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Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies

Author(s): Ann Swidler


Reviewed work(s):
Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp. 273-286
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095521 .
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CULTURE IN ACTION: SYMBOLS AND STRATEGIES*

ANN SWIDLER
StanfordUniversity

Culture influences action not by providing the ultimate values toward which action is
oriented, but by shaping a repertoire or "tool kit" of habits, skills, and styles from
which people construct "strategies of action." Two models of cultural influence are
developed, for settled and unsettled cultural periods. In settled periods, culture inde-
pendently influences action, but only by providing resources from which people can
construct diverse lines of action. In unsettled cultural periods, explicit ideologies
directly govern action, but structural opportunities for action determine which
among competing ideologies survive in the long run. This alternative view of culture
offers new opportunities for systematic, differentiated arguments about culture's
causal role in shaping action.

The reigning model used to understandcul- cultural practices such as language, gossip,
ture's effects on action is fundamentallymis- stories, and ritualsof daily life. These symbolic
leading. It assumes that culture shapes action forms are the means through which "social
by supplying ultimate ends or values toward processes of sharing modes of behavior and
which action is directed, thus making values outlook within [a] community" (Hannerz,
the central causal element of culture. This 1969:184)take place.
paper analyzes the conceptual difficultiesinto The recent resurgenceof culturalstudies has
which this traditionalview of cultureleads and skirtedthe causal issues of greatest interestto
offers an alternativemodel. sociologists. Interpretive approaches drawn
Among sociologists and anthropologists,de- from anthropology (Clifford Geertz, Victor
bate has raged for several academic genera- Turner, Mary Douglas, and Claude Levi-
tions over defining the term "culture." Since Strauss)and literarycriticism(KennethBurke,
the seminal work of Clifford Geertz (1973a), RolandBarthes)allow us better to describe the
the older definitionof cultureas the entireway features of culturalproducts and experiences.
of life of a people, includingtheir technology Pierre Bourdieuand Michel Foucault have of-
and materialartifacts,or that (associated with fered new ways of thinkingabout culture'sre-
the name of WardGoodenough)as everything lationship to social stratificationand power.
one would need to know to become a func- For those interested in cultural explanation
tioning member of a society, have been dis- (as opposed to "thick description" [Geertz,
placed in favor of definingculture as the pub- 1973a]or interpretivesocial science [Rabinow
licly available symbolic forms through which and Sullivan, 1979]), however, values remain
people experience and express meaning (see the majorlink between cultureandaction. This
Keesing, 1974). For purposes of this paper, is not because sociologists really believe in the
culture consists of such symbolic vehicles of values paradigm. Indeed, it has been thor-
meaning,includingbeliefs, ritualpractices, art oughly criticized.' But without an alternative
forms, and ceremonies, as well as informal formulation of culture's causal significance,
scholarseither avoid causal questions or admit
* Address all correspondence to: Ann Swidler, the values paradigmthroughthe back door.
The alternativeanalysis of culture proposed
Department of Sociology, Stanford University,
Stanford,CA 94305. here consists of three steps. First, it offers an
A muchearlierversionof this paperwas presented image of culture as a "tool kit" of symbols,
at the AnnualMeetingsof the AmericanSociological stories, rituals,and world-views,which people
Association, September1982.For helpfulcomments may use in varyingconfigurationsto solve dif-
(includingdissents) on earlier drafts and thoughtful ferent kinds of problems. Second, to analyze
discussion of the issues raised here, I would like to culture's causal effects, it focuses on "strate-
thank Robert Bellah, Bennett Berger, Robert Bell, gies of action," persistent ways of ordering
Ross Boylan, Jane Collier, Paul DiMaggio, Frank action through time. Third, it sees culture's
Dobbin,JamesFernandez,ClaudeFischer, ElihuM. causal significancenot in definingends of ac-
Gerson, Wendy Griswold, Ron Jepperson, Susan
Krieger,TormodLunde,John Meyer,John Padgett, tion, but in providingculturalcomponentsthat
RichardA. Peterson,JonathanRieder,Theda Skoc- are used to construct strategies of action.
pol, Peter Stromberg,Steven Tipton, R. Stephen
Warner,MorrisZelditch, Jr., and two anonymous I See Blakeand Davis (1964)and the empiricaland
reviewers. theoreticalcritique in Cancian(1975).
American Sociological Review, 1986, Vol. 51 (April:273-286) 273
274 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
The paper proceeds, first, by outlining the Parsons substitutedglobal, ahistoricalvalues.
failures of cultural explanation based on Unlike ideas, which in Weber's sociology are
values. It then arguesfor the superiorintuitive complex historicalconstructionsshapedby in-
plausibility and explanatory adequacy of the stitutionalinterests, political vicissitudes, and
alternativemodel. Finally, it suggests research pragmaticmotives, Parsonian values are ab-
approachesbased on seeing culturein this new stract, general, and immanent in social sys-
way. tems. Social systems exist to realize their core
values, and values explainwhy differentactors
make different choices even in similar situa-
CULTURE AS VALUES tions. Indeed, Parsonsdoes not treat values as
Our underlyingview of culture derives from concrete symbolic elements (like doctrines,
Max Weber. For Weber, human beings are rituals,or myths) which have histories and can
motivatedby ideal and materialinterests. Ideal actually be studied. Rather, values are es-
interests, such as the desire to be saved from sences aroundwhich societies are constituted.
the torments of hell, are also ends-oriented, They are the unmoved mover in the theory of
except that these ends are derived from sym- action.
bolic realities.2 In Weber's (1946a [1922- Parsons'"voluntaristictheory of action" de-
3]:280)famous "switchmen"metaphor: scribes an actor who makes choices in a situa-
tion, choices limited by objective conditions
Not ideas, but materialand ideal interests, and governed by normative regulation of the
directlygovern men's conduct. Yet very fre- means and ends of action (Warner,1978:121).
quently the "world images" that have been A "cultural tradition," according to Parsons
created by "ideas" have, like switchmen, (1951:11-12),provides "value orientations,"a
determinedthe tracksalong which actionhas "value" defined as "an element of a shared
been pushed by the dynamic of interest. symbolic system which serves as a criterionor
Interests are the engine of action, pushing it standardfor selection among the alternatives
along, but ideas define the destinationshuman of orientationwhich are intrinsicallyopen in a
beings seek to reach (inner-worldly versus situation." Culture thus affects human action
other-worldly possibilities of salvation, for through values that direct it to some ends
example) and the means for getting there ratherthan others.
(mystical versus ascetic techniques of salva- The theory of values survives in part, no
tion). doubt, because of the intuitive plausibilityin
Talcott ParsonsadoptedWeber'smodel, but our own culture of the assumptionthat all ac-
bluntedits explanatorythrust. To justify a dis- tion is ultimately governed by some means-
tinctive role for sociology in face of the ends schema. Culture shapes action by defin-
economist's model of rational, interest- ing what people want.
maximizingactors, Parsons arguedthat within What people want, however, is of little help
a means-ends schema only sociology could in explainingtheir action. To understandboth
account for the ends actors pursued.3 For the pervasiveness and the inadequacy of cul-
Weber'sinterest in the historicalrole of ideas, tural values as explanations, let us examine
one recent debate in which "culture"has been
2 In The Sociology of Religion (1963[1922]:1), invoked as a majorcausal variable:the debate
Weber insists that "[t]he most elementaryforms of over the existence and influence of a "culture
behavior motivated by religious or magical factors of poverty."4
are orientedtowardthis world." Religiousbehavior
remainsends-oriented,except that both the means
and the ends increasinglybecome purely symbolic 4I make no attempt to evaluate the empiricial
(pp. 6-7): merits of the culture-of-poverty argument. Insofar as
the argument is waged on both sides as one about
Since it is assumed that behind real things and who is to blame for poverty, it is sociologically
events there is something else, distinctive and
wrong-headed, since both sides seem to agree that
spiritual,of which real events are only the symp-
structural circumstances are ultimately at fault.
toms or indeed the symbols, an effort must be
Furthermore, neither side seems to have a very clear
madeto influence,not the concrete things, but the
notion about how such a culture would work, if only
spiritualpowers that express themselves through
in the sense that neither makes a claim about how
concrete things. This is done throughactions that
long it would take to change cultural patterns in the
addressthemselves to a spiritor soul, hence done face of new structural opportunities, or, for those
by instrumentalitiesthat "mean" something,i.e., who make the structural argument, how fast action
symbols. might adjust to opportunity. I use the culture-of-
3See the summarychapter of The Structure of poverty argument not because I am sympathetic to
Social Action (Parsons, 1937:697-726),where Par- its substantive claims, but because it is so familiar
sons explicitly poses the theory of action as a cor- and its basic arguments are so characteristic of other
rection to utilitarianviews of action. cultural explanations.
CULTURE IN ACTION 275

