An Anthropologist’s View of American Marriage: Limitations of the Tool Kit Theory of Culture

  • Naomi Quinn
Part of the Culture, Mind, and Society book series (CMAS)


In spite of our temporally concurrent research, striking similarities between what this chapter author’s interviewees said on the subject, and our approaches to interviewing them, Ann Swidler and the author, Quinn, reached opposing explanations for the relation between love and marriage. For Swidler, the institutional structure of our system of marriage explains how Americans think about love; while for Quinn, understandings about love explain the way they think about marriage. Quinn reconstructs a cultural model of marriage from her interviews, arguing that this model derives from a set of shared understandings of love that owe themselves, in turn, to infantile attachment concerns. Swidler overlooks the evidence for this shared model of marriage in her own interviews. Instead, she argues that there are no such internalized complexes of cultural meaning, but, that interviewees’ statements about marriage draw on a cultural “tool kit” of public codes. Quinn points to two reasons for Swidler’s failure to recognize this shared American model of marriage: her method, which is unsystematic and ignores the covert assumptions that pattern her interviewees’ discourse; and her neglect of the motivational force these assumptions have for interviewees—powerful motivation traceable, in Quinn’s account, to earliest experience.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naomi Quinn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cultural AnthropologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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