How Robert Putnam Helped Create the Tea Party

If only entirely inadvertently …

Scott Heiferman recounts how Putnam inspired him to create Meetup.com.

I followed a link from a blog somewhere to something about Bowling Alone. It was October 1st that I ordered Bowling Alone on Amazon and was really intrigued. Putnam basically sold me on the idea that local community is important. It was something that I actually got a sense of being in New York at that time. And he throws out a bit of a challenge in there asking how in the 21st century, with the technology and all of the things that’ll be driving people away from local community, how can we reinvigorate what’s good about our communities?

Of course, Meetup.com was then used by Howard Dean activists to organize and attract activists in 2004, and by Tea Party people to organize themselves a few years later. As Heiferman recounts in the interview, he didn’t anticipate the ways in which Meetup would be used for politics. I wrote a piece for the American Prospect a few years ago, which also cited to Putnam (this time for his influence on Obama) and argued that social technology fueled efforts to revive civil society were leading to a resurgence of organized partisanship. I wish I’d known this story then – it’s a lovely illustration of the argument.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.