The Culture of Poverty not take steps to pursuea middle-classpath to


success (or indeed asked oneself why one did
Why doesn't a memberof the "cultureof pov- not pursuea differentlife direction)the answer
erty" described by Lewis (1966) or Liebow might well be not "I don't want that life," but
(1967) (or an Italianstreet-corneryouth of the instead, "Who, me?" One can hardly pursue
sort Whyte [1943]described)take advantageof success in a world where the accepted skills,
opportunities to assimilate to the dominant style, and informalknow-how are unfamiliar.
culture in conduct and dress, acquire the ap- One does better to look for a line of action for
propriate educational credentials, and settle which one alreadyhas the culturalequipment.
down to a steady job? Much of the argument Indeed, the skills requiredfor adoptinga line
has revolved around whether the very poor
of conduct-and for adoptingthe interests or
"really" value the same things that more se- values that one could maximize in that line of
cure middle- and working-class people do. conduct-involve much more than such mat-
Valentine (1968:69)quotes Oscar Lewis's de- ters as how to dress, talk in the appropriate
scriptionof the cultureof poverty which, typi- style, or take a multiple-choiceexamination.
cally, stresses the centralityof culturalvalues: To adopt a line of conduct, one needs an image
By the time slum children are age six or of the kind of world in which one is trying to
seven, they have usually absorbedthe basic act, a sense that one can read reasonablyaccu-
values and attitudesof their subcultureand rately (throughone's own feelings and through
are not psychologically geared to take full the responses of others) how one is doing, and
advantage of changing conditions or in- a capacityto choose amongalternativelines of
creased opportunitieswhich may occur in action. The lack of this ease is what we experi-
their lifetime. (Lewis, 1966:xlv) ence as "culture shock" when we move from
one culturalcommunityto another. Action is
Valentine (1968) counters Lewis by claiming not determinedby one's values. Ratheraction
that distinctive lower-class behavior can be and values are organizedto take advantageof
better explained by structuralcircumstances, culturalcompetences.
and that many of the values Lewis cites as The culture-of-povertyexample suggests a
typical of the poverty subculture(male domi- misdirectionof our explanatory efforts. Stu-
nance, for example)characterizethe largerso- dents of culture keep looking for cultural
ciety as well (pp. 117-19). Liebow (1967), in values that will explain what is distinctive
turn, claims that street-cornermen value the about the behaviorof groups or societies, and
same things that men in the dominantsociety neglect other distinctivelycultural phenomena
do, but that their behavior is a defensive cul- which offer greaterpromise of explainingpat-
tural adaptationto structuralbarriers. terns of action. These factors are better de-
The irony of this debate is that it cannot be scribed as culturally-shapedskills, habits, and
resolved by evidence that the very poor share styles than as values or preferences.
the values and aspirationsof the middle class,
as indeed they seem to do. In repeated sur-
veys, lower-class youth say that they value The Protestant Ethic
educationand intendto go to college, and their These causal issues appearagainwhen we turn
parentssay they want themto go (Jenckset al., to the paradigmaticsociological argumentfor
1972:34-5).Similarly,lower-classpeople seem the importanceof culture in human action-
to want secure friendships, stable marriages, Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the
steady jobs, and high incomes. But class Spiritof Capitalism(1958a[1904-51]).6 Weber
similaritiesin aspirationsin no way resolve the
sought to explain rational,capitalisteconomic
questionof whetherthere are class differences behaviorby arguingthat culture, in the shape
in culture. People may share common aspira-
tions, while remainingprofoundlydifferentin
the way their culture organizes their overall consistent with the logic of challengeand riposte,
patternof behavior (see Hannerz, 1969). and only such practices, by means of countless
Culturein this sense is more like a style or a inventions, which the stereotyped unfolding of
set of skills and habitsthana set of preferences ritualwould in no way demand (p. 15).
or wants.5If one askeda slumyouthwhy he did 6 There has been no apparentslackeningof inter-
est in the Protestantethic. Recent theoreticalreas-
5 What I mean here is similar to what Bourdieu
sessmentsby Marshall(1982)and Poggi(1983)testify
to the still powerful appeal of Weber's theoretical
(1977)calls "practices."He says, for example, questions, and the rich, new historical studies of
Whatis called the sense of honor is nothingother Marshall(1980),Fulbrook(1983),Camic(1983),and
than the cultivated disposition, inscribed in the Zaret(1985),amongothers, show the continuingfas-
body schemaand in the schemes of thought,which cination exerted by demanding,ideological Protes-
enables each agent to engender all the practices tants.
276 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
of Calvinist doctrine, created a distinctive misses the point, since this individualisticway
