These are very rough notes on Danielle Allen’s piece “Toward a Connected Society”, with lots of direct quotes from Allen (and minimal comments from me). I am posting them in this form for now for my own future reference and with the hope that I have a chance to come back and clean them up and spend more time with the piece at some point in the future!

Raw Notes

“Twin ideals of liberty and equality”

Why focus on equality to define our social goals? Democracies are built on the twin ideals of liberty and equality. Up until the early nineteenth century, and in the period of the founding of the United States, these ideals were understood to be mutu- ally reinforcing, not in tension.

However focus on “economic equality”:

collapsed the concept of equality into “economic equality,” and generated a conventional view that liberty and equality are opposed


This body of work, to which I have contributed, focuses on the centrality of political equality, or egalitarian empowerment, to human flourishing.4 Representatives of this approach include Elizabeth Anderson, Amartya Sen, Philip Pettit, and Josiah Ober. This line of work prioritizes democracy as the only possible route to justice rather than expecting that philosophers can close the question of the content of justice.

The prioritization of democracy, and of political participation and empowerment as a necessary part of a flourishing life, establishes political equality as a fundamental feature of a just democracy. In this essay, I seek to sketch a framework for just social relations in democracies characterized by demographic diversity, and I begin from the presumption that healthy social relations in that demographically diverse democ- racy will be egalitarian.

what we seek as a core democratic aspiration is not social cohesion but egalitarianism.

Key claim: we should be focusing on the ideals of “social connectedness”… (rather than “assimilation” or “integration” or “multiculturalism”)

In this essay, I argue that we should replace these with an ideal of “social connectedness.” As an ideal, social connectedness denotes a society where bridging ties, across lines of difference, are formed at a high rate and where individuals themselves frequently participate in such bridging ties.

But most important, achieving such an ideal requires both a revised framework for policy making and a project of cultural transformation.

First, review past ideals:

  • Assimilation
    • The image of “the melting pot”
    • Differences smelted and fused into an “American” synthesis
    • Becomes connected to idea of “integration” across racial lines
    • “As many have said, the assimiliationist ideal converts majority cultural norms and styles into the standard to which all others, whatever their cultural background, must adhere.”
    • “one expression of the assimilationist ideal experienced by one late twentieth-century immigrant to the United States— and reinforced even by medical advice—was the view that immigrant children should actively suppress their mother tongues in order to maximize their performance in English”
    • TLDR assimilation sucks for minority group ==> just asking/forcing them to erase cultural identity and assimilate into the majority.
  • Multiculturalism
    • “In place of the melting pot, Ellison evokes an image of the United Statesasa woven tapestry, with richly intricate patterns of differ- ence. As a novelist, Ellison did not convert his embrace of diver- sity into formal policy proposals, but those who worked in his wake—drawing on any number of intellectual, artistic, and ac- tivist traditions that had made points similar to his—developed apolitics of multiculturalism.”
    • “Yet the multicultural ideal, too, has come under critique, from both right and left. Some voices, primarily but not exclusively on the right, feared that multicultural policies were antithetical to social cohesion, generating instead, to quote Schlesinger again, “fragmentation, resegregation, and tribalization.”1”
    • “On the left, the cultural critic Homi Bhabha argued that the multicultur- alist view dangerously essentializes culture, as if there are fixed boundaries between cultural groups, and, for each of us, an un- changing individual identity tethered to the cultural tradition into which each is born.”
    • “Cultural life is instead characterized by hybridity, or a constant evolu- tion in how each of us represents our identity, fashioning that identity, as we do, in contexts of contestation, out of whatever materials are at hand, which may themselves have disparate historical and cultural sources.”
    • Also critique based in seriality and intersectionality:
      • Seriality idea: I have many roles/identities that are called up in serial in different situations and contexts that are unpredictable in ordering. Intersection of these different roles can be complicated and conflicting


The assimilationist approach assumes that we can shed tradi- tions in which we’ve been raised without doing damage to Our- selves. The multicultural approach does not provide adequate space for self-identifications and for engagement in culture as hybrid and contested. Any approach to democratic social rela- tions that hopes to displace these two paradigms must do a bet- ter job of recognizing that both tradition and adaptation matter for personal identity and, on the basis of this recognition, provide a framework for supporting individuals’ psychological, as well as their social, flourishing.

