Filippo Sabetti, “Path dependency and civic culture: some lessons from Italy about interpreting social experiments”, Politics and Society 24 (1996), pp. 19-44.

‘Summary: critiques Putnam’s “Making Democracy Work.” Argues that Putnam’s narrow use of historical sources biased his findings since the literature he used in itself was marked by an anti-feudal, anti-Southern bias. What’s more, Putnam’s path dependency approach creates serious limitations in his study.


Important Insight: Sabetti examines and criticizes Putnam’s argument on the basis of three of fundamental tenets to his claim:

*1) “the Italian regional experiment was a ‘natural’ experiment” (20)

*2) “patterns of civic culture best, or decisively, explain differential effectiveness of the regions” (20)

*3) “modern social patterns are plainly traceable to the monarchical and republican regimes of medieval times” (20)






*Sabetti argues that Putnam’s historical analysis has two major problems;

  1. a) his narrow use of historical sources biased his findings since the literature he used was itself marked by an anti-feudal, anti-Southern bias (25)

**in addition, he does not deal with the existence of civil society and social civic practices in 19th  and even 20th century Southern Italy (and indeed past then), nor does he consider the role the national government played in dissolving the 19th century social civic assets by either nationalizing or privatizing them (see 31-32)

**he also fails to account for the importance of the Church, particularly in the South, with regards to developing civic community (see 35-37)

  1. b) Putnam’s path dependency approach prevented him from considering “(1) that the roots of civic cultures throughout Italy are much older than medieval times; (2) that civic traditions were not entirely extinguished in the south by the creation of the medieval kingdom, just as they were not entirely extinguished in the north by the dissolution of city republics; and (3) that the civic practices and civicness of any area are more fluctuating than the logic of path dependency would lead us to believe.” (26-27)

*lastly, Sabetti argues that the regional government experiment was not a natural one, since the regions drawn up in the North tended to be historic entities while in the South they were frequently “arbitrary administrative contrivances” (39)