frame of mind which encouragedrationalized, of organizingaction can be directed to many
ascetic behavior. The doctrine of predestina- values, among them the establishment of
tion channeled the desire to be saved into a 'community" (Varenne, 1977; Bellah, et al.,
quest for proof of salvationin worldlyconduct, 1985). This reliance on moral "work" on the
thus stimulatinganxious self-examinationand self to organize action has, then, been a more
relentlessself-discipline.Ends createdby ideas enduringfeature of Protestantculturethan the
(that is, the desire for salvation) powerfully particularends toward which this work has
influenced conduct. been directed. Such examples underline the
If we take seriouslythe causal model Weber need for new ways of thinkingabout cultural
offers (both in The Protestant Ethic and in his explanation.
theoretical writingson religion), however, we These two cases illustratethe chronic diffi-
cannot understandhis larger claim: that the culties with traditionalefforts to use cultureas
ethos of Protestantismendured even after the an explanatoryvariableand suggest why many
spur of the Calvinist quest for proof of salva- have written off the effort altogether.
tion had been lost.7 If ideas shape ethos, why
did the ethos of ascetic Protestantismoutlast
its ideas? CULTURAL EXPLANATION
Weberarguesfor continuitybetween the de- If values have little explanatory power, why
sire of early Calvinists to know whether they expect cultureto play any causal role in human
were saved or damnedand the secularethic of action? Why not explain action as the result of
Benjamin Franklin. We recognize other con- interestsand structuralconstraints,with only a
tinuities as well: in the Methodistdemandfor rational, interest-maximizingactor to link the
sobriety, humility, and self-controlamong the two?
working class; and even in the anxious self- The view that action is governed by "inter-
scrutiny of contemporaryAmericans seeking ests" is inadequatein the same way as the view
psychologicalhealth, materialsuccess, or per- that action is governedby non-rationalvalues.
sonal authenticity. Both models have a common explanatory
How, then, shouldwe understandcontinuity logic, differingonly in assumingdifferentends
in the style or ethos of action, even when ideas of action: either individualistic, arbitrary
(andthe ends of action they advocate)change? "tastes" or consenual, cultural"values."18
This continuity suggests that what endures is Both views are flawed by an excessive em-
the way action is organized, not its ends. In the phasis on the "unitact," the notion that people
Protestant West (and especially in Puritan choose their actions one at a time accordingto
America), for example, action is assumed to their interests or values. But people do not,
dependon the choices of individualpersons, so indeed cannot, build up a sequence of actions
that before an individualacts he or she must piece by piece, striving with each act to
ask: What kind of self do I have? Saved or maximize a given outcome. Action is neces-
damned?Righteousor dissolute? Go-getteror sarily integrated into larger assemblages,
plodder?Authentic or false? called here "strategies of action."9 Cul-
Collective action is also understood to rest
on the choices of individualactors. Groupsare
thus seen as collections of like-mindedindivid- 8 See Warner (1978) for an elegant explication and
uals who come together to pursue their com- critique of this line of argument in the work of both
mon interests (Varenne, 1977). Even large- Talcott Parsons and his critics.
9 Bourdieu (1977) also emphasizes the idea of
scale social purposes are presumed best ac-
strategies, and the term is central to a whole tradition
complished through movements of moral re- in anthropology, which, nonetheless, sees strategies
form or education that transformindividuals as oriented to the attainment of "values" (see Barth,
(McLoughlin, 1978; Boyer, 1978; Gusfield, 1981). Very valuable are Bourdieu's critique of the
1981). To call this culturalapproachto action idea of culture as "rules" and his insistence that we
the "value" of individualism,as is often done, can understand the meaning of cultural traditions
only if we see the ways they unfold and can be
altered over time. For him, cultural patterns provide
7Weber himself attempts to deal with this issue the structure against which individuals can develop
from the beginning,first in the ProtestantEthic, by particular strategies (see the brilliant analysis of mar-
trying to assimilate non-Calvinistvarieties of Prot- riage in Bourdieu, 1977:58-71). For me, strategies
estantismto the Calvinistmodel, and second in his are the larger ways of trying to organize a life (trying,
essay on the Protestantsects (Weber, 1946b[1922- for example, to secure position by allying with pres-
23]) where he argues that market incentives sus- tigious families through marriage) within which par-
tained habits of conduct from which the spirit had ticular choices make sense, and for which particular,
gone. But thatargumentis not sufficientif it is in fact culturally shaped skills and habits (what Bourdieu
the spirit which has lasted. calls "habitus") are useful.
CULTURE IN ACTION 277