As assimilation and multiculturalism have fallen away as ideals, what has risen is “diversity”:

As they have fallen away, their place has been taken by Ellison’s word diversity.

But Allen claims:

the concept of “diversity” is not in itself enough to provide a frame- work for understanding how best to pursue the egalitarian social relations that can sustain democracy in conditions of demographic diversity.

So what are the issues/critiques with “diversity” as an ideal?

  • One set based in “color blindness” ideal.
    • “Yet there have been dissenters to this view, not only those who argue in favor of “color blindness” in all matters of public and institutional policy but also those who argue that the “di- versity rationale”
    • Roberts points us toward an ideal future where racial and ethnic differences are of no account and argues that we can reach such a future only by acting in the present as if racial and ethnic categories are irrelevant to public and institu- tional policies.
  • “Diversity” and historical injustice
    • Lionel McPherson. He argues that “mainstream institutions of higher education have a distinctive moral respon- sibility to promote racial justice with respect to Black Ameri- cans.”21 His argument is that black Americans were subject to forms of injustice over many decades—not only slavery and for- mal segregation—but also inequities in the use of the GI Bill and, throughout the twentieth century, in the real estate market, with the result that black Americans have had less access to educa- tional opportunity than whites, a form of injustice that requires rectification.
    • In McPherson’s argument, the language of diversity fails to come to grips with the problem of historical injustice. It is ori- ented to the present, and does not provide a justification for rectifying past wrongs.
      • So this is actually a critique of the “diversity rationale” as being too present-focused

Allen’s rebuke:

Both of these objections to the employment of a diversity ra- tionale in the context of educational institutions make a mistake about temporality. Roberts’s suggestion is that the way to trans- form the facts of the present into a desirable future is by acting as if that future already exists. Yet we have no empirical ground for considering this a valid theory of change, and the strategy turns attention away from the question of what justice requires in the present, given the particular social facts that character- ize the present.

McPherson’s argument, too, introduces a problem about temporality. Indeed, questions of historical injustice are always plagued by such problems. While our civil law system rests on the idea that those who have been wronged ought to receive damages through civil suits, those suits depend on the idea that the dam- ages are paid to precisely the individual who was wronged. Gen- eralized arguments about historical injustice tend to separate the question of who specifically was wronged from the question of who exactly would receive the rectificatory form of compensa- tion. But the more significant problem, in my view, with an argument that would set a focus on “historical injustice” above a focus on “diversity,” is that this view brings with it the danger, actually, of a perpetuation of problems of injustice. In asking us to think about how in the present we should rectify past wrongs, it too dramatically shifts our attention from what should be our focus: how to build fair and just structures of opportunity in the present in the context of great demographic diversity.

This seems like a challenging point that feels hard to defend substantively; it’s like a matter of taste. This bit in particular:

it too dramatically shifts our attention from what should be our focus: how to build fair and just structures of opportunity in the present in the context of great demographic diversity

She continues:

The focus on historical injustice tends to draw our attention only to the question of relations between “black” and “white” citizens; it tends to lead us to focus on an analysis of mid- twentieth-century social structures. But our overwhelming re- sponsibility now is to understand precisely how our opportunity structures function in a world where several states are already minority-majority states, where Latino/ as, not African Ameri- cans, are the largest minority group, and where the whole country is already well on its way to becoming a majority- minority country.

he problem of wresting the future one wants Out of the material of the present involves interrupting patterns of path dependence that can best be seen and under- stood only by considering history.

one possible outcome of the fork in the road we now confront is that we might make choices that reinscribe the older black / nonblack binary.

how do we build opportunity structures that do distribute op- portunity fairly and justly throughout the population? How do we make choices that genuinely move us past the gravitationally powerful black/nonblack binary rather than merely pretending to take us beyond it by obscuring it?

