Sociological Forum

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 421–448 | Cite as

The Theory That Won't Die: From Mass Society to the Decline of Social Capital

  • Irene Taviss ThomsonEmail author


Though it lacks adequate empirical support, the hypothesis of declining social attachments as a source of American social problems persists. Both mass society theory in the mid-twentieth century and the theory of declining social capital in the late-twentieth century have had broad appeal. This paper demonstrates the continuities in argument and assumptions between these two theories as well as the modifications of the theory in the face of cultural change. It suggests that some of the weaknesses in the theory of decreasing social capital can be traced to the assumptions it shares with mass society theory—assumptions rooted in concerns about individualism.


mass society social capital intermediate groups community individualism 


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© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Sciences DepartmentFairleigh Dickinson UniversityMadison

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