Ann Swidler (Ph.D. UC Berkeley; B.A. 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: How Culture Matters, and the co-authored works Habits of the Heart, The Good Society, and Inequality by Design, as well as her classic article, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies” (American Sociological Review, 1986). Her most recent book, with Susan Cotts Watkins, is A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa (Princeton 2017).
Swidler's most recent work examines African religion and the institutions of African chieftaincy to understand the cultural and religious sources of collective capacities for social action. 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. Her interest in African religious congregations emerged from the contrast between vibrant local religious communities and often moribund NGO efforts.
Professor Swidler teaches sociology of culture, sociology of religion, and sociological theory. Her interests touch on political sociology, development, and sociology of science and medicine as well.