Response to Swidler’s ‘Talk of love: how culture matters’

I was challenged to stop and write down what ‘Talk of love’ says when I made a blog comment about my interest in ‘an anthropology of ends’. I have not finished the book yet because it is a bit self-indulgent to just sit down and read something cover to cover. Here is my ‘just over half way thorough’ account…

Swidler, A. 2001. Talk of love: how culture matters. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

I do not think I have ever read anything that uses the word ‘culture’ so often but, as I really like Ann Swidler’s work, I continued past the first few pages to find a book that I am really enjoying as a break from the reading that I really should be doing. This book uses information from interviews (which covered marriage, love, relationships and values) with middle-class Americans to explore, in her words, ‘how culture is (or is not) linked to action.’ Swidler favours ‘processes’ over ‘ends’ on both the level of analysis and as an explanation for human action. This is a strong emphasis throughout, and the centrality of such an approach and/or argument in her work becomes clear when she brings in her earlier work on settled compared to unsettled lives/ times.

I do not think that this book flies in the face of the ‘non-representational’ camp as the accounts that arise in the interviews seem to be treated as a type of practice. Responses to the questions and to the hypothetical situations discussed in the interviews are unpacked, and they demonstrate both contradictory and common uses of ‘culture’ both within and between accounts. Swidler provides explanations for both contradictions and commonalities. The variations in how prescriptive and coherent elements of culture are seem to be mostly explained through the content of those particular elements of culture. There is also evidence that the cultural elements people draw on or have access to is grounded in things that have or could happen. I do not mean this in a functionalist sense, but simply that experiences and anticipated choices matter. However these questions appear to be more clearly dealt with in the last part of the book, so it is probably best if I do not comment too much!



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