ture has an independent causal role because turaltheory should lead us to expect not pass-
it shapes the capacities from which such strat- ive "culturaldopes" (Garfinkel,1967;Wrong,
egies of action are constructed. 1961),but ratherthe active, sometimes skilled
The term "strategy"is not used here in the users of culture whom we actually observe.
conventional sense of a plan consciously de- If culture influences action through end
vised to attain a goal. It is, rather, a general values, people in changing circumstances
way of organizing action (depending upon a should hold on to their preferredends while
network of kin and friends, for example, or alteringtheir strategiesfor attainingthem. But
relying on selling one's skills in a market)that if cultureprovidesthe tools with which persons
might allow one to reach several differentlife constructlines of action, then styles or strate-
goals. Strategies of action incorporate, and gies of action will be more persistent than the
thus depend on, habits, moods, sensibilities, ends people seek to attain. Indeed, people will
and views of the world (Geertz, 1973a).People come to value ends for which their cultural
do not build lines of action from scratch, equipment is well suited (cf. Mancini, 1980).
choosing actions one at a time as efficient To returnto the culture of poverty example, a
means to given ends. Instead, they construct ghetto youth who can expertly "read"signs of
chains of action beginningwith at least some friendshipand loyalty (Hannerz, 1969),or who
pre-fabricatedlinks. Cultureinfluences action can recognize with practised acuity threats to
through the shape and organizationof those turf or dignity (Horowitz, 1983), may pursue
links, not by determiningthe ends to which ends that place group loyalty above individual
they are put. achievement,not because he disdainswhat in-
Our alternativemodel also rests on the fact dividualachievementcould bring, but because
that all real cultures contain diverse, often the cultural meanings and social skills neces-
conflicting symbols, rituals, stories, and sary for playingthat game well would require
guides to action.'0 The readerof the Bible can drastic and costly culturalretooling.
find a passage to justify almost any act, and This revised imagery-culture as a "tool kit"
traditionalwisdom usually comes in pairedad- for constructing"strategies of action," rather
ages counseling opposite behaviors. A culture than as a switchmandirectingan engine prop-
is not a unified system that pushes action in a elled by interests-turns our attention toward
consistent direction. Rather, it is more like a differentcausal issues than do traditionalper-
"tool kit"or repertoire(Hannerz,1969:186-88) spectives in the sociology of culture.
from which actors select differing pieces for When do we invoke cultural explanation?
constructinglines of action. Both individuals And just what is it that we take culture to
and groups know how to do differentkinds of explain?Usually, we invoke cultureto explain
things in different circumstances (see, for continuities in action in the face of structural
example, Gilbert and Mulkay, 1984). People changes. Immigrants,for example, are said to
may have in readiness culturalcapacities they act in culturally determinedways when they
rarely employ; and all people know more cul- preserve traditional habits in new circum-
turethanthey use (if only in the sense thatthey stances (Thomas and Znaniecki, 1918). More
ignore much that they hear)."I A realistic cul- generally, we use culture to explain why dif-
ferent groups behave differently in the same
structuralsituation(compare,for example, the
I0 The problemof cultural"dissensus"or diversity
argumentof Glazer and Moynihan [1970] to
has recently received some explicit theoretical at- Lieberson [1981]or Bonacich [1976]).Finally,
tention (Fernandez, 1965; Stromberg, 1981; New- we make the intuitivelyappealingbut theoreti-
comb and Hirsch, 1983;Rosaldo, 1985). However,
these advances are partiallyoffset by the vogue for cally vacuous assumptionthat cultureaccounts
theories of "hegemony" among Marxists and by
semiotic approaches which see cultures as codes
within which any meaning must be communicated derived from school, and even some of that en-
(see Stromberg,1985). countered within the ghetto community, other
11 Writing of the simultaneous participationof components of an individual's repertoire may
ghetto dwellers in mainstreamand ghetto subcul- come in more useful.
tures, Ulf Hannerz(1969:186)notes: Bourdieu (1977:82-3) also emphasizes how a
[M]anis not a mindless culturalautomaton. ... "habitus" provides resources for constructing di-
First of all, when people develop a culturalrep- verse lines of action. A habitusis "a system of last-
ertoire by being at the receiving end of cultural ing, transposabledispositionswhich, integratingpast
transmission, this certainly does not mean that experiences, functionsat every momentas a matrix
and actions and
they will put every part of it to use. Rather, the of perceptions, appreciations,
repertoireto some measure constitutes adaptive makes possible the achievementof infinitelydiversi-
potential. While some of the cultural goods re- fied tasks, thanksto analogicaltransfersof schemes
ceived may be situationallyirrelevant, such as permittingthe solutionof similarlyshapedproblems
most of that pickedup at the movies, muchof that ... (emphasisin original).
278 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
for any observed continuitiesin the way life of Two Models of Cultural Influence
particulargroups. We need two different models to understand
Does culture account for continuities in ac-
two situations in which culture works very
tion independentof structuralcircumstance?It
does, but in ways differentfrom those the con- differently. In one case, culture accounts for
ventional approachwould predict. continuitiesin "settled lives." In settled lives,
cultureis intimatelyintegratedwith action;it is
Let us return to the explanatory prob-
lems raised by Max Weber'sProtestant Ethic, here that we are most temptedto see values as
this time examining Weber's larger organizing and anchoring patterns of action;
and here it is most difficultto disentanglewhat
comparative-historicalproject. In his compar- is uniquely "cultural," since culture and
ative studies of China and India (1951 [1916]; structuralcircumstanceseem to reinforceeach
1958b [1916-17]) and his general sociology of other. This is the situation about which a
religion (1963 [1922]), Weber arguedthat reli- theorist like CliffordGeertz (1973b)writes so
gious ideas made an independentcausal con-
tribution to the economic trajectories of dif- persuasively:cultureis a model of and a model
ferent societies. Other-worldlyand mystical for experience; and culturalsymbols reinforce
