American sociology has long been concerned with the social conditioning of American character, particularly with regard to caring for others. This interest can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America 18991838 in which he reflected on how democratic participation in government and voluntary associations in the 1830s shaped the American character. Tocqueville believed that participation in social institutions, and especially voluntary societies, balanced the potentially excessive individualism he observed in the United States. David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd A Study of Changing American Character 1950 picked up similar themes in an exploration of the isolation of the individual within modern society. These concerns reached a broad audience more recently in Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton's Habits of the Heart Individualism and Commitment in American Life 1985 in which the authors argued that the scale had swung in favor of individualism at the expense of commitment to the social good. Robert Wuthnow 1991 addressed these issues again in Acts of Compassion Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves, in which he explored how in volunteer work, Americans attempted to reconcile compassion with individualism. These studies, primarily focusing on white, middleclass Americans, have laid the groundwork for an exploration of the social nature of the American character within the context of caring for others.
International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 1, 1996
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