By Tom Bartlett
Robert D. Putnam’s research is being used to make the case that diversity is bad—and he’s not happy about it.
The Harvard sociologist, best known for his book Bowling Alone, filed a supporting brief in the lawsuit over race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the brief, Putnam objects to how his research is characterized in another brief, by Abigail Thernstrom, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Stephan Thernstrom, a Harvard historian, among others (the two Thernstroms, in case you were wondering, are married).
In the Thernstrom brief, a 2007 paper by Putnam, titled “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” is cited as evidence that diversity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In that paper, Putnam finds that in more diverse neighborhoods, people trust one another less, are less altruistic, and have fewer friends. They keep to themselves, “hunker down,” in his words. Not only do people in diverse neighborhoods trust those who are ethnically different less; they also tend to be less trusting of people who are similar to them. They don’t spend as much time volunteering in their communities, and instead “huddle unhappily in front of the television.”
They hunker and huddle.
The Thernstrom brief summarizes those findings by Putnam, but doesn’t note Putnam’s multiple cautions against concluding that this means diversity is mostly bad.
The accusation by Ann Putnam Jr. is seen by historians as evidence that a family feud may have been a major cause of the Witch Trials. Salem was the home of a vicious rivalry between the Putnam and Porter families.