American Sociological Association

Individualism as a Discursive Strategy of Action: Autonomy, Agency, and Reflexivity among Religious Americans

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.


O'Brien, J.





Starting Page


Ending Page


Get Involved


ASA needs you to serve the discipline

Join a Section

Explore ASA's community of specialists in the discipline

Join ASA

Join or renew your membership