Talk of Love: How Culture Matters

By Gerstel, Naomi | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Talk of Love: How Culture Matters


Gerstel, Naomi, Journal of Marriage and Family


Talk of Love: How Culture Matters. Ann Swidler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. 312 pp. ISBN: 0-226-78690-0. $30.00 (cloth).

Women and men are spending more time away from home. Divorce rates are high. "Family values" seem up for grabs. Movie actors go through messy divorces, passionate encounters, and celebrated marriages, all in various sequences. Maybe love and marriage don't go together quite so naturally as a horse and carriage. Swidler, in her Talk of Love, argues that our ideas about romantic love combine with contradictory ideas about marital love to produce a sometimes messy but nonetheless resilient culture of love.

At least most of the time, Swidler is not particularly concerned with historical specificity or historical change; she has a far more ambitious and abstract agenda. She wants to develop her well-known and influential ideas on the uses of culture. Love is a site to develop her theory.

Talk of Love does use some data. It is based on interviews conducted in 1980 with some eighty White middle-class heterosexuals in California. We meet some of the same people who first appeared in Habits of the Heart, on which Swidler collaborated with Robert Bellah and three other coauthors. In her new book, Swidler focuses on what her respondents have to say about love and marriage, about what they expected and what they found. Using interview questions and vignettes, she asked them whether there is love at first sight, whether love should always be perfect or whether one needs to compromise and "work" on uncertain love, whether they hold to the view of romantic love promulgated in the movies or develop more prosaic conceptions of love rooted in daily and long-lived experience. Most important, Swidler finds that people live quite comfortably with multiple, conflicting views, and use them to justify different actions and solve various institutional dilemmas. Although Swidler does not use their work, her theories help provide a frame for much recent sociological research about cultural contradictions found in families, whether in Hays' (1996) work on motherhood, in Cooper's (2001) work on fatherhood, or Furstenberg's (2001) work on adolescence.

So how do Americans manage the gap between the romantic love and the prosaic love of marriage? Swidler concludes that Americans-whether fundamentalist Christians, utilitarians or the therapeutically inclined-produce a coherent and acceptable (to themselves and others) view of that gap by insisting on the operation of an autonomous self. This self freely chooses actions that support a prosaic culture of love, including commitment and obligation. As a form of self-fulfillment, sacrifice becomes personal preference. Because Americans operate within a culture of voluntarism, at a moment when so many marriages are unraveling, they must do such "culture work" to shore up marriage and resolve otherwise contradictory images of love.

Swidler's argument is intricate, elegant, and wonderfully complicated. Although built on remarkably open stories people told about love and life, Swidler's analysis is put to the service of grand theoretical project, about what culture is and how it influences action. For her, mythic movie star love and prosaic everyday love are both culture. In different contexts, people move back and forth between them, using them as guides to action. When thinking about whether to marry or stay in a marriage (an all or nothing decision), people draw on a mythic view. When managing a marriage they already have, people draw on the prosaic view.

Swidler takes on the big guys. Criticizing Geertz, Swidler argues that culture is not a coherent, unified body of meanings but is rife with ambiguities. Reprising the language of her "Culture in Action" (1986) she also contrasts her view of culture to a Weberian notion of ideas as "switchmen" that determine the tracks of action and to a Parsonian view that culture shapes values which in turn determine ends. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Talk of Love: How Culture Matters
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.