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Sociologists of culture think a lot about morality—about where our judgments come from and how those judgments shape our actions. Two approaches commonly lead the way: Bourdieusian practice theory, which argues that acquired cultural dispositions guide our judgments quickly, automatically, and without conscious awareness, and Swidler’s (1986) toolkit theory, which suggests people consciously use cultural repertoires to construct strategies of action.
Perhaps the most poignant image of the coronavirus pandemic captures desperate family members, with tears streaming down their faces, their noses pressed against hospital doors, barred from entry to visit their loved ones. But families are not just tragic icons at life’s end; they are often its choreographers. A large national survey that predated the pandemic found that 70 percent of Americans over age 60 who required medical decisions during the final days of their lives lacked the capacity to make them.