Idea that we need or want to move past this binary; but don’t want to do the “colorblindness” thing of just pretend to be past and actually just obscuring it.

instead, we must scrutinize the present so as to see our new possibilities while also identifying the gravitational pull of historical patterns and the forms of path dependence that we must interrupt. I agree with Ellison that “diversity” is a con- cept that can help us focus on the possibilities inherent in our present while also requiring us to be clear-eyed about path de- pendencies that must be overcome.

Conceptual Challenges of Diversity

What does diveristy mean?

Does it identify a meaningful goal?

From Berkeley:

Diversity is not a principle. Diversity is a fact; either it exists or it does not. Diversity—in many forms—does exist at UC Berkeley. But it is the principles of equity and inclusion— rather than representation—that will cement UC Berkeley’s excellence and continue to position it as the preeminent pub- lic university in the world.2

“Explicit” question: is diversity a fact or a principle? “Implicit” question: how can any given institution ensure that “diversity” is fully leveraged for its potential benefits, rather than being a source of detrimental costs?

Berkeley’s answer: by prioritizing equity and inclusion.

In short, diversity is a fact of our national demographic situa- tion, but it may or may not be a fact of the membership of any particular organization, institution, or association. Whether it is will depend on the principles that each organization, institution, or association uses for organizing recruitment into membership and participation.

Allen: diversity is a fact, but in any institution it arises from a foundation of principle. The principles chosen do determine the subsequent facts about diversity at an instituion.

Second “implicit” question: how can any given institution ensure that “diversity” is fully leveraged for its potential benefits, rather than being asource of detrimental costs?

  • The question of whether diversity can be leveraged for positive social and institutional outcomes depends on things people do in con- texts of diversity.
  • Those positive outcomes don’t flow automati- cally from the fact of diversity itself.
  • Are “excellence,” “equity,” and “inclusion” the right princi- ples for producing, where appropriate, institutions that are not monocultural? Are they the right principles for leveraging diver- sity?

Allen: Here I propose a prior principle: “social connectedness.”

The goal of social connectedness emerges directly, as we shall see, from a definition of justice the centers the achievement of political equality

Social Connectedness

I propose an ideal of “social connectedness” that would characterize a “connected society.”33

Scholars of social capital distinguish among three kinds of social ties: bonding, bridging, and linking.

  • Bonding ties are those (generally strong) connections that bind kin, close friends, and social similars to one another

  • Bridging ties are those (generally weaker) ties that connect people across demographic cleavages (age, race, class, occupation, religion, and the like)

  • Linking ties are the vertical connections between people at different levels of a status hierarchy, for instance, in the employment context.

Bridging ties are the trickiest ones to cultivate

Key point: A connected society is one that maximizes active—in the sense of alive and engaged—bridging ties. This generally takes the work of institutions.

Importantly, more connected societies—those that emphasize bridging ties—have been shown to be more egalitarian along multiple dimensions: health outcomes, educational outcomes, economic outcomes

bridging ties spread economic opportunity rather than letting it pool in insular subcommunities within a polity

But the most important egalitarian impacts of social connectiv- ity flow from bridging ties and their impact on the diffusion of knowledge. Scholars working in the domain of network theory routinely invoke the epistemic benefits of bridging ties to ex- plain why so many economic, political, educational, and health benefits flow from them.

To the degree that a society achieves greater levels of connectedness, and more equally empowers its members in economic, educational, and health domains, it builds the foundation of political equality

Any individual has access to just as much knowledge, skill, and opportunity as his or her social network contains. And since knowledge, skill, and opportunity are power, isolation in itself reduces resources of fundamental importance to egalitarian empowerment.4° Language itself is one of the easiest markers to use in assessing how relatively well connected or fragmented any political community is.

the point I am making here is not about race or ethnicity. It is about social experience for all people. Everyone is benefited by a rich social network and harmed by a relatively isolated or resource-impoverished social network.