an ethos, makingplausiblea world-viewwhich
religiosity led people away from rationaleco- in turnjustifies the ethos.
nomic action.
The second case is that of "unsettledlives."
If culture plays the independentcausal role The distinctionis less between settled and un-
Weber attributedto it,12 it must not change settled lives, however, than between culture's
more easily than the structuraland economic role in sustainingexisting strategies of action
patterns it supposedly shapes. Precisely here, and its role in constructing new ones. This
however, the Weberianmodelfails empirically. contrastis not, of course, absolute. Even when
Weberianstudentsof culturehave been embar- they lead settled lives, people do active cul-
rassed by their success in finding functional tural work to maintainor refine their cultural
equivalentsto the Protestantethic in societies capacities.Conversely,even the most fanatical
that Weber would have considered other- ideologicalmovement, which seeks to remake
worldly, mystical, or otherwise averse to ra- completely the culturalcapacities of its mem-
tional economic activity. If there was initial bers, will inevitably draw on many tacit as-
triumph in discovering independent religious sumptionsfromthe existingculture.There are,
sources of a transcendental, ascetic, and nonetheless, more and less settled lives, and
potentially rationalizingethic in one remark- more and less settled culturalperiods. Individ-
able, non-westernmodernizer,Japan (Bellah, uals in certainphases of their lives, and groups
1957),the frequentreplicationof such parallels or entire societies in certainhistoricalperiods,
has undermined the very argument for the are involved in constructingnew strategies of
causal influence of Protestantism (see action. It is for the latter situation that our
Eisenstadt, 1970a). usual models of culture's effects are most in-
Accordingto Weber'smodel, culture should adequate.
have enduring effects on economic ac-
tion. Cultures change, though; and the ends
societies pursue have changed dramaticallyin Unsettled Lives
the modern era, from Chinese communism
(Schurmann, 1970), to Islamic scripturalism Periods of social transformationseem to pro-
(Geertz, 1968), to the various resurgent vide simultaneouslythe best and the worst evi-
nationalisms(Geertz, 1963;Gourevitch, 1979; dence for culture's influence on social action.
Hannan, 1979).Faced with the challengeof the Established cultural ends are jettisoned with
modern West, late-developing nations have apparent ease, and yet explicitly articulated
constructedascetic, this-worldly,modernizing cultural models, such as ideologies, play a
ideologies (Wuthnow, 1980). Far from main- powerfulrole in organizingsocial life (see, for
taining continuity despite changed circum- examples, Geertz, 1%8; Schurmann, 1970;
stances, a surge of ideological and religious Eisenstadt, 1970b; Walzer, 1974; Madsen,
activity has propelled the transformations 1984;Hunt, 1984).
modernizingsocieties seek. Culturethus plays In such periods, ideologies-explicit, ar-
a central role in contemporarysocial change, ticulated, highly organized meaning systems
but it is not the role our conventional models (both political and religious)-establish new
would predict. styles or strategiesof action. When people are
learningnew ways of organizingindividualand
collective action, practicingunfamiliarhabits
12 The analytic independence of culture's causal until they become familiar, then doctrine,
role is at issue here, not its magnitude. symbol, and ritual directly shape action.
CULTURE IN ACTION 279
Assumed here is a continuumfromideology such situations, culture may indeed be said
to tradition to common sense (see Stromberg, to directly shape action. Members of a reli-
1985).13 An "ideology" is a highly articulated, gious cult wear orange,or sharetheirproperty,
self-consciousbelief andritualsystem, aspiring or dissolve their marriagesbecause their be-
to offer a unified answer to problemsof social liefs tell them to. Protestantssimplifyworship,
action.Ideologymay be thoughtof as a phasein readthe Bible, and work in a callingbecause of
the developmentof a system of culturalmean- their faith. Doctrine and casuistry tell people
ing. "Traditions,"on the other hand, are ar- how to act and provide blueprintsfor commu-
ticulatedculturalbeliefs andpractices,but ones nity life.
taken for grantedso that they seem inevitable During such periods, differences in ritual
parts of life. Diverse, ratherthan unified, par- practice or doctrine may become highly
tial rather than all-embracing,they do not al- charged, so that statuaryin churches (Baxan-
ways inspire enthusiastic assent. (A wedding, dall, 1980),the clothingand preachingstyles of
in our own culture, may seem odd, forced, or ministers (Davis, 1975; Zaret, 1985), or the
unnaturalwhen we actually attend one, for style and decoration of religious objects are
example. But it will still seem the naturalway fraughtwith significance.
to get married,so that going to a justice of the Ritualacquiressuch significancein unsettled
peace requires special explanation.) lives because ritual changes reorganize
Traditions, whether the routine ones of taken-for-grantedhabits and modes of experi-
daily life or the extraordinaryones of com- ence. People developing new strategies of ac-
munal ceremony, nonetheless seem ordained tion depend on culturalmodels to learn styles
in the order of things, so that people may rest of self, relationship, cooperation, authority,
in the certaintythat they exist, without neces- and so forth. Commitmentto such an ideology,
sarily participatingin them. The same belief originatingperhapsin conversion, is more con-
system- a religion,for example-may be held scious than is the embeddednessof individuals
by some people as an ideology andby others as in settled cultures, representinga break with
tradition; and what has been tradition may some alternativeway of life.
under certainhistoricalcircumstancesbecome These explicit cultures might well be called
ideology. (This is the distinction Geertz ",systems." While not perfectly consistent,
[1968:61]makes when he writes about a loss of they aspire to offer not multiple answers, but
traditional religious certainty in modern one unified answer to the question of how
"ideologized"Islam-coming to "hold"rather human beings should live. In conflict with
than be "held by" one's beliefs.) "Common other culturalmodels, these culturesare coher-
sense," finally, is the set of assumptions so ent because they must battle to dominate the
unselfconsciousas to seem a natural,transpar- world-views, assumptions, and habits of their
ent, undeniable part of the structure of the members.
world (Geertz, 1975). Such culturalmodels are thus causally pow-
