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Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

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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 created new governments for each of its regions. After spending two decades analyzing the efficacy of these governments in such fields as agriculture, housing, and health services, they reveal patterns of associationism, trust, and cooperation that facilitate good governance and economic prosperity.

258 pages, Paperback

First published November 30, 1992

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About the author

Robert D. Putnam

21 books327 followers
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 brokered if they also result in domestic benefits. His most famous (and controversial) work, Bowling Alone, argues that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences.

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5 stars
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292 (37%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews
Profile Image for Russ.
359 reviews35 followers
May 5, 2019
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 development and good institutional performance, which all reinforced each other, while southern Italy had fewer civic traditions fostering mistrust, squalor, and poor performance which all reinforced each other.

Putnam provided ample historical evidence and quantitative data for his other conclusions. The organization and formating could have used some improvement (at least with the original paperback when I read this twenty years ago).

But overall, Putnam made good points and conveyed them reasonably well.
Profile Image for Sasha.
190 reviews2 followers
April 4, 2016
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 in government efficacy and performance, and economic growth? Don't wanna spoil it for you, but apparently the answer was already in the works in the ~Dark Ages~. Also, this book includes a section on my favorite topic, organized crime. If you're building a society, avoid vertical networks, guys! No mafia, only trade unions/mutual insurance societies/choral groups/sports teams!
Profile Image for Ciro.
Author 5 books3 followers
February 19, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,062 reviews85 followers
January 24, 2011
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 South has always been the way it was. Therefore, the regional revolution of 1970 has little bearing on predicting the success or failure of any given state! I felt the conclusion undermined the entirety of his research, and negated the need for an entire book. All the same, I learned some very interesting data about Italian sectors of society.
Profile Image for Gede Suprayoga.
134 reviews4 followers
January 27, 2013
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 writer extracted main components that affect vibrant and active democracy life in a certain community in Italy. Eventhough the component could be articulated into academic world, in practice they are still needing a lot of efforts to be replicated. Historical precedent and culture influence how the communities arrange their political institution. And in the short period, it rarely changes.
Profile Image for Anna Kendig.
70 reviews20 followers
September 14, 2007
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 dysfunction).

Profile Image for emily.
367 reviews
December 12, 2017
Profile Image for Eleanore.
134 reviews
October 2, 2008
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 its ambling structure, the book is quite interesting and an important contribution to the understanding of the state and society.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
10 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2011
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.
December 15, 2022
# Making Democracy Work

## How I Discovered It

> **A work that explores modern culture theory is Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work, a study of inequality between northern and southern Italy. Putnam argues that northern Italy is more successful than southern Italy because of its bottom-up culture of community organization, trust, and cooperation.)**
- From shortform notes of “why nations fail”
- Mentioned during the argument about how culture affects the fate of nations, to oppose the classic view that Europe is built as superior and that non Europeans are naturally lazy

## Who Should Read It?

**[For students of civil society, this is a must read.](https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re...)**

# ☘️ How the Book Changed Me

💡 How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

- Draws attention to the relationship and correlation between sociocultural beliefs in a society, with how well they achive democracy.

# 📒 Summary + Notes

- Putnam asks `why do some democratic governments succeed and others fail?
- Study of 1970 incident of dividing italy into regions, northern and southern
- each region had a different government
- So, basically those governments started off equal and potentially with same design
- What was noted after 20 years, is that there was a huge differerence in performance between the two governments. Northen succeeded, while Southern failed
- Putnam explains tat the only acceptable explanation for this variation can be “**civic culture**”. It goes by many names and concepts for Putnam (civic traditions, political culture, civic involvement, social capital, republican virtues)
- L**ack of civic trust is defined as when** people disposed to break the law when they think they can get away with it. How do you prosper or even survive in a place where you know you can't trust your neighbors?
- So basically means **Southern failed because it had always been ruled by Mafia and families ruling, while Northen succeded because they respcted and embraced their institutions.**

💡 Argument against: In fact the gloriously civic-minded North that Putnam describes as “Civic and thus successful” is in fact the part that provided Mussolini “Fascism” with his most consistent support.

- putnam`s **indicators of “good government”**are cabinet stability, budget promptness, statistical and information services, reform legislation, legislative innovation, day care centers, family clinics, industrial policy instruments, agricultural spending capacity, local health unit expenditures, housing and urban development and bureaucratic responsiveness.
- Putnam then further evaluates the validity of these indicators by surveying both elite and public opinions regarding the institutional performance of their regional governments, to see if the public's perception matches his own.
- **Conclusion:** that a region's level of civic engagement has a direct relationship to effective democratic institutions
Profile Image for Sequoyah.
200 reviews15 followers
March 1, 2023
This was a very interesting and enlightening look into Italy’s north-south divide. As anyone who has even a surface level of understanding about Italy knows, the north is much more advanced than the south. This book attempts to find a causal argument as to why that is by analyzing how decentralization reform in the 1960s was approached by the two parts. This is a very impressive look at a 2 decade long study with innumerable working parts. Yada yada yada the north has better economics, democratic institutions, individual happiness, etc. all because it has a tradition of civic engagement going back to the Italian city states. The northerners are involved in literary clubs, organizations, unions, sports teams, and any other number of organizations that espouse civic virtue. This has allowed democracy and the bureaucratic process to flourish while the south is offered every chance to succeed but sits wallowing in clientelism and familism while community and civic engagement barely exists.

It’s very interesting and it showed me a lot about why democracy has flourished so well in the US because people go out and solve problems through non-political mini-governments like the HOA, or little league organizations. However, I’m pissed my professor made me read an entire fucking book in addition to the other academic papers we had to read this week. This book, despite the substance being very interesting, falls into the bucket of dull, soulless political science research that continually fails to be accessible—let alone enjoyable—to anyone but people in the field.