Is that true? Benefited relative to what? Benefited in what measure?

More egalitarian societies, scholars have shown, are generally more connected societies, and connec- tivity is equalizing.4

Key point about why it’s better than e.g. assimilation:

Importantly, achieving a connected society does not require that individuals shed cultural specificity.Instead it requires that we scrutinize how institutions build social connections with a view to ensuring that there are multiple overlapping pathways connecting the full range of communities in a country to one another.

A connected society is one in which people can enjoy the bonds of solidarity and community but are equally engaged in the “bridging” work of bringing diverse communities into positive relations while also individually forming personally valuable relationships across boundaries of difference.

boundaries among communities of soli- darity are fluid, and the shape of those communities can be ex- pected to change over time.

By continuously maximizing bridging ties, a connected society ensures steadily shifting social boundar- ies; some bridging ties will, over time, become bonding ties. And as what were once bridging ties become bonding ties, the quest to build bridging ties must migrate to new lines of difference and division.

Key claim:

What principle or principles should guide us in thinking about recruitment into membership or partnership in businesses, organizations, asso- ciations, and institutions? And what principle or principles should guide us in shaping interactional practices in contexts of diversity such that participants can leverage diversity to achieve, for instance, excellence, equity, and inclusion? The answer I offer is that we need policy frameworks that help us achieve a con- nected society, defined as one that maximizes the formation of bridging ties, and cultural habits that help individuals flourish in enacting social connectedness

Policy Framework

So in the final sections the question is: how do we achieve a “connected society”.

my method for thinking about democratic social relations in conditions of diversity starts with the question of how best to achieve political equality. Let me further specify the content of that ideal. I define political equality as requiring not only core civil and political rights (to association and free speech, to voting, to serving on juries and in public office, and so on) but also egalitarian empowerment across critical domains, in particular the domains of education, health, and economic op- portunity.

As I have indicated earlier (and in the notes), extensive research in the social sciences suggests that increases in the prev- alence of bridging ties within a given social context provide more egalitarian outcomes across these key domains.

Consequently, achieving a connected society in contexts of diversity ought to help us to achieve egalitarian social relations and political equal- ity and to avoid a society of hierarchy and domination produced by opportunity hoarding along lines of difference.

“Connected” society ==> egalitarian empowerment across key domains (entailment based on “extensive research in the social sciences”) == “political equality” as Allen understands it

Questions about relations between economic distribution and political equality. Relations to Rawls?

In the Rawlsian argument, the point of a theory of justice is to provide a framework that ensures that such material inequal- ities as exist are just. This approach has tended to lead to poli- cies of redistribution (taxation and welfare, for instance). In the egalitarian participatory democracy argument, the purpose of frameworks for resource distribution is to support political equality or, broadly understood, egalitarian empowerment.

To borrow Jacob Hacker’s formulation, the “egalitarian participa- tory democracy” view effectively shifts the focus from redistri- bution to pre-distribution, and asks how we can build a set of social structures that do a better job of distributing resources in an egalitarian fashion in the first place

As I’ve suggested above, the focus should be on those policy domains that affect the degree to which individuals have the opportunity to form bridging ties, and the rate at which the society as a whole is forming social ties.

This means focusing on the following policy domains in particular: housing; transportation; education; labor markets; the struc- ture of municipal and county-level administrative units; the structure of legislative districts at the state and federal levels; and so on. If we are to build a connected society, we need concen- trated research on the question of which policy approaches to each of these areas would roll back current patterns of modern segregation and spur a more frequent formation of bridging ties.

For example:

  • value of mixing rich and poor kids in preschool.
  • local mini- mum wages where wage policies cover work performed in the area in order to tie wages to local living standards.
  • Mixed-income housing
  • Elsewhere, I have argued that in the context of college admissions, we could increase the degree of bridging ties on college campuses, particularly elite campuses, by placing more emphasis on geographic diversity at the level of zip codes.