Bursts of ideological activism occur in pe- erful, but in a restricted sense. Rather than
riods when competing ways of organizingac- providing the underlying assumptions of an
tion are developing or contending for domi- entire way of life, they make explicit demands
nance.14 People formulate, flesh out, and put in a contested cultural arena. Their indepen-
into practice new habits of action. In dent causal influenceis limitedfirst because, at
least at their origins, such ideological move-
ments are not complete cultures, in the sense
13 Other scholars have recently made distinctions
that much of their taken-for-grantedunder-
similarto the ones drawnhere. Skocpol (1985)dis- standingof the world and many of their daily
tinguishes "ideology" from "culturalidioms," and practices still depend on traditionalpatterns.15
Stromberg(1985) contrasts ideology, tradition,and
semiotic code. Geertz, in his writings on religion Second, in a period of cultural transforma-
(1973b), ideology (1973d), art (1976), and common tion, ideology forms aroundethos, ratherthan
sense (1975)has made an importantcontributionby vice versa. To illustratethis we may turn once
noting that differentorders of experience live con-
tinuouslyside by side while people make transitions
fromone to another.For my purposeshere, the most 15 Over time, as an ideology establishes itself, it
importantdimensionof comparisonis that between may deepen its critique of the existing order and
culturewhich seems real, independentof the efforts extend its claims increasingly into taken-for-granted
individualsmaketo maintainit (commonsense), ver- areas of daily life (e.g., the escalating Puritan critique
sus that which requiresactive humaneffort or par- of vestments, ritual, and preaching [Zaret, 1985]).
ticipationto be sustained(religioustraditions)or to Nonetheless, whatever the new ideology does not
become true (ideology). explicitly regulate still falls under the sway of the old
14 Todd Gitlin(personalcommunication) observes order. Old orders are thus resilient, hiding their
that ideology is contested culture. premises in the minutiae of daily life.
280 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
again to argumentsabout the Protestantethic. ways of organizingaction are being developed.
Remember that for Max Weber the conse- Such ideologies, often carriedby social move-
quences of Calvinismflowed from its doctrine, ments, model new ways to organizeaction and
operatingon believers' overwhelmingpsycho- to structure human communities. These
logical interest in salvation. But even in The ideologicalmovements, however, are in active
Protestant Ethic (1958a [1904-5]), Weber is competition with other cultural frame-
hard pressed to explain why the doctrines of works-at the least in competition with com-
predestinationand proof produced the ration- mon sense and usually with alternative
alized, ascetic conductof the saint (as opposed traditions and ideologies as well. Explaining
to fatalistic resignation,or even hedonism).16 culturaloutcomes therefore requires not only
In The Revolution of the Saints (1974), understandingthe direct influence of an ideol-
Michael Walzer makes a very different argu- ogy on action. It also requiresexplainingwhy
ment about the relation between ethos and one ideology ratherthan anothertriumphs(or
doctrinallogic in Calvinism.Walzershows that at least endures). And such explanation de-
the ethos of methodicalself-controlwas not an pends on analyzing the structuralconstraints
accidental byproductof Calvinism'sdoctrine. and historical circumstances within which
Rather,Calvinrepeatedlyadjustedthe logic of ideological movements struggle for domi-
this theology to stimulatethe disciplinehe saw nance.17
as necessary for fallen man. He "opportunisti- Culturehas independentcausal influence in
cally" revised and reworked his doctrine in unsettled cultural periods because it makes
order to achieve a particularpsychological ef- possible new strategiesof action-constructing
fect. Calvinneeded potent theologicalimagery entities that can act (selves, families, corpo-
to inscribe within his congregantsthe rigorous rations), shaping the styles and skills with
control of thought and action he sought. In- which they act, and modeling forms of au-
deed, tightly argued doctrine, austere ritual, thority and cooperation. It is, however, the
and potent imagery were the weapons Calvin concrete situations in which these cultural
crafted to teach a new ethos. But doctrine models are enacted that determinewhich take
"caused" ethos only in an immediate sense. root and thrive, and which wither and die.
In a larger explanatoryperspective, commit-
ment to a specific ethos, a style of regulating
Settled Lives
action, shaped the selection and development
of doctrine. The causal connections between culture and
Walzer also suggests a new way of thinking action are very differentin settled culturalpe-
about the relationshipbetween ideology and riods. Culture provides the materials from
interests. As the ruler of a small theocracy, which individualsand groups construct strate-
Calvin certainly had immediate interests in gies of action. Such culturalresources are di-
controllingthe citizens of Geneva, and he bent verse, however, and normallygroupsand indi-
his doctrineto those ends. Walzeralso argues, viduals call upon these resources selectively,
however, that the wider appeal of Calvinism bringingto bear different styles and habits of
was to those displaced clergy and insecure action in different situations. Settled cultures
gentrywho were lookingfor new ways to exer- thus support varied patterns of action,
cise authorityand a new ethos to regulatetheir obscuringculture's independentinfluence.
own conduct as elites. Interests are thus im- Specifyingculture'scausal role is mademore
portantin shapingideas, but an ideology serves difficult in settled cultural periods by the
interests throughits potentialto construct and "loose coupling"between cultureand action.18
regulate patterns of conduct. And indeed, People profess ideals they do not follow, utter
those new capacities for action and for regu- platitudeswithout examiningtheir validity, or
lating the action of others shape the interests fall into cynicism or indifferencewith the as-
its adherentscome to have. surancethat the worldwill go on just the same.
To understandculture's causal role in such Such gaps between the explicit norms, world-
high-ideologyperiods, we need, third, to con- views, and rules of conduct individuals es-
sider ideologies in a larger explanatory con- pouse and the ways they habituallyact create
text. Coherent ideologies emerge when new little difficulty within settled strategies of ac-
tion. People naturally "know" how to act.
16 Weber, of course, acknowledges the tension

