Seminar: “What Happened? The Curious Case of Social Change in the 20th Century,” with Robert Putnam

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Event Details


Mar 12, 2016


10:30 am - 12:30 pm


Dodd Hall, Room 275
315 Portola Plaza
Los Angeles

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Dodd Hall, Room 275

Event Description


In addition to this seminar, Robert Putnam will be giving a lecture on March 10 entitled “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis″. For more information on this seminar, please visit the event page.


Measures of material well-being in America (e.g., per capita income; life expectancy) rose monotonically and mostly linearly throughout the 20thcentury.  By contract, measures of major aspects of American society, politics, and economics from 1900 to today following a puzzling, but uniform pattern–rising strongly and steadily from about 1900 to about 1970, then falling strongly and steadily from about 1970 to today.  The measures that follow this pattern include (1) income and wealth equality, (2) associational membership and personal philanthropy (social capital), (3) cross-party collaboration (vs. party polarization), (4) social integration as measured by inter-class intermarriage, (5) union membership, (6) progressivity of the Federal income tax, (7) minimum wage, and (8) native-born fraction of population.  Though some of these individual trends have been studied in isolation, no one has (I believe) yet observed or explained the entire pattern.  What happened?  Understanding the origins of such a massive pendular swing from individualism to communitarianism and back again could inform our thinking about how to restore balance to America.  Are there plausible intellectual/cultural explanations for the pendular swing?


Rather than follow the usual CLAFI format of distributing readings to participants in advance, Professor Putnam will take about 30 minutes to describe his current research project, summarized above.  The remaining time will be devoted to discussion of the questions raised.


Registration for the seminar is free and open to the public. However, because capacity is limited, advance enrollment is necessary. This will be done primarily on a first come, first served basis. Readings will be distributed in advance to participants, who will be expected to read them and participate actively in the discussion. A pizza lunch will be delivered at the end of the seminar. To enroll, please e-mail Professor Daniel Lowenstein at


Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association.  He has received numerous scholarly honors, including theSkytte Prize, the most prestigious global award in political science, and the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities.  He has written fourteen books, translated into more than twenty languages, including Bowling Alone and Making Democracy Work, both among the most cited publications in the social sciences in the last half century.  His 2010 book, co-authored with David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, won the American Political Science Association’s 2011 Woodrow Wilson award as the best book in political science. He has consulted for the last three American presidents, the last three British prime ministers, the last French president, prime ministers from Ireland to Singapore, and hundreds of grassroots leaders and activists in many countries. His latest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, on the growing class gap among American young people, was published in March 2015.