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social capital

Civic relationships

Over at his blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine has some thoughts on the importance of civic relationships to a healthy democracy. Often lumped under the term “social capital” by political scientists (Robert Putnam defines the term as “connections among individuals–social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”), Levine emphasizes that these civic relationships occur much more organically than such language suggests.

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The Lions of Lagos

In a fascinating article in the Washington Monthly, John Gravois describes the rising popularity of community and civic-minded organizations in other countries:

“We have 11,000 Kiwanians in Taiwan,” said a chipper spokeswoman for the Indiana-based group, which has seen a 59 percent rise across Asia in the new millennium. Rotary International, after a decade of 60 percent growth in South Korea, counts 60,000 members there. And a number of different groups have found particularly fertile soil in India. In addition to the Toastmasters’ strong showing there, the Lions have grown by 36 percent over the past decade, with a total membership of more than 200,000 in the land of Gandhi. Rotary has grown by 55 percent there over the same period. (Fun fact: There are twice as many Rotary clubs in Kerala as there are in Kansas.)

Even so, Gravois notes, these organizations’ popularity abroad is, in part, because of their uniquely American DNA: groups like Toast Masters or Rotary Club carry with them the “memes of American business culture, with all its odd tribal rituals, upbeat nostrums, manners, and codes…These quintessentially American, Babbit-like business groups…represent a capitalism of opportunity and dignity for the average man or woman”–and that, he concludes, is very much “a club much of [the] world thinks worth joining.”

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