In short, we need a new integrationism, and the novel re- sources found in work by scholars of network theory should permit us to bring fresh insight to bear on policy development.

The specific policies of a new integrationism—one seeking to maximize the rate at which bridging ties are formed, a process that must constantly be refreshed as what were once bridging ties evolve into bonding ties—may well be very different from the policies of old integrationism.

Quick reaction that this is putting a LOT of weight on this particular segment of social science research about the social and political value of “bridging ties”. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about this research area, so I wonder what are the strengths, limitations of this work.

Ultimately, an argument about what values to prioritize in policymaking.

There’s still a kind of technocratic top-downedness in this that surprises me a bit.

Cultural Framework

Policy alone is not enough.

Even if our policy frameworks help us more com- monly build institutions that require, enable, or nudge us toward bridging ties, leveraging those ties for positive Outcomes will depend on our having a deeper and richer understanding of the art of bridging.

Just how much work is to be done can best be seen by revisiting some of the arguments in the “social capital” literature.

Summary of Putnam’s Bowling Alone for understanding of social capital:

In Putnam’s formulations, “social capital” refers to the resources that individuals develop through their social networks, and the private and public payoffs that those networks bring. We gain jobs through social networks, but also well-being and happiness. These are private goods. As to public goods, our communities benefit from our social net- works through their production of generalized trust, mutual support, cooperation, and institutional effectiveness.5 In his analyses, social capital simply is what arises from certain kinds of interaction: volunteering, participating in political campaigns, attending block parties and neighborhood picnics, joining clubs like the Oddfellows and Rotary Club. Putnam traces a decline in “social capital

Putnam argues importantly (see also my brief notes on Putnam):

there is a necessary “trade-off between diver- sity and community” that can, at best, be “ameliorated.” diversity inherently erodes social capital,

Allen claims that this is wrong, empirically:

In contrast to Putnam’s empirical studies of what appear in his data to be erosions of social capital in diverse neighbor- hoods, complexity theorists and social psychologists have stud- ied diversity in teams, both formally and empirically, and have come to the conclusion that diversity can and ought to strengthen the epistemological capacity of groups, but that achieving this depends on the group’s developing successful modes of interaction. In other words, social capital—and epistemological suc- cess in team contexts—are not things that simply emerge organi- cally from demographic facts. Participants on a team, or in a community, have to have a body of knowledge—as well as skills and capacities—pertaining to social interaction if they are to succeed in the generation of social capital.

There is a key gap in Putnam’s argument about social capital and diversity. The gap is that: our social interactions are not unmediated

We bring to them expectations, capacities, skills, knowledge ==> these things play a role in determining what comes out of our interactions - trust, distrust, social capital or not.

Once one sees those structured and unstructured social interactions in this way, one realizes that they can be bro- ken down into: (a) the interactional contexts into which they invite participants, (b) the particular capacities they demand of participants, and (c) the capacities, skills, and knowledge that they cultivate in participants.58 Seen in this light, specific activi- ties like clubs, political parties, and recurring bridge games are no longer necessary to the production of social capital. Instead, what is necessary is capacities, knowledge, and skills that enable people to actualize the potential value of social relationships.

It’s not really the particular institutions that matter; what matters is: the capacities, knowledge, and skills that enable people to actualize the potential value of social relationships.

In short:

“social cap- ital” emerges not from any given activity itself but instead from capacities, skills, and knowledge applied to interaction in the contexts of particular activities.

This implies a further point according to Allen:

The capacities, skills, and knowl- edge activated by any given structured activity guide participants in interaction that will successfully generate social capital in that particular social context.5

And hence:

What follows from this is the idea that capaci- ties, skills, and knowledge relevant to producing the interac- tions that are most likely to generate social capital must vary with the social contexts in which they are supposed to operate.


A further thought is that when bodies of knowledge developed in one social context are applied to a new social context, one should expect them to fail because of the mismatch

In short, the generation of “social capital” is specific to specific social contexts; and what is necessary to build it is likewise specific to different contexts.

