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Sociology of Religion article
Sociology of Religion article

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Published by: emissaryofyhvh on May 09, 2014
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Thinking Culturally about Politics: "Habits" 20 Years Later and 20 Years HenceAuthor(s): Richard L. WoodSource:
Sociology of Religion,
Vol. 68, No. 2 (Summer, 2007), pp. 207-211Published by:
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Accessed: 15/04/2013 04:21
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Sociology f Religion 007, 68:1 207-211
Thinking Culturally about Politics: Habits 20 Years Later and 20 Years Hence*
Richard L. Wood
University f ew Mexico Habits of the eart clearly mattered when it was published in 1985. One of only a handful f truly ociological books on the New York imes' list f bestsellers in recent decades, it was widely discussed in congregations, ook groups, and classrooms throughout he country. ut how might it matter today? oes it carry lasting ignificance wenty-plus ears after ublication, or stand as an important but dated commentary n the excesses of 1980s individualism? In reflecting n these questions, I step outside the usual conventions of a book symposium n several ways. First, take this pportunity o consider Habits not only analytically ut also autobiographically nd politically. econd, I con sider not just Habits, but also its ister olume, The Good Society. think he two books are best understood n relation to each other. Finally, not only look back at the last twenty ears, ut also reflect n our current oment and twenty ears hence. Three dimensions of the Habits/Good Society egacy appear both most interesting nd most important. o be very odily about it ll, I will call them the heart, the head, and the appendix of these 1980s works (though published in 1991, The Good Society as mostly written in the late 1980s). THE HEART I take as the heart of the Habits/Good ociety egacy their focus n the rela tionship f culture, nstitutions, nd social structures n social life. n this regard, both books simultaneously eflected nd advanced the cultural nd institutional tums that have occurred in social science over the last two or three ecades. At a deep level, the books are about both ulture and institutions, nd both try o change the structural onditions of society by thinking ulturally nd institu tionally. ut Habits focuses rimarily n the "soft tissue" f the social body: on culture nd meaning and how they hape society. he Good Society ocuses n the
*Direct correspondence o: Richard L. Wood, Department of Sociology, MSC 05 3080 University
of New Mexico, lbuquerque, M 87131-0001 rlwood@unm.edu).
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:21:01 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
"skeletal tissue" f the social body, n institutions nd their relationship o fun damental patterns f social life. If this s so, The Good Society eally ught to be the book closer to most of our sociological hearts. And in some ways it is, t least for me: To the extent that we care that our intellectual work fosters ositive social change, then The Good Society's focus on reforming nstitutions ecomes urgent. I think it is true that only by focusing n institutions an we really hope to claim some long-term impact. he Good Society eally s the better ociological book, in a narrowly rag matic or instrumental ense. And yet Habits draws our attention-perhaps claims many of our hearts-far beyond what The Good Society oes. Habits drew a larg er readership, ained enormous ttention mong institutional eaders from rass
roots ommunities o lite ettings, rovoked onversations rom arish alls to
board rooms round the country, nd continues to be talked bout in ways that The Good Society ever was. Why is that? In part, this is no doubt a reflection f the condition that Habits analyzes. n a society driven by individualism, t is hard for n institutional nalysis to gain traction. ut I think he ttraction f Habits is lso a reflection f the deeper the oretical commitments hat lie at the heart of the book: that meaning and sense making are fundamentally onstitutive f human life nd at their est are com munal activities. ndeed, meaning construction nd sense-making re such fun damentally human processes that they sometimes override (even for sociolo
gists ) ore bviously elevant ausal rocesses.
A digression nto my own biography may illustrate he point. In the mid 1980s, I spent five years in poor urban neighborhoods and the countryside f Mexico and Central America, living with local folks and working to end Reaganite intervention n the civil wars then racking the region. n 1987, as I was preparing to return o the U.S. for graduate school, I was given a copy of Habits as a gift. y all rights, t should have been less than compelling for me. I was deeply vested in a political and structural eading f American hegemony in Central America-and, whatever else Habits offers, t's ertainly ot that. By all rights, more obviously political and structural nalysis of American life hould have drawn my attention. But I also needed to understand my own journey "home," to make sense of my own transition ack to life within American cul ture. needed not only to find the right tructural nalysis, ut also-and more urgently-to undergo a journey f the heart back to my home culture. Habits of the eart was the single most helpful source for hat ourney. t's combination of thorough-going ritique of some of the deep currents f our culture, positive appreciation for ther deep cultural currents, nd sense-making f that 1980s moment in American history provided key intellectual undergirding or that transition n my life. Thus, if forced to choose between these books, I would be tempted to say something ike, As a sociologist, prefer he Good Society nd want even more structural nalysis, but as a human being, I would choose Habits hands down."
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:21:01 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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