Making Social Science Work Across Space and Time: A Critical Reflection on Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work

Originally published in American Political Science Review 90 (2), 1996
  • Sidney Tarrow


Tarrow initially provides a synopsis of Putnam’s widely heralded Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (1993 and with Leonardi and Nanetti). He is encouraging about Putnam’s early narrower project (see Putnam with Leonardi and Nanetti 1988), which shows how a 1970s central political reform was realized quite differently in the distinctive political cultures of northern and southern Italy. Tarrow agrees that this part of Putnam’s study demonstrates that distinctive political cultures are apt to shape initially similar institutions quite differently over time. So in this regard culture shapes political institutions. However, Putnam extended the initial scope of his analysis to inquire into the origins of these distinctive regional cultures, concluding that these regional peculiarities are long-standing, stemming from differences in civic republicanism (social capital or civil society) in the late medieval period that persist into the present. Thus, once again, Putnam portrays culture as shaping political institutions: Civic republicanism produces more thorough democracy. Tarrow disagrees with the causal flow Putnam suggests in his expanded project. Tarrow argues instead that, across this lengthy period, institutional differences shaped distinctive political cultures. Tarrow also thinks that Putnam’s operationalization of democracy has limitations, and we might add that Putnam’s indices of culture lack a theoretical superstructure.


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© Lane Crothers and Charles Lockhart 2000

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  • Sidney Tarrow

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