Putnam, diversity, and social capital
Discussion list for COMM-ORG
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Sun Aug 26 11:57:29 CDT 2007
[ed: thanks to Ashwani for engaging the discussion.]
From: Ashwani Vasishth, vasishth at csun.edu
There is a now long-standing hypothesis in ecology which holds that
increases in biodiversity enhance ecosystem stability. (The addendum
most often postulated to this is that there is a threshold above which
further increases in diversity make the relational connectivities so
"thick" that the system begins to choke itself to death. Robert May has
done a lot of this work.)
David Tilman has looked in some detail at the hypothesized relationship
between diversity and stability in grassland ecosystems. Interestingly,
he finds that increased biodiversity is both good and bad for
stability. (Rittel & Webber rule!) At the level of the population (of
any single species), increased species diversity reduces stability.
This is probably because as the number of species in the community begin
to increase, individuals within any one species group now have to work
harder to grab nutrients and resources, and survival becomes more
competitive. At the level of the community (of an interacting set of
species), however, increased species diversity enhances stability. This
is perhaps because more species means the ecosystem has more pathways
from which to derive functions necessary to its own wellbeing.
My point is two-fold. First, we can debate what diversity means in the
context of human communities-racial, ethnic, economic, ecological,
occupational, cultural, ideological, political, behavioral, and so
on-and how we might measure it. Under what conditions do we hold
diversity to have increased?
Second, the sorts of things that Dr. Putnam is said to have found to
have decreased with "increased diversity" (however defined)-civic
mindedness (voter participation), communal interactions (casual
interactions between proximate neighbors), and so on-may not be the
sorts of "good" that actually derive from increased diversity (again,
But in the end, the error may lie simply in the assumption that there is
a one-size-fits-all rule to be drawn about human behavior. We know,
irrespective of how this came to be, that about 20-30% of us would
prefer to live in an "urban" setting (stereotypically Manhattan? with
lots of different sorts of folks, doing lots of different sorts of
things, with lots of different sorts of interests and tastes, and where
we can listen to jazz, punk rock, and ghazals on any one night), and
that about 30-40% of us would prefer to live in a "suburban" setting
(stereotypical homogeneous in racial and socio-economic status, and with
clean divisions between land uses). Perhaps it is that the things the
urbanites find valuable in their "high diversity" environments are just
different from the things that the suburbanites find desirable in their
"homogeneous" environments? And then the question of implications might
simply be moot.
Vasishth vasishth at csun.edu (818) 677-6137
Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
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> [ed: the article Kathy refers to is only available for free until
> August 30 so make sure you get it by then.]
> From: Kathy Partridge <interfaithfunders at yahoo.com>
> For the Comm-Org list,
> Perhaps you've been hearing the buzz about Robert Putnam's new research
> on the impact of diversity on social capital (for example, see below
> Jenifer Fernandez Ancona's blog that suggests the value of multi-ethnic
> community organizing can counter the impact). So, when I found his
> actual recent article, available free online via Putnam's Saguaro
> Research Center website. Also, if you are interested in knowing more
> about ,the center (funded by Carnegie, Hewlett, Rockefeller and
> Rockefellers Bros.) and their focus, here's a link to their site. Note
> the upcoming research on faith, politics and social capital.
> Robert Putnam's article is here:
> Kathy Partridge
> Executive Director
> Interfaith Funders
> 2719 Denver Ave.
> Longmont, CO 80503
> Voice 720-494-9011
> Fax 708-585-6434 Cell 303-594-6434
> Subject: Curing 'Diversity Malaise'
> Curing 'Diversity Malaise'
> by: Jenifer Fernandez Ancona
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