All the chapters in the volume stress action in culture - that is, action constructed in response to certain traditional problems and as statements within an ongoing conversation. As we have moved from advertisements and movies to parades and then to minutes and parties, we have also moved to situations when the response of the audience is more and more closely tied to the statements that came before and to those that follow. While it has been argued that the great "themes" of American culture are more than simply "made explicit" in such texts as advertisements and movies, it would be easy to think of them as detached statements with little relevance to action. Parades are acted out, but they are too clearly collective (theatrical) representations to point out to us where an emphasis on action in culture is leading.
The next two chapters move us further in this direction by looking at ways of handling everyday life: in the first (Canaan, chap. 9) through an analysis of various statements or texts about it, and in the second (Varenne, chap. 10) through an analysis of a brief exchange between a man and a woman one day in a Manhattan park. Both essays emphasize the role of the traditional themes (of love, sex, individualism, hospitality, community), the confusion of the actors, and their deliberate, active efforts to build something that satisfies the often contradictory needs to express experience, make it make sense, and place the audience in a position where its legitimate responses will not be too destructive. Both essays show how, in this ambiguous and, in these cases, rather unsatisfactory process, the culture is reproduced as a condition for further exchanges and yet perhaps subtly subverted.
These chapters should make explicit how the collective effort of the authors of this volume differs from the work done in old-style culture and personality or recent cognitive science. In our perspective, the analytical task goes beyond elucidating the knowledge participants must have to decipher the messages addressed to them or to produce behaviors that will be effective locally. We are not simply looking for the formal rules one must know to offer hospitality in America. Neither are we looking for the pragmatic rules one must use to refuse a sexual advance or an invitation to drop in. Rather, we are assuming uncertain, resistant, ambiguously knowledgeable informants who easily lapse into inarticulateness as they find themselves in situations they did not produce and in which they are made to suffer. The young women of Canaan's paper are not yet able to produce the kind of articulate statement that, one can imagine, they may learn to make after a few more years of growing up, reading, attending college, and so forth. They are not fully knowledgeable informants. And yet they may know more than the culture forms at their disposal will ever easily let them express. Who knows but that several years of college will limit rather than expand their consciousness by training them more thoroughly in certain rhetorical forms? As for the actors in Varenne's essay, they are actually silenced as they never utter the words with which they are struggling.
Culture is not knowledge. It is not "character" or "personality." It is the context of action that makes itself through us. Although there is pattern in this context, and though we are placed in the position of reproducing it, we are not, singly, responsible for it. By ourselves, or in a small isolated group, or in the many niches where mass cultures do not reach us, we move cultural patterns until the old models look radically foreign. We do not apply rules to form our behavior. We create our behavior by handling what is given to us and then by responding to the continual responses that greet our behaviors.
All the texts presented by Canaan and Varenne should therefore be seen as utterances within ongoing conversations and thus dependent in their constitution on the same principles of coherence, trust, and collusion that have been identified by those who study face-to-face discourse. The stories of kinky and normal sex, rape, and love told by Canaan's high-school "kids" are contexts to each other. They do not tell us "what" the kids know or believe. As we will see, what they seem to know or believe is altogether unformed and contradictory. The kids, however, have to handle their sexual experiences, and the totality of their texts - only some of which they can individually perform - constitutes a cultural system within which their own statements fit as one voice in a large chorus. Varenne looks both at a set of texts that respond to each other by presenting different possible ways of handling sincerity in the offering of friendship ("meaning a greeting") and at a set of closely linked utterances in a brief tape-recorded conversation. The latter analysis is intended as a final argument for the need to separate the individual participant from the cultural structure within which he acts and which he thereby reproduces.