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Last Updated on March 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

Habits of the Heart is a study conducted by a group of sociologists, including Ann Swidler, Robert N. Bellah, and Richard Madsen. A theologian named Steven M. Tipton also drafted the study, which lasted from 1980 to 1990.

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The study is a collection of 200 interviews from middle-class, white Americans. The interviewers separated the interviewees into four groups: the therapist, independent citizen, manager, and entrepreneur. Based on the interviews, the authors analyze middle-class America, white Americans, individualism, and Christianity.

The title itself derives from phraseology used by French historian and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, who stressed equality above individualism. The authors condemn what they believe are radical strains of individualism that strip away societal protections and hamper freedom. In particular, they target utilitarian and expressive individualism.

Utilitarian individualism occurs when an individual views society as a collection of individuals who agree to a social contract and are primarily concerned about self-interest. Expressive individualism opposes the former and advocates that emotions comprise a core part of a person and should be expressed to retain individuality. Instead, the authors support collective action and civic engagement, including the restoration of traditions and previous ways of thinking.

Moreover, they argue that individuals should place collective interests ahead of individual pursuits and that religion plays a prominent role in societal cohesiveness. The book touches upon such themes as democracy, marriage, family values, Christianity and religion, and community. For instance, the authors stress how Reagan-era capitalism and liberalism should not be mutually exclusive and merge to form a new path that champions societal benefit and individual gain.

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