for things. But here we were just told to accept social capital theory as a fact. The premise is that northern Italy had civic traditions which led to economic deve
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Why do I write reviews of these political science books? Now that I have 2 Goodreads Friends, I feel I owe them something--a comprehensive record of all the stuff I read. Little did they expect it to be a mix of academic monographs on institutional development and children's fantasy!

Anyway this is an utterly impressive look at 1000 years of Italian history to explain the result of a fantastic natural experiment in decentralize government. Why do north and south Italy have such divergent outcomes
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary. Combines rigorous, thorough, and patient empirical observation and analysis with trenchant examination of political theory to produce not just a definitive picture of Italy since the 70s, but also a paradigm-shifting look at democratic institutions as a whole. What the authors discover should be a paramount concern for policy makers world-wide.

The reviews on the back all compare Putnam to de Tocqueville. They're right.
Jan 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: textbooks
Clear, heavily researched case study of democracy in Italian regionalism. I would have given it four stars but for the last chapter. After building a case for the civic-mindedness of successful democratic regions, after scores of data to analyze why certain regions are more succesful than others, Putnam drops the history bomb on his whole book. Essentially, he ends by arguing that the North is a more educated, civic, financially successful region because it always was. The poorer, less civic Sou ...more
Gede Suprayoga
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A reference book at a lecture when I was taking my undergraduate study..... I am stil wondering why this book can be so important in a City Planning Program. But soon, I realize that the book gives clues about how to manage communities with different political institution context.

The book is an extensive research result about political and social life of communities in Italy. The book covers the communities' socio-political profile and analyzes the differences. By comparing the situation, the w
Anna Kendig
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most interesting books I read in my undergraduate education. It examines how democracy works through the lens of different Italian political areas and works through the question of why some areas work well and have a high level of trust and input from the constituents, and some have a great deal of problems and mistrust. Mostly a book of socialogy, it also ties in history and anthropology. Interesting for those looking not only at politics, but how communities function (or dys ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who enjoy long and boring ruminations about italy
Morten Pedersen
Mama mia!
Sep 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Putnam's book is a good lesson in what happens to any scholar when they go to Italy... You get distracted. Starting out with a fairly narrow study on the evolution of institutions for regional governance, he ends up taking a tour of about 700 years of Italy's intriguing history and ends up making some rather broad and provocative generalizations. Building off of Coleman's concept of Social Capital, Putnam analyzes how it explains the difference between Northern and Southern Italy. Regardless of ...more
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book more than 10 years ago while a graduate student at Rutgers for comparative politics. I was just thinking about it again today. That is the power of Robert D. Putnam. All these years later, I still find myself reflecting on the research and analysis he conducted while looking at Democracy and civic traditions in Italy. I might have to clean out the storage unit to find this book to read again. A riveting look at culture, tradition, ethnicity and political location.
Francesca Calarco
Dec 04, 2018 rated it liked it
While Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy is a solid case study on the sociopolitical divide between northern and southern Italy, it also makes a strong argument on the important role 'social capital' plays in facilitating democracy.

The research presented largely draws two important general conclusions: 1. "Social context and history profoundly condition the effectiveness of institutions" (182), and 2. "Changing formal institutions can change political practi
Arthur Yu
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I recently finished reading the book, “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”, by Prof. Putnam and his coauthors. This is a classic book on how social capital affects institutional performance.
The core argument of the book is that social capital is key to high institutional performance and the maintenance of democracy using variations on social capital and institutional performance within Italy (i.e., within Italy variation). However, a recent paper, “Bowling for Fascism: Socia
Kate Throneburg
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't like it when I was reading it but the lessons in it have REALLY stuck over three years later. Give it a chance!!! ...more
Jennifer Beers
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Must read for any political scientist
Jonathan Bozarth
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A really quality analysis of Italian regional government institutions. Discusses institutional legitimacy, performance, factors for explaining performance, and explores game theory.
Putnam tries to argue that northern Italy has more entrenched civic traditions which allows it to have more efficient regional governments (read: is better developed). Process traces an argument back to the 11th century, supposedly when civic republicanism formed in the north while the south became an absolute monarchy with regional aspirations. Fast forward 900 years. Now, civic tradition is evident in the fact that the north has more bird-watching clubs and football teams than the south, which ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Re-read this to teach it to undergrads. This time around I saw just how flawed this book is — after telling this whole big story about how the origins of social capital lie in the Middle Ages, he then proceeds to spend a whole two paragraphs on one of the last pages of the book explaining how social capital accounts for differences in the strength of democratic institutions. It also struck me how difficult it would be to test this theory in any other context.
Jun 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: poli sci enthusiasts
Shelves: think
Putnam's research on civic society in Italy throughout history is extensive and it raises questions over what came first; democracy or civiv society. He believes civic engagement is a pre-cursor to democracy and therefor a state cannot experience any sense of democracy until its citizens are active and make the effort to come together in some form or fashion. ...more
Jul 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I think this book was original, insightful and useful both as a model for other studies and for its contributions of raw data and initial analysis. Like most social scientists, Putnam fails to give credit to religion and family where they are due, but he does add solid observation to interesting data.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
It was really hard to get through the first chapters. They are dry and if you don't know the geography of Italy they can be confusing. The author ends the book with a really interesting chapter but he doesn't use any data to show what he is talking about. All this talk about the effect of civic society but he doesn't give much causal evidence in particular. Great book to do further research on. ...more
Oct 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Putnam's book is empirically rich, but the logic of argumentation is sometimes difficult to follow. The switch to theory to explain the role of social capital in building civic community is unusual given the role of empirical work in the rest of the book and suggests that Putnam's final argument needed more qualitative evidence. ...more
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politicalscience
The precursor to Bowling Alone. Better research, tougher read. ...more
Kw Estes
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
I just wish he hadn't spent nearly a third of the book trying to convince the reader that modes of social organization in the 12th c. are at the root of why Northern Italy has higher levels of civic engagement (and thus more effective political institutions) than the South. ...more
Mikko Särelä
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my views about democracy, governance, politics, and the order of importance in many things. The findings it has are astonishing.
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it
A facinating look at Italy, when they set up their regional governments in the 1970s, and the differences between the north and south and how the institutions fared.
Ft. Sheridan
Jan 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
About why Southern Italy fails.
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
It was an interesting read connected to my studies, so reading it was more a task than anything, but I enjoyed it.
Julian Haigh
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Powerful analysis, developed argument. For anyone wanting to know how much work actually goes into making democracy work - this is the book for you. Get Involved or have no power - it's your choice! ...more
Aug 02, 2011 added it
This is a great book for those studying the development of democracies. It has a lot of numbers but that does not make it a hard read. I especially recommend to those studying developing regions.
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Robert David Putnam is a political scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also visiting professor and director of the Manchester Graduate Summer Programme in Social Change, University of Manchester (UK). Putnam developed the influential two-level game theory that assumes international agreements will only be successfully broke ...more

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