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Historical Trends, Decline, and Revival of Civic Participation Essay

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019

Central Theme

The problem of civic participation has been already reviewed by researchers in public affairs field though Robert Putnam in the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000) brings the discussion on another level where he emphasizes the importance of civic participation in the United States of America as one of the main factors that drive the forces of democracy in society.

Though the author of Bowling Alone (2000) insists on the decline of the civic participation in public affairs, he provides evidence of other views on this point. “As the 1960s ended, sociologists Daniel Bell and Virginia Held reported that ‘there is more participation than ever before in America …and more opportunity or the active interested person to express his personal and political concerns’” (Putnam, 2000, p. 17).

So, the decline was not steady and some portions of activity could be also observed, especially in such processes as voting.

The central theme of the book is the engagement of individuals into public administration and other ways of influencing the management of the social processes.

The author points out that the decline has reasons and the revival is also possible; “Many of the most important episodes of social capital formation in American history have been rooted in religious revivals, and we may be on the cusp of another such period” (Putnam, 2000, p. 77).

At the same time, it is impossible that all people became active participants of social interactions only due to involvement into religious practices. Nevertheless, television and the internet contributed greatly to decline of public meeting attendance and other activities that were evaluated as the reflection of social activity and the revival is possible if people realize that they can and should influence the situation to maintain democracy.

Relevance

Analysis of historical trends. The historical trends were shifting from time to time and the overall American history saw declines and revivals of the civic participation in social and political administration as the driving force in maintenance of democracy.

So, the beginning of the civic engagement and participation can be dated late nineteenth – early twentieth century when people were interested in various acts and regulations passed by the Congress involving their lives. Another contribution to the increase of social awareness and activity was in 1920s when women got the right to vote at elections enjoying the same right as male population of the country (Putnam, 2000).

Another integral part of the increase of civic participation was the role of education that enabled researchers to predict the growth of civic participation (Putnam, 2000, p. 18). However, the situation started changing since the 1960s when the declines and revivals were constantly shifting due to the events in the world and the country.

The period of 1960s was marked with struggles for civil rights as well as civic participation increased in terms of the black population involvement after the struggles. Moreover, the period of 1960-1970ss reflected the youth activism tendencies that were aimed at demonstrating the position of young population towards the events in the world and ability to influence those.

At the same time, the decline was observable as a response to the expensive rent as people that wanted to participate in public meetings had to find a place to meet whereas the pricing was not reasonable.

The further discussion brings us to the analysis of the religious participation and changes in economic conditions that shifted the workforce engagement and labor unions as a type of civic participation when people share opinions and influence each other.

Relating the concepts from different sources. The book by Denhardt (2007) introduces the same concepts as suggested by Putnam (2000) who argues that there is a decline in civic participation which is the result of a number of factors starting with inappropriate education that makes it difficult to engage people into active influence on the public administration issues.

Besides, economic factors are reviewed by both authors as another component in decline of civic participation. However, Denhardt (2007) suggests an idea that new public administration is more related to social issues than economic ones and is based on the interest of people in public affairs administration and possible ways of impact (p. 192).

Though Denhardt (2007) also analyzes the theories introduced by Putnam (2000), the author also tries to compare the theoretical framework instead of explaining the reasons why people do not participate in public meetings.

Public theories and growth of alienation are discussed by Denhardt (2007) as well as growth of urban population is one of the focuses of Friedman (2006). As such, people have to find a job in different areas that are often located in the urban areas to cope with financial problems as a result of increased unemployment rates.

People, “living in tightly bonded villages and extended families, suddenly got shattered and the sons and fathers went off to the urban areas to work for big industrial companies” (Friedman, 2006, p. 393). Another strong factor that can be considered influential in terms of active engagement is the ties of immigrants, “the ties which connected the immigrants to the land of their forefathers” (de Tocqueville, 2003, p. 48).

DeParle (2004) emphasizes the period of the struggle for civil rights which can be interpreted as one of the flashes in the civic participation revival; “One of the first battles of the civil rights age erupted midway through his first term, when President Truman sought permanent status for a wartime antidiscrimination agency…” (p. 32).

So, the problem of civic participation have been thoroughly reviewed by many authors, each found some new interpretations in the decline and revivals of this activity.

Public Affairs Implications

The lessons learned from the book Bowling Alone (2000) by Putnam include understanding of the importance of civic participation as one of the essential features of democracy that became an embodiment of dreams for millions of people.

Though little segment of population can be involved into public administration, it is impossible to talk about the strict decline of increase of the civic participation in the United States of America. The engagement into public and political life of the country has many reasons that contribute to the process of administration either positively or negatively but interchange and small period are marked by declines and revivals.

To revive civic participation of Americans, it is necessary to remind the citizens about their duties such as voting because it also requires analysis of political programs of candidates and other activities.

Besides, the democracy can quickly change into the totalitarian regime if population does not affect the political and public affairs because democracy is based on the will of people and should be a reflection of their political preferences, views, and interests.

Reference List

Denhardt, R. B. (2007). Theories of public organization (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

DeParle, J. (2004). American dream. New York: Penguin Group.

Friedman, T. L. (2006). The world is flat [updated and expanded]: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Fireside Paperbacks.

Tocqueville, A. de. (2003). Democracy in America and two essays on America. New York: Penguin Group.

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