Oh yeah, if you want to go to Italy, go to the Emilia-Romagna region. According to this book, it’s the best region by every single metric. Calabria is the worst, if you go there, you’ll be killed.
Profile Image for Francesca Calarco.
360 reviews31 followers
December 7, 2018
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 practice" (184). These two points are then used to showcase how the historically horizontal governing power structures of northern Italy paved the way for greater trust in generalized reciprocal exchanges that lie at the base of social capital. Alternatively, southern Italy's history of vertical power structures (e.g. kingdoms with totalitarian/direct rule) eroded much of the foundation upon which social capital would have been built.

Also interesting, was Putnam's observation of there being no correlation between a region's level of industrialization with their level of civic engagement (158). Many imperial powers have used communities' means of production (e.g., pastoral, agrarian, industrialized, etc.) as justification for overtaking them in the name of bringing democracy and modernity. So the implications of this finding are pretty telling of how these 'justifications' are pretty bupkis, or so I thought.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It is both a thoughtful case study, as well as a well-developed source.
Profile Image for Camila.
21 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2019
Leitura feita para disciplina de RI no Mestrado de Políticas Públicas (UFPE).
Melhor análise que vi até então sobre o funcionamento das instituições dentro de um regime democrático.
O autor examina especificamente os primeiros 20 anos da implementação dos "governos regionais" na Itália, e investiga as razões de seus diferentes desempenhos - a despeito das 20 regiões possuírem o mesmo formato institucional.

As análises são muito bem fundamentadas, recorrendo não apenas aos estudos de caso, entrevistas e sondagens nacionais, mas a indicadores estatísticos de desempenho e testagens, com métodos bem descritos e adequados ao exame proposto. Os dados coletados são analisados em conjunto, o que permite conclusões mais solidas e que ajudam a compreender melhor o desempenho das instituições.
Realça, por tudo que desenvolve na obra, a importância de se construir uma cultura cívica e empenhar-se por sua consolidação (o que se aplica não apenas a realidade italiana).
4 reviews
August 10, 2021
The best laid out study to attempt to explain the ever existing differences between Northern and Southern Italy.
The author uses the natural example of Italy, where regions have been gradually given more autonomy since the 1970s, to develop a theory on economic growth and democratic institutions. He believes, and tried to demonstrate (without ever proving causation) that civicness/ social capital are important determinants for democratic institutions to be efficient. He then goes back in history to try explain what has made social capital arise in certain areas of Italy and not in others. He believes that the different types of states existing in the 12th century have set different regions on paths that are arduous to move away from (path dependency). Finally he proves via well known game theory models how both cooperation and individualism are rational considering prior beliefs on other players.
Profile Image for Luca Gatto.
102 reviews2 followers
September 11, 2022
Conoscevo già i risultati della ricerca di Putnam, avendolo studiato all’università. Leggerli di prima mano, con tutto il corredo di spiegazione e strutturazione della ricerca è risultato estremamente interessante e stimolante. A quasi trent’anni dalla pubblicazione della ricerca e quasi cinquanta dall’inizio, possiamo certamente dire che non sia cambiato quasi nulla di quanto sostenuto. Per migliorare la situazione del sud è necessaria la creazione di quel capitale sociale fatto di civismo e coscienza collettiva che, come spiega Putnam, è figlio di un diverso percorso nato intorno al XII secolo. Ricerca illuminante che lascia anche un po’ l’amaro in bocca per le risorse sprecate e il tempo perduto. Consigliatissimo.
Profile Image for Arthur Yu.
17 reviews
June 16, 2020
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: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi Party”, provides empirical evidence on the negative effects of social capital.
Profile Image for Nadi kz.
77 reviews17 followers
December 28, 2018
کتاب به فارسی هم ترجمه شده. تحت عنوان دموکراسی و سنت‌های مدنی، با ترجمه‌ی محمدتقی دلفروز.
تجربه‌ی ایتالیا تجربه‌ی جذاب و فوق‌العاده مهمیه! نثر کتاب اونقدر جذاب هست که راضی به سفر بشید
7 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2019
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!!!
November 5, 2020
A really quality analysis of Italian regional government institutions. Discusses institutional legitimacy, performance, factors for explaining performance, and explores game theory.
8 reviews18 followers
September 28, 2021
Great book! Easy to read and super interesting
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for TuLokita69.
17 reviews
May 15, 2023
Presenta su investigación del capital social en Italia. Muy interesante.
Profile Image for Diego.
469 reviews3 followers
August 24, 2014
Robert Putnam y sus colaboradores realizaron un gran trabajo de investigación en la formación de instituciones por un periodo superior a los 20 años. Empleando conocimiento de las instituciones en Italia desde el año 1100 hasta nuestro tiempo para observar el impacto del capital social, los valores cívicos y los principios republicanos como fuertes precursores de la confianza y cooperación en la sociedad y por cobsecuencia de su fortaleza institucional y capacidad para sostener un fuerte desarrollo y crecimiento económico.
Emplean teoría de juegos de forma muy intuitiva pasta describir los distintos equilibrios que atraviesa la sociedad en un análisis semejante al de la tragedia de los comunes de Elionir Ostrom.
Es un libro muy recomendable para aquellos interesados en desarrollo económico ya sea desde la óptica de la economía, la ciencia política o el derecho.
Profile Image for Will.
1,499 reviews49 followers
January 21, 2016
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 has more Mafia and political corruption.
Profile Image for Tobias.
Author 3 books29 followers
April 9, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Christian.
67 reviews
June 13, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Shad.
121 reviews6 followers
July 27, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Jess.
9 reviews
August 14, 2012
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.
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