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.
- 2001 Talk of Love: How Culture Matters (University of Chicago Press).
- 2001 (eds.), Meaning and Modernity: Religion, Polity, Self (University of California Press). (with Madsen, Sullivan, Tipton)
- 1996 Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth (Princeton University Press). (with Fischer, Hout, Jankowski, Lucas, and Voss)
- 1991 The Good Society (Alfred A. Knopf). (with Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, and Tipton)
- 1985 Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (University of California Press). (with Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, and Tipton)
- 1979 Organization Without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools (Harvard University Press).
Selected Articles and Chapters
- 2013 "African Affirmations: The Religion of Modernity and the Modernity of Religion.” International Sociology 28(6) 680-696. http://iss.sagepub.com/content/28/6/680
- 2013 “Cultural Sources of Institutional Resilience: Lessons from Chieftaincy in Rural Malawi,” in Peter A. Hall and Michèle Lamont (eds.), Social Resilience in the Neo-Liberal Era, Cambridge University Press.
- 2013 Susan Cotts Watkins and Ann Swidler, "Working Misunderstandings: Donors, Brokers, and Villagers in Africa's AIDS Industry." Population and Development Review 38 (suppl.): 197-218.
- 2012. “Where Do Axial Commitments Reside? Problems in Thinking about the African Case.” In Robert Bellah and Hans Joas (eds.), The Axial Age and Its Consequences, Harvard University Press.
- 2012. Susan Cotts Watkins, Ann Swidler, and Thomas Hannan, “Outsourcing Social Transformation: Development NGOs as Organizations,” Annual Review of Sociology, 38: 285-315. http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/eprint/SaNuuI4GjMMqSvQ2ezKN/full/10.1146/annurev-soc-071811-145516
- 2010 "Return of the Sacred: What African Chiefs Teach Us about Secularization"
- 2010 "Access to Pleasure: Aesthetics, Social Inequality, and the Structure of Culture Production," for Handbook of Culture, John Hall, et al, ed.
- 2009. Susan Cotts Watkins and Ann Swidler, “Hearsay Ethnography: Conversational Journals as a Method For Studying Culture in Action,” Poetics 37(2):162-184.
- 2009. “Responding to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa,” in Peter Hall and Michele Lamont (eds.), Successful Societies: Institutions, Cultural Repertoires and Population Health. Cambridge University Press.
- 2009. “Dialectics of Patronage: Logics of Accountability at the African AIDS-NGO Interface,” in Philanthropic Projections: Sending Institutional Logics Abroad, edited by Steven Heydemann and David Hammack, Indiana University Press.
- 2009. “‘Teach a Man to Fish’: The Sustainability Doctrine and its Social Consequences.” World Development 36(4). (with Watkins)
- 2009 “Condom Semiotics: Meaning and Condom Use in Rural Malawi.”American Sociological Review 74(2). (with Iddo Tavory)
- 2008 “Reassessing HIV Prevention.” Science 320 (5877): 749 - 750. 2008. (with Potts, Halperin, Kirby, Marseille, Klausner, Hearst, Wamai, Kahn, and Walsh)
- 2007 “Ties of Dependence: AIDS and Transactional Sex in Rural Malawi,” Studies in Family Planning 38, 3 (September):147-162. (with Watkins)
- 2007 “Syncretism and Subversion in AIDS Governance: How Locals Cope with Global Demands,” pp. 145-164 in Nana K. Poku, Alan Whiteside, and Bjorg Sandkjaer, eds. Governing a Pandemic: HIV/AIDS. Aldershot, Hants, UK: Ashgate.
- 1994 "The New Sociology of Knowledge," Annual Review of Sociology 20:305-29. (with Jorge Arditi)
- 1993/4 "What Properties of Culture Should We Measure?" Poetics 22 (4). (with Ronald L. Jepperson)
- 1986 "Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies," American Sociological Review 51 (April): 273-286.