- Individualism and collectivism


In individualistic value orientation, people are primarily concerned about themselves and their immediate family. In collectivistic value orientation, people's major concern is their ingroup or community. The ingroup is expected to look after an individual in exchange for loyalty. The distinction between the ingroups and outgroups in collectivistic cultures in reflected in communication, for example, in different norms of politeness. The ingroup is vital for a person's success -- even survival -- and therefore good relationships have to be maintained.

Belonging to an ingroup is verbalized in such daily communicative practices as greetings. In some cultures the greetings include not the person talked to but also inquiries after the well-being of his/her family members. In Mozambique, for instance, a common question in local languages is "How are you (in plural)?" (in Portuguese: como estão?). In general, the concept of the human being in collectivistic societies such as Mozambique is collective also in the sense that it comprises the dead, the living and the yet to be born.

Collectivism, and collective thinking is defined by Ethiopians as follows:

"Thinking that originates from the influence of a traditional society, where more or less everything is collectively owned, where neighbourhoods live in unison sharing the pleasures and toils of life, and where interests seem to converge and overlap. As a result of this, the whole community is so rigidly tied together with socio-economic and cultural cohesion, that sharing the same idea and images, shelter and neighbourhood, images and feelings, stories, myths, values and traditional cults, becomes the norm" (Vasko, Kjisik, Salo-Lee 1998:84).

Individualism is a characteristic tendency of industrialized societies. Modernization induces changes which are often assumed to be unidirectional, i.e., all societies are developing the same characteristic traits in the modernization process. The traits attributed to modern societies include (Bond 1995)

  • the sense of personal efficacy (anti-fatalism)
  • low social integration with relatives
  • egalitarian attitude towards others
  • openness to innovation and change
  • belief in sexual equality
  • high achievement motivation
  • independence or self-reliance
  • active participation in social organizations
  • tolerance of, and respect for, others
  • cognitive and behavioural flexibility
  • future organization
  • empathetic capacity
  • high need for information
  • propensity to take risks in life
  • secularization in religious belief
  • preference for urban life
  • high educational and occupational aspirations.

In spite of the assumption that the process of convergence towards a modern society is the same from culture to culture, a society can modernize and not lose valued elements of its tradition. The modern and the tradition are not necessarily incompatible.

© Liisa Salo-Lee, 2006


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