“Cultural Retooling”, understanding lifestyles and behaviours

Cultural Toolkit

“Cultural Retooling”
Understanding lifestyles and behaviours

Drawing on Ann Swidlers 1986 article “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies” which explores the subject of culture’s influence on shaping people’s behaviours, it is argued that the author’s concept of culture as a toolkit can provide a useful approach for understanding the acceptance and governance of socially normalised lifestyle practices and the challenges of advocating for alternative ways of living.

According to Swidler, dominant or “settled cultures” provide people with a toolkit of normalised meanings and practices that allow them to construct a “limited repertoire” of lifestyles. This constraint to a specific set of choices constitutes the first challenge for the emergence of alternatives, since the appropriation of ideologies and traditions as “common sense” norms prevent people from questioning their culture’s assumed and undeniable structure of the world, moreover, Swidler describes the phenomenon of “cultural retooling”, a barrier that obstructs actors’ from engaging in changes since it will require them to “abandon familiar strategies of action for which they have the cultural equipment”1.

The author notes that when an alternative culture emerges, the practices and meanings inside its toolkit will most likely be tailored to aid people in the construction of lifestyles that respond to the ideology of this specific culture2.  Hence, in order for people to adopt this emerging culture, they will need not only to acquire the new cultural toolkit that corresponds to this new culture’s ideology, and moreover, learn how to use its tools (accept new meanings and adopt new practices), but also, depending on how much the emerging culture differs from the previously dominant one, it may require them to discard some or most of the tools for which they have already accumulated knowledge and skills.3

In relation to previous reflections documented in the present research, it is argued through these concepts that the design of everyday activism devices to convey alternative lifestyle practices could constitute a relevant method to contribute to the articulation and expansion of people’s  “repertoire of common sense strategies of actions”.

Moreover, it is proposed that for alternative practices to emerge and spill over, it could be appropriate to design mechanisms that would assist people in the process of appropriation and transition to new sets of practices.

Question: Why would someone be interested in discarding a cultural toolkit they are familiar with (even though they might not be content with its performance) if they do not see the advantage of acquiring and learning how to use a new one?

1. Swidler, Ann. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review 51.2 (1986): 273-286. Web. 9 Jul 2011.

2. Swidler 279.

3. Swidler 272.

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  1. […] respect and empathy, taking into account the different tools others might have inside their “cultural toolkit” and the challenges this […]



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