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airbagYou may be familiar with Robert Putnam’s ideas about social capital (“Bowling Alone”), where he argues that a key feature of late modern societies is the breakdown of large-scale, organised, social networks (such as political parties, trade unions and the like).

His latest work – Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, 2015 – features an intriguing and interesting idea that can be slotted into exam answers whenever you need to reference and explain social inequalities.

Putnam uses the concept of “social air bags” to argue affluent groups are able to protect their children from the consequences of their behaviour in ways that are rarely open to poorer social groups; just as an air bag may protect you from the consequences of a car crash, “social air bags” can protect you from the consequences of various social collisions – from finding yourself in trouble with the law to making sure you don’t fall behind at school.

In a nutshell, the concept relates to the various ways some social groups are better-placed to use their higher levels of cultural and economic capital to protect their children from the potentially negative consequences of their life choices.

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