Ann Swidler (PhD UC Berkeley; BA Harvard) studies the interplay of culture and institutions. She asks how culture works–both how people use it and how it shapes social life. She is best known for her books Talk of Love, and the co-authored works Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, as well as her classic article, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies” (American Sociological Review, 1986). Her most recent book, Talk of Love: How Culture Matters (Chicago, 2001), examines how actors select among elements of their cultural repertoires and how culture gets organized “from the outside in” by Codes, Contexts, and Institutions. In the co-authored Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, she and her collaborators analyzed the consequences of American individualism for individual selfhood, community, and political and economic institutions. With colleagues from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, she has been engaged in an ambitious project to understand the societal determinants of human health and well being.
Swidler’s current research is on cultural and institutional responses to the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Swidler’s research on AIDS Africa has led both to work on NGOs and the international response to the epidemic and to work on transactional sex, cultural barriers to condom use, and factors that have made the responses to the epidemic more successful in some African countries than in others. She is interested in how the massive international AIDS effort in sub-Saharan Africa–the infusion of money, organizations, programs and projects–interacts with existing cultural and institutional patterns to create new dilemmas and new possibilities. She is exploring these issues from two directions:
From the international side, she examines how the international AIDS effort is structured (who provides money to whom, how collaborative networks are structured, how programs get organized on the ground); why some interventions are favored over others; and what organizational forms international funders opt for. From the African side, she is exploring why the NGO sector is more robust in some countries than others; when international AIDS efforts stimulate vs. impede or derail local efforts; and what organizational syncretisms sometimes emerge.
Swidler's most recent work examines African religion and the institutions of African chieftaincy in order to understand the cultural and religious sources of collective capacities for social action.
Professor Swidler teaches sociology of culture, sociology of religion, and sociological theory. Her interests increasingly touch on political sociology, development, and sociology of science and medicine as well.
Selected Articles and Chapters