between the "logical and psychological" conse- 17 This section draws on arguments found in

quences of Calvinism in a famous footnote (Weber, Skocpol, 1985.


1958a [1904-05]: 232, n. 66). He and later commen- 18 There is by now a large literature on the weak

tators have also stressed the pastoral context in relationship between attitudes and behavior (Schu-
which Calvinism was interpreted as crucial to under- man and Johnson, 1976; Hill, 1981). See Cancian
standing the doctrine's effects (see Zaret, 1985). (1975) for one interpretation of this gap.
CULTURE IN ACTION 281
Cultural experience may reinforce or re- has an effect in that the ability to put together
fine the skills, habits, and attitudes important such a strategydepends on the availableset of
for common strategies of action, but estab- cultural resources. Furthermore, as certain
lished ways of acting do not depend upon such cultural resources become more central in a
immediatecultural support. given life, andbecome morefully invested with
In settled culturalperiods, then, cultureand meaning, they anchor the strategies of action
social structure are simultaneouslytoo fused people have developed.
and too disconnectedfor easy analysis. On the Such cultural influence can be observed in
one hand, people in settled periods can live "culturallag." People do not readily take ad-
with great discontinuitybetween talk and ac- vantage of new structuralopportunitieswhich
tion. On the other hand, in settled lives it is would require them to abandon established
particularlydifficultto disentangleculturaland ways of life. This is not because they cling to
structuralinfluenceson action. Thatis because culturalvalues, but because they are reluctant
ideology has both diversified,by being adapted to abandon familiar strategies of action for
to varied life circumstances, and gone under- which they have the cultural equipment. Be-
ground,so pervadingordinaryexperienceas to cause culturalexpertise underliesthe ability of
blend imperceptibly into common-sense as- both individualsand groups to constructeffec-
sumptionsabout what is true. Settled cultures tive strategies of action, such matters as the
are thus more encompassing then are style or ethos of action and related ways of
ideologies, in that they are not in open com- organizingauthority and cooperation are en-
petition with alternative models for organiz- duringaspects of individual,and especially of
ing experience. Instead, they have the undis- collective, life.
puted authorityof habit, normality,and com- Second, the influence of culture in settled
mon sense. Such culture does not impose a lives is especially strong in structuringthose
single, unifiedpatternon action, in the sense of uninstitutionalized,but recurrentsituations in
imposingnorms, styles, values, or ends on in- which people act in concert. When Americans
dividual actors. Rather, settled cultures con- try to get something done, they are likely to
strain action by providinga limited set of re- create voluntaristsocial movements-from re-
sources out of which individuals and groups ligious revivals (McLoughlin,1978), to reform
construct strategies of action.'9 campaigns(Boyer, 1978),to the voluntarylocal
There is nonetheless a distinctive kind of initiativesthat created much of Americanpub-
cultural explanation appropriate to settled lic schooling(Meyers,et al., 1979).Such strate-
cultures. First, while such cultures provide a gies of action rest on the cultural assumption
"tool kit" of resources from which people can that social groups-indeed, society itself-are
construct diverse strategies of action, to con- constituted by the voluntary choices of indi-
struct such a strategy means selecting certain viduals. Yet such voluntarismdoes not, in fact,
cultural elements (both such tacit culture as dominate most of our institutionallife. A bu-
attitudes and styles and, sometimes, such ex- reaucraticstate, large corporations,and an im-
plicit cultural materials as rituals and beliefs) personal market run many spheres of Ameri-
and investingthem with particularmeaningsin can life without voluntaryindividualcoopera-
concrete life circumstances.An examplemight tion. Americanvoluntarismpersists, nonethe-
by young adults who become more church- less, as the predominant collective way of
going when they marryand have children,and dealingwith situations that are not taken care
who then, in turn, find themselves with re- of by institutions.20
awakened religious feelings. In such cases Cultureaffects action, but in differentways
culture cannot be said to have "caused" the in settled versus unsettled periods. Disen-
choices people make, in the sense that both the tanglingthese two modes of culture'sinfluence
cultural elements and the life strategy are, in and specifyingmore clearly how cultureworks
effect, chosen simultaneously. Indeed, the in the two situations, creates new possibilities
meanings of particularcultural elements de-
pend, in part, on the strategyof action in which
they are embedded (so, for example, religious 20
Renato Rosaldo (1985) has written provoca-
ritual may have special meaning as part of a tively of anthropology's overreliance on images of
family's weekly routine). Nonetheless, culture culture as sets of plans or rules. He argues that
culture is better thought of as providing resources for
dealing with the unexpected, for improvising. While
19 Ulf
Hannerz's Soulside (1969:177-95) has an my argument stays close to the culture as plan im-
excellent discussion of this issue, stressing both the agery, it nonetheless stresses that what is cultur-
ways in which the ghetto dwellers he studied drew on ally regulated is that part of social life which has to
a flexible repertoire of cultural expertise, and how be continually created and recreated, not that part
much of the specific ghetto subculture was adapted which is so institutionalized that it requires little
to the exigencies of ghetto life. active support by those it regulates.
282 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
for cultural explanation. The following "equality," "an exciting life," "family secur-
schematicdiagramsummarizesthe two models ity"). Such values differ in plausible ways
of culturalexplanationproposedhere. Neither by class, race, and occupation,and are, at least
model looks like the Parsonian theory of in some circumstances, modestly related to
values, the Weberianmodel of how ideas influ- actual behavior.
ence action, or the Marxianmodel of the re- We may reconcile these two images of the
lationship of ideas and interests. However, role of values in human action by thinkingof
between them the two models account for them as parts of settled versus unsettled lives.
much of what has been persuasiveabout these In unsettled lives, values are unlikely to be
earlier images of cultural influence while good predictorsof action, or indeed of future
avoiding those expectations that cannot be values. Kathleen Gerson (1985), for example,
supportedby evidence. in an insightful study of women's career and
family choices, notes what a small role is
played by the values and plans young women
IMPLICATIONSFOR RESEARCH have, and how much their choices are shaped
First, these two models of cultural causation by theirimmediatesituations-a firstjob which
identify the limited sense in which values are works out, or a boyfriendwho does not. Young
important in shaping action. James March women's choices are not driven by their
(1978:596)can argue that values neither can values, but by what they find they have be-
nor do guide decision makingin the ways that come good at, or at least accustomed to.
rationalchoice theorists suppose: Within an established way of life, how-
ever, values-both "terminal" and "in-
Choices are often made without respect to strumental"-may play a significant role. A
tastes. Humandecision makersroutinelyig- womanpreoccupiedwithjugglingthe demands
nore their own, fully conscious, preferences of husband and children against those of her
in making decisions. They follow rules, work may well have developed a settled policy
traditions, hunches, and the advice or ac- about whether"happiness,""an exciting life,"
tions of others. Tastes change over time in "self-respect," or "social recognition" are
such a way that predictingfuture tastes is more importantto her. She may even refer to
often difficult.Tastes are inconsistent. Indi- those values in makingparticularchoices. In-
viduals and organizationsare aware of the deed, values are importantpieces of cultural
extent to which some of their preferences equipmentfor established strategiesof action,
conflict with other of their preferences;yet since partof what it meansto have a strategyof
they do nothingto resolve those inconsisten- action is to have a way of makingthe choices
cies. . . . While tastes are used to choose that ordinarilyconfront one within it. We can
among actions, it is often also true that ac- thus recognize the significanceof values, if we
tions and experiences with their conse- acknowledge that values do not shape action
quences affect tastes. by defining its ends, but rather fine-tune the
On the other hand, Milton Rokeach (1973)has regulationof action within establishedways of
spent a fruitful career investigating the life.
significance of "values." He finds that indi- This perspective could reorient research on
viduals can produce reliable forced-choice culturein a second way, by directingattention
rankings of eighteen "terminal"values (e.g., to a set of historical questions about the in-

Figure 1. Two Models of Culture


Characteristics Short-Term Effects Long-Term Effects
Low coherence, Weak direct control Provides resources for
Settled Culture consistency over action constructing strategies of
(traditions and action
common sense) Encapsulates Refines and reinforces
skills, habits, modes of Creates continuities in
experience style or ethos, and espe-
cially in organization of
strategies of action

High coherence, Strong control over ac- Creates new strategies of


Unsettled Cul- consistency tion action, but long-term influ-
ture ence depends on structural
(ideology) Competes with other Teaches new modes of opportunities for survival
cultural views action of competing ideologies
CULTURE IN ACTION 283

