Bourdieu’s concept of social capital is interesting to me, not only as a sociology student, but as a political science student as well. Robert Putnam has also written extensively about the idea of social capital, and has often been one of my favorite authors to write about for political science papers (I suppose this was inevitable as a political science major/sociology minor). Briefly, the above article by Putnam discusses his research that indicates that social capital is rapidly declining in the US, and after considering many possible explanations Putnam asserts that it is most likely the introduction of television that best explains this trend.
While Putnam doesn’t claim to have proven the link, I have always found the argument in this specific article fairly convincing. According to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory, social capital is very much associated with class, with higher social classes possessing higher social capital. In this context, Putnam’s research is particularly disturbing. As television becomes more and more ingrained in our culture, those who watch it will presumably become less likely to overcome class barriers. If anything, it should emphasize and reinforce class inequality for everyone, making society increasingly inequitable.
Personally, I have no problem admitting that I have always struggled with television. I could plop down on any couch and waste away my life if I don’t think about what I’m doing. Perhaps this trend is beginning to reverse itself, as the millennial generation is typically characterized as “cutting the cable cord.” On the other hand, this is also the generation that coined the term “binge watching,” so it’s hard to predict how the trend of time spent watching television will go. However, I do definitely think there is a distinction between watching only what you choose to watch and having access to a cable box. There are only a few shows that I am particularly keen on keeping up with without cable, but if you give me a television remote I can definitely spend the entire day watching absolutely nothing that I really want to watch without even thinking about it.