Social relations, core values, and the polyphony of the American experience

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Abstract

This essay examines social relations and cultural values in the United States, paying special attention to recent characterizations of Americans as increasingly isolated, disconnected, and dangerously individualistic. In this essay, I refute such claims. And building on earlier work (Cerulo, 2002), I show that U.S. social relations and cultural values are more multifaceted than such "new individualism" arguments suggest. Indeed, as Robin M. Williams Jr. discovered 50 years ago, when studied in a systematic way, U.S. values and beliefs present us with a multiplex system - a system in which individualism plays only a supporting role. This is true, I suggest, because Americans' "value focus" - that is, the prioritization of one value over another - shifts in concert with certain social events and structural conditions. In this way, we can think of U.S. values as part of a "cultural toolkit," with actors selecting or foregrounding the values needed to support certain strategies of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-362
Number of pages12
JournalSociological Forum
Volume23
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

Keywords

  • American society
  • Culture
  • Individualism
  • Robin M. Williams Jr.
  • Social relations
  • Values

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