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The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership welcomes Robert Putnam to Arizona State University.
America today is characterized by deep and accelerating inequality; unprecedented political polarization; vitriolic public discourse; a fraying social fabric; public and private narcissism — Americans today seem to agree on only one thing: This is the worst of times. But we’ve been here before. In the late 1800s, during the last Gilded Age, America was highly individualistic, starkly unequal, fiercely polarized, and deeply fragmented, just as it is today. In the aftermath of the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century, however, America became — unevenly, but steadily — more egalitarian, more cooperative, more generous; a society more focused on our responsibilities to one another and less focused on narrower self-interest. Over the last half century that broad trend from an “I” society to a “we” society has been interrupted and reversed. America’s challenge today is to turn the corner and regain the spirit of reform of the first Progressive Era. Grassroots leadership was then essential to civic renewal and it is again now.
Robert D. Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006 Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world's highest accolade for a political scientist, in 2013 President Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities, for "deepening our understanding of community in America.” Bob has written fifteen books, translated into twenty languages, including "Making Democracy Work" and "Bowling Alone", both among the most cited (and bestselling) social science works in the last half century. His 2015 bestseller, "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis", chronicled the growing class gap among American youth. His latest book—“Turning the Corner: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” — will be published in April 2020.