Press Release
March 1, 2023

Political Scientist Robert D. Putnam Receiving Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences


[Cambridge, MA] – The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is awarding political scientist Robert D. Putnam the Talcott Parsons Prize for distinguished and original contributions to the social sciences.

Putnam, the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, is the author of more than a dozen books and his writing has been translated into twenty languages. He is especially known for his defining work on social capital and for developing the two-level game theory of international conflict resolution. His books Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy and Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community are among the most cited and best-selling publications in the social sciences worldwide in the last half century. Putnam has received the Johan Skytte Prize (for the top political scientist in the world) and the National Humanities Medal, among other awards. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and past president of the American Political Science Association. He has advised five US presidents and even more government heads around the world and of all ideological colors.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1980.

“Robert Putnam is a prolific scholar and one of the most important social scientists of our time,” said David Oxtoby, President of the Academy. “In our increasingly polarized country, his insights on opportunity, social fabric, and civic connection are as important as ever. His books are towering achievements in the field of political science, as are the vital institutions he has steered over the course of his career. Bob’s work at the intersection of theory and practice exemplifies the spirit of the Academy.”

Upon receiving the award, Putnam said “I have always regarded the Academy as a vital incubator for debate and scholarship. Some of my work in which I take the most pride – on social capital and American democracy – began as a project with the Academy, with early meetings taking place at Norton’s Woods. I remember those meetings very fondly and am grateful to receive this recognition from the Academy.”

Putnam is the star of the documentary film Join or Die premiering at SXSW this month. The film follows Putnam’s discovery, understanding, and concern about the civic ties that strengthen a society and what happens when they unravel. Raj Chetty, Hillary Clinton, and Glenn Loury are among many in the film who speak about the influence and relevance of Putnam’s ideas about social capital.

Prior to joining Harvard University, Putnam taught at the University of Michigan and served on the staff of the National Security Council. At Harvard he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He co-founded the Saguaro Seminar, bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners to develop actionable ideas for civic renewal.

First awarded in 1974, the Talcott Parsons Prize was established to honor the noted sociologist and former president of the Academy. Previous recipients of the prize include William David Labov (linguistics), Joan Wallach Scott (history), Daniel Kahneman (psychology), and William Julius Wilson (sociology).

Putnam is only the second political scientist to receive this award. The first, Robert Dahl (Yale University), received it in 1977: Dahl was a mentor to Putnam.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1780, honors excellence and brings together members and other leaders across disciplines, fields, and professions to pursue nonpartisan research and provide critical insight on issues of profound importance to the nation and the world.

The Talcott Parsons award will be presented to Robert Putnam on April 13 at the Academy in Cambridge. Learn more about the event and register: in-person or online