Individualism as a discursive strategy of action

Autonomy, agency, and reflexivity among religious americans

John O'Brien

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    This paper reconceptualizes "individualism" as a discursive strategy of action through which everyday Americans attempt to manage the cultural dilemma of engaging in externally imposed social obligations within a broader individualistic culture. While classic formulations have treated individualism as a strong cultural force directing actors toward voluntaristic and privatized lives, my analysis - grounded in an inductive analysis of 17 qualitative studies of religious Americans - finds individualism working primarily as a discursive strategy, through which actors frame their participation in activities influenced by external authority and communal obligation in ways that emphasize their own agency and autonomy. This revised conceptualization suggests that American individualism may not be as "deep" or powerful as is often assumed. More generally, it offers a novel approach for conceptualizing and further studying the dynamic relationship between broadly "national" and more local and communal cultures.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)173-199
    Number of pages27
    JournalSociological Theory
    Volume33
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

    Fingerprint

    reflexivity
    individualism
    autonomy
    obligation
    participation

    Keywords

    • agency
    • culture
    • individualism
    • religion
    • strategy of action

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

    Cite this

    Individualism as a discursive strategy of action : Autonomy, agency, and reflexivity among religious americans. / O'Brien, John.

    In: Sociological Theory, Vol. 33, No. 2, 01.01.2015, p. 173-199.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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