2006: Robert Putnam
Robert D. Putnam is the leading expert on social interaction in the United States. He has argued that civil society is breaking down as Americans become more disconnected from their families, neighbors, communities and the nation itself. He calls for increasing social activism and promoting citizenship as a way to reverse these trends. A former member of the National Security Council, Putnam is the author or co-author of eight books, including the best-selling and highly influential Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and more recently Better Together: Restoring the American Community.
The decline of civic engagement in the United States over the past 30 years, which Putnam charted in Bowling Alone, has worried a number of politicians and commentators. As a result, his ideas have been the focus of seminars hosted by President Bill Clinton at Camp David and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street.
As part of his follow-up to the book, Putnam launched the Saguaro Seminars - a series of meetings held around the United States at which leaders and intellectuals considered how they might build bonds of civic trust among Americans and their communities. He is also the founder of The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America, a program that attempts to bring together leading practitioners and thinkers to develop broad-scale, but actionable, ideas to fortify civic connectedness in America.
Putnam received his doctoral degree from Yale in 1970 and joined the University of Michigan faculty, becoming a full professor of political science in 1975. He moved to Harvard in 1979 as a professor of government and subsequently served as department chair from 1984 to 1988. In 1989, he was appointed dean of the Kennedy School of Government and Don K. Price Professor of Politics. He is now the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in American politics, international relations, comparative politics and public policy.