Documentary on Robert Putnam urges Americans to ‘Join or Die’

by | Mar 2, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — The threats to American democracy following the turmoil of the 2020 elections have been much discussed. Documentary filmmakers and siblings Pete and Rebecca Davis have a punchy new solution for it.In their new film, “Join or Die,” they suggest joining a club — or a religious congregation — may be the key to renewing the nation’s democratic engagement.
The documentary, which premieres at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, pays homage to Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, heralded for his theory that social capital — formed through social engagement in various groups — is the key to building a thriving democracy.
Putnam is of course best known for “Bowling Alone,” the article, then book, published in 2000 that charted the collapse of America’s civic life, symbolized by the rise of solo bowling, as opposed to bowling in leagues.
The book was touted by President Bill Clinton (Hillary Clinton is featured in the documentary), who sought Putnam’s advice about addressing America’s growing social isolation. It became a classic in the field of political science.

RELATED: Robert Putnam thinks religion could play a role in healing divisions

The documentary traces Putnam’s career from his beginnings in the 1970s, when he went to Italy to study how the country’s newly created regional governments were succeeding or failing. He returned to America 20 years later and published a seminal book on the importance of civic community in developing good governance.
Robert Putnam in the “Join or Die” documentary. Courtesy image
He then turned his attention to the United States after his wife, Rosemary, shared a newspaper article …

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