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Critical review of Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work

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book reviews
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  1. Introduction.
  2. Putnam's decision to study the development or regional institutions in Italy.
  3. What Putnam is trying to proove.
    1. The regions in Italy are not equal concerning institutional performance.
    2. Very sharp discrepancies among the different regions.
    3. The political life of each region.
  4. The 12th century: Land shared by multiple small republican city-states.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

In the 1970s, new representative institutions were created in the twenty regions that make up Italy. The Italian government wanted to bring governance closer to the people, so that 'the citizens of Seveso and Pietrapertosa were now directed to nearby Milan and Potenza rather than distant Rome'. Putnam is very enthusiastic, as this institutional creation represents an 'unparalleled opportunity' to have 'a comparative study of the dynamics and ecology of institutional development'. However, Putnam probably did not expect back in 1970 that he would draw from the Italian cases conclusions that could have a significant importance for the development of third world countries. I will start the review of his book by examining the design of Putnam's research. I will then follow his arguments and his findings, before finally critically assess his work with the help of other scholars.

[...] To make his point he comparatively studies the institutional performance of the regions based on twelve indicators that he classifies within three domains policy processes; policy pronouncements; and policy implementation[10]. He chooses to integrate policy processes in the measurement of institutional performance as it 'depends on how well an institution manages its essential internal affairs'[11]. Thus his indicators are the stability, the promptness to achieve a budget, and the statistical and information services of the region. Putnam uses the pronouncements of the regions as a general domain too, as they should be 'prompt to identify social needs and propose innovative solutions'[12]. [...]


[...] Putnam explains that he will bring evidences from data for these two hypotheses, which are common agreed on by most of the scholars. However, he also adds that 'the practical performance of institutions is shaped by the social context with which they operate'[8], which has not been addressed enough before according to Putnam. If the aim of the research is quite challenging, it is however supported by a very strong methodological background. From the very beginning he sets his dependent variable - institutional performance before looking for independent variables that could explain it. [...]


[...] After measuring the level of civic community in each region, Putnam can safely expose his findings: performance is extremely correlated with the degree of the civic community. Regional institutions will be much more preferment where a strong civic community is present. But what is conclusive is that, as institutional performance and civic community are correlated, the regions in the south of the country lack considerably of civic sense. If Putnam wants his theory to be complete and to be used outside of the Italian case, he only needs to understand and expose what the grounds for civic sense are. [...]

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