In "Making Democracy Works" (1994), Robert Putnam shows how civic community matters in governance and democracy. He made Northern vs. Southern Italy has his case. Then, in "Bowling Alone" (2001) he wrote that civic participation has been declining in the U.S. TV and radio were to blame for that.
Scholars have been disagreeing over his work. I will leave the disagreement for another discussion. One interesting question to ask would be "how true is the claim that TV and radio contributed to declining civic participation?"
An interesting paper by Ben Olken tried to answer that using survey data from more than 600 villages in Centarl and East Java. The methodology is very interesting. He looked at the number of TV channels can be reveived in each village. Based on Putnam's work, he hypothesized that the more channels can be received, the lower the level of civic participation. Since Putnam also argued that level of civic participation correlate with governance, more channels should also negatively correlated with quality of governance.
But a simple linear regression suffers from reverse causality and omitted variable bias. There may be other factors correlated with channels reception and participation as well as governance. To deal with this problem, Olken exploited the exogenous factor that affects channel reception: geography of each village. Villages surrounded or near the mountain will receive less channels (perhaps only TVRI and RCTI). So he uses the information on several determinants of channel reception in each village (geography, topography, relative position from nearest transmitter etc.) as the instrument.
The IV regression results were fascinating. Number of channels is negatively correlated with participation in social groups (community meeting, gotong-royong, arisan or religious groups), trust (other measure of social capital), and "missing expenditure" (as proxy for corruption and governance).
So, Putnam's theory is confirmed then?
Methodology | Social capital