What Putnam diagnoses as a decline in social capital is, I believe, simply a mis- match between old forms of social knowledge—not all of them, in fact, democratic—and changed institutional and organiza- tional forms that demand more of us in a democratic and egali- tarian direction.6

the organizations that suffered in the middle of the twentieth century were those whose historical cultures of interaction no longer aligned with the principles of membership they had now either chosen or been required to adopt. It is not diversity itself that is the problem in such an instance where something like “social cohesion” seems to be falling away. Rather, I suggest, the difficulty lies in a mismatch between his- torical interactional cultures and the new demographic facts of an institution.

If we begin to deploy policy frameworks that increase the frequency of the formation of bridging ties, and move us toward aconnected society, we will need to support that policy work with cultural work that develops the interactional habits and practices to support success for all at actualizing the potential for value in bridging relationships

We will have to learn how to build an interactional culture that will help people succeed at social connectedness. The relevant capacities, skills, and knowledge are not merely technical or informational, but also include ethi- cal content, as I have discussed in Talking to Strangers.

A final question:

What sort of interactional norms, capacities, skills, and knowledge do we need to cultivate inside institutions aspiring to support social connectedness? I seek to answer this question in the next section.

Capacities, Skills, and Knowledge for Social Connectedness

bridging ties do not arise merely by virtue of assembling a group of people char- acterized by demographic diversity in a single location. Bridg- ing ties emerge when individuals are able to interact successfully across boundaries of difference. They emerge when people have beenable to convert an initially costly social relationship into one that brings mutual benefit.

I argued earlier that our social interactions with others are mediated by capacities, skills, and bodies of knowledge, which we can draw on to produce social capital in the specific contexts to which those capacities, skills, and bodies of knowledge per- tain.

To build a connected society, then, we need to identify the capacities, skills, and bodies of knowledge that constitute an “art of bridging,” an art of forming productive social relation- ships across boundaries of difference.

Note: we also cant disregard “bonding” and only focus on bridging. The two interact.

These data dramatically make the point that not all bonding is the same and that there is much work to be done to understand (1) the mechanisms that generate bonding’s positive effects, (2) the mechanisms that generate its negative (antibridging) effects, and (3) the mechanisms by which bonding itself might serve to teach people how to bridge rather than be insular.

The question of how we bond is deeply entangled with the question of whether we are able to bridge

In order for any method of bonding—for instance, that which begins from social homogeneity or interest affinity—to support our capacity to bridge, the very experience of bonding must cultivate receptivity toward the potential of participation in our bonding group by social dissimilars. I call this “cosmo- politan bonding.”

The important message, then, is this: everybody needs oppor- tunities both to bond and to bridge, and everybody therefore needs the arts of both bonding and bridging. We also, importantly, need to learn ways of bonding that enable us to bridge

But here we come to an impasse. If our families and our ther- apists help us learn how to bond, who helps us learn how to bridge?

“We need more research” basically/

By directing our attention toward an art of bridging, the ideal of social connectedness helps make imaginable the forms of human development necessary for cultivating egalitarian climates inside of our institutions and maximizing the benefit we draw from diversity. I must also underscore in closing, however, that new cultures of interaction are not themselves enough to achieve aconnected society, if we do not also adopt a policy framework that increases the rate at which bridging ties can form. In other words, the cultural framework for social connectedness that I propose here requires as its necessary partner a policy framework for a connected society.

TLDR need both the policy framework and the cultural framework.

Personal Reactions

In general, I was surprised that this argument was so heavily based in a synethesis of empirical social scientific facts about networks and certain types of connections. In general, I am not super familiar with that body of empirical research (though find it interesting as far as I know about it); however, the social recommendation here feels very broad here in comparison to what any limited set of social scientific evidence could fully support. So I guess I was expecting the argument to rely more explicitly on philosophical / normative claims rather than social scientific evidence? I guess it does some of both though, and whatever social scientific evidence can support the direction even if not unilaterally justify it, so maybe that’s more of the idea. Want to think more about this.