teraction of culture and social structure. Dis- egies of action, we should expect the greatest
tinguishingculture's role in settled and unset- "traditionalism"among the old (see Portes,
tled periods, we can focus on those historical 1984:391)and those from culturally encapsu-
junctures where new culturalcomplexes make lated backgrounds,people for whom the costs
possible new or reorganizedstrategies of ac- of learning new cultural skills would be
tion. We can then ask how concrete structural greatest. If culture shapes action through
circumstances affect the relative success of values, on the other hand, we should expect
competingculturalsystems. We could also ask the most socially advantagedto show greatest
how the capacity of particularideas, rituals, resistance to change, since they would have
and symbols to organizegiven kinds of action the greatest resources with which to protect
affects the historical opportunitiesactors are and pursue those values.
able to seize. Such questions might finally -How do belief systems break down? When
begin to give us a systematic view of the
dynamic interactionsbetween culture and so- do they lose their plausibility? Beliefs about
cial structure. the social world, for example that hard work
A third reorientation of cultural research determines individual success (Huber and
Form, 1973),do not seem to dependdirectlyon
would focus not on culturesas unifiedwholes, their descriptive accuracy. Instead, they are
but on chunks of culture, each with its own linked to social-structuralrealitiesthroughthe
history. Culture provides resources for con- strategies of action they support. The English
structing organized strategies of action. Par- upper classes abandoned medieval concep-
ticular cultural resources can be integrated, tions of the inevitable dependence of the
however, into quite different strategies of ac- poor when the system of poor laws they had
tion. A crucial task for research is to under- developed became unworkable(Polanyi, 1944;
stand how cultural capacities created in one Bendix, 1956). Similarly, the question raised
historical context are reappropriatedand al-
by Thomas Kuhn's (1962) analysis of
tered in new circumstances. An example of science-when and how anomalies accumu-
such research is WilliamSewell's (1974; 1980) lated by an aging paradigmprecipitatea "sci-
examinationof how, faced with the threats of entific revolution"-might be solved by atten-
early industrialism,nineteenth-centuryFrench tion to strategies of action. Paradigmsbreak
artisansdrew on traditionsof corporateorgani- down, accordingto this argument,when they
zation to construct a new ideology of radical fail to regulate adequately normal scientific
socialism. work-when, for example, scientists have dif-
At least since E.P. Thompson'sThe Making ficulty knowingwhichexplanationsfit the rules
of the English Working Class (1963), of course, of the game and which do not, how to award
sociologists have examined how established power and prestige within the field, or how to
cultural resources are reappropriatedin new make effective guesses about which new re-
contexts. The argument proposed here goes search directions are likely to prove fruitful.
beyond this, however. The significanceof spe-
cific cultural symbols can be understood only -What capacities do particularcultural pat-
in relationto the strategiesof action they sus- terns give those who hold them?2' For exam-
tain. Culture does not influence how groups ple, one mightobserve thatin the early-modern
organize action via enduring psychological period, those groups armed with ascetic Prot-
proclivities implanted in individuals by their estant ideologies very often won their social
socialization. Instead, publicly available battles. One could point to practicallinks be-
meanings facilitate certain patterns of action, tween ideology and social organization, such
making them readily available, while dis- as the popular egalitarianismof Cromwell's
couragingothers. It is thus not the rearrange- Puritan army. Protestantism also facilitated
ment of some free-floatingheritage of ideas, distinctive strategiesof action, however, such
myths, or symbols that is significant for as the creation of activist voluntary associ-
sociological analysis. Rather,it is the reappro- ations (Thompson, 1963:350-400) and the
priation of larger, culturally organized ca- legitimationof more systematicforms of politi-
pacities for action that gives culture its endur- cal authority(Walzer, 1974). Some argue that
ing effects.
Attention to strategies of action also sug-
21 J am indebted to Douglas Roeder for the argu-
gests a numberof specific research questions,
answers to which would give us more precise ment of this paragraph, and particularly for noting
that Mary Fulbrook's (1983) work could be inter-
understandingof how culture works: preted as showing not only that pietist Protestantism
had very different political implications in different
-In new circumstances(afterimmigration,for historical contexts, but that whatever their political
example), who remains traditionallonger? If orientations or alliances, in the cases Fulbrook
cultureinfluences action by constrainingstrat- studied, the pietist Protestants won out politically.
284 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
Protestantism succeeded because it was constructed.Thus cultureappearsto shape ac-
adopted by "rising" groups challenging tion only in that the culturalrepertoirelimits
traditionalauthority (Wallerstein, 1974). The the availablerangeof strategiesof action. Such
systematic comparative work of Fulbrook "settled cultures" are nonetheless constrain-
(1983), however, indicates that even when ing. Although internally diverse and often
pietist Protestants allied with established au- contradictory,they providethe ritualtraditions
thorities, they won. In a similar way, third- that regulateordinarypatternsof authorityand
world nation-buildersseem often to have felt cooperation,and they so define common sense
that Marxistideology provides valuablepoliti- that alternativeways of organizingaction seem
cal capacities (see Huntington, 1968). unimaginable,or at least implausible. Settled
How do ideologies become tradition or culturesconstrainaction over time because of
the high costs of cultural retooling to adopt
commonsense? If ideologiesare not distinctive
new patternsof action.
kindsof belief systems (see Geertz, 1973d),but In unsettled periods, in contrast, cultural
ratherdistinctivephases in the developmentof meanings are more highly articulatedand ex-
culturalsystems, some former ideologies may
become so uncontestedthat they are no longer plicit, because they model patterns of action
that do not "come naturally."Belief and ritual
organized as self-conscious belief systems. practice directly shape action for the commu-
One might investigate when and under what nity that adheres to a given ideology. Such
circumstances such ideological relaxa-
ideologies are, however, in competition with
tion occurs, and when it fails to occur. Is
hegemony alone enough to soften the self- other sets of culturalassumptions.Ultimately,
structural and historical opportunities deter-
conscious boundaries of an ideology? One
mine which strategies,and thus which cultural
might suggestthat an ideology will resist being
absorbed into common sense when it is the systems, succeed.
In neither case is it culturalend-values that
organizational ideology for a special cadre
within a society (Weber, 1963 [1922], on shape action in the long run. Indeed, a culture
has enduringeffects on those who hold it, not
priests; Mann, 1973, on EuropeanCommunist
by shapingthe ends they pursue, but by pro-
parties; and Schurmann,1970, on the Chinese vidingthe characteristicrepertoirefrom which
CommunistParty).It would also be important,
they build lines of action.
however, to study popularMarxism,for exam- A focus on culturalvalues was attractivefor
ple, in nations where the Marxist idiom has sociology because it suggestedthat culture,not
been dominant for more than a generation.
materialcircumstances,was determinative"in
Does it become Marxist common sense?
the last instance."In Parsons'(1966)ingenious
"cyberneticmodel," social structuremay have
constrainedopportunitiesfor action, but cul-
CONCLUSION tural ends directed it. The challenge for the
The approachdevelopedhere may seem at first contemporary sociology of culture is not,
to relegate cultureto a subordinate,purely in- however, to try to estimate how much culture
strumental role in social life. The attentive shapes action. Instead, sociologists should
reader will see, though, that what this paper search for new analytic perspectives that will
has suggestedis precisely the opposite. Strate- allow more effective concrete analyses of how
gies of action are culturalproducts; the sym- culture is used by actors, how cultural ele-
bolic experiences, mythic lore, and ritualprac- ments constrainor facilitatepatternsof action,
tices of a group or society create moods and what aspects of a cultural heritage have en-
motivations, ways of organizing experience during effects on action, and what specific
and evaluating reality, modes of regulating historical changes undermine the vitality of
conduct, and ways of forming social bonds, some culturalpatternsand give rise to others.
which provideresourcesfor constructingstrat- The suggestionthat both the influence and the
egies of action. When we notice cultural dif- fate of culturalmeaningsdepend on the strate-
ferences we recognizethat people do not all go gies of action they support is made in an at-
about their business in the same ways; how tempt to fill this gap. Such attempts at more
they approachlife is shaped by their culture. systematic, differentiatedcausal models may
The problem, however, is to develop more help to restore the study of cultureto a central
sophisticated theoretical ways of thinking place in contemporarysocial science.
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