Home Alone II: NYT story on Robert Putnam’s diversity and social capital research

I’ve previously written one entry on our research on diversity and social capital research here.  This is a postscript of some interesting coda.

First, there is another interesting story on this research by Erin Hoover Barnett in Oregonian called “More Diversity, Less Trust” (6/18/07).

Second, there are two interesting posts about cognitive overload.  First, this Dartmouth study from 2003 that explains how cognitive overload (mental stress) can be a factor in coping in more diverse environments as people try to censor bias.

And Charles Kadushin, Visiting Research Professor Sociology at Brandeis University, writes in private communication:

Georg Simmel, a Jewish cosmopolite in Berlin in the 1920’s, wrote “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” He asserted that “in a metropolis we are so assaulted by diverse stimuli that we protect ourselves by building an insulating cocoon…. Simmel’s social circle idea in Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (1922) is also germane. “In a metropolitan area we have a “do-it-yourself” construction of our social circles such that we may be the only intersection point for a circle of mountain climbers, Opera lovers, and Gay Orthodox Jews. Simple large categories of ethnicity don’t capture this. This is why people live in metropolitan areas and once you show them gay Paris you can’t get them back on the farm. As you probably know, I have written about this. The net result of this complex intersection of social circles is that universalism or rampant joining or perhaps even bowling in leagues is sharply inhibited because we can find a finely tuned circle just like the one we want and ignore the others. This is also a corollary of the small world hypothesis. Duncan Watt’s “cave” model of short circuiting which make the small world work which many now think is an unreasonable assumption, is actually a good one because of the Simmel phenomenon. The “caves” of relative dense interaction are social circles, but the metropolitan phenomenon means that a single member of the circle can serve as a bridge to one in which the members are quite unlike the those in the first circle.”

While Putnam’s E Pluribus Unum has already controlled for metropolitanism (by which we mean urbanism, like population density, your commuting time, census tract average community time, etc.), and we find an effect of diversity independent of an effect of urbanism. But Simmel’s argument about overload and assault of the senses may still be the mechanism that we are uncovering that link diversity with lower levels of social capital. So the research finds a similar effect of diversity in Yakima, WA (a small city c. 71k outside any major metro areas) as in L.A or Houston. 


One response to “Home Alone II: NYT story on Robert Putnam’s diversity and social capital research

  1. Pingback: Misinformation about Putnam’s diversity research in Leo’s City Journal story « Social Capital Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s