Collectivist and Individualist Societies

In China, it can be said, there is an historical cultural emphasis on relationships between people, on reciprocal duties, on etiquette etc -- there is subordination without subservience if reciprocal duties are followed. In this way social harmony, always a primary concern in Asian culture, is sustained. In the West, as the quotes from Phillipe Descola indicates, a separate subject - separate from nature and to a larger degree from his fellow persons is the pattern. This is very generally speaking of course - the concept of interpersonal duty exists centrally in Western discourses and practices. However these concepts are weighted differently in the different worlds. And their relationships with other concepts have also been different depending on the historical situation. So, it is no surprise that Western societies are labelled Individualist and Eastern Collectivist.


individualism and collectivism



individualism and collectivism

individual rights


In the first video here we take a look at dance in collectivist and individualist societies.

VIDEO 6:  CULTURE THROUGH DANCE




QUESTIONS:
  1. Do people from “me" and "we” societies understand each other?
  2. Name 3 "we" and 3 "me" societies.
  3. Is Saudi Arabia a “me” or a “we” society?
  4. Could there be individualists in a collectivist society?
  5. What sort of social and economic change is likely to lead to individualist behaviour?
  6. Is Abdullah a collectivist in an individualist society or an individualist in a collectivist society?
  7. If he continues being a collectivist in America what’s going to happen?
  8. A "survival course" isn't usually used to describe going into a nightclub. Is Abdullah using the expression metaphorically or literally?


    ARGUMENT IS WAR. This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions:

    ARGUMENT IS WAR

    Your claims are indefensible.
    He attacked every weak point in my argument.
    His criticisms were right on target.
    I demolished his argument.
    I have never won an argument with him.
    You disagree? Okay, shoot!
    If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out.
    He shot down all of my arguments.

    Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently. But we would probably not see them as arguing at all: they would be doing something different. It would seem strange even to call what they were doing 'arguing'.

    CLAIRE KRAMSCH. LANGUAGE AND CULTURE, OUP, 1998.

 
 

Are the Dancing Straw Hats collectivists or individualists? Could they be individual collectivists? Or collective individualists? Or dancers?


VIDEO 7:  DANCING STRAW HATS ASIAN CONCEPT

 

 

The next tubes about "ME" and "WE" societies. Especially workplace relationships.


 VIDEO 8:  CULTURAL DIMENSIONS: "ME" and "WE"



QUESTIONS:

  1. Individualists have a preference for independence and self-reliance. (T/F)
  2. Collectivists (we's) have a preference for interdependence and harmony within the group. (T/F)
  3. Me people are interested in human rights, personal responsibility and personal advancement. (T/F)
  4. We people will not advance their personal interests at the expense of the group (T/F )
  5. Individualists are more likely to help someone outside of the group. (T/F)
  6. To operate outside of the interests of the group us considered shameful in a collectivist society. (T/F)
  7. " The nail that stands up will be hammered down". "Me" or "we"?
  8. In a collectivist society a poorly performing employee will be fired immediately. (T/F)
  9. In a "me" society an employer would think very carefully about considering taking an outside job offer. (T/F)
  10. If there are individualists in a collectivist society are they more likely to belong to the younger or older generation?
  11. Was Confucius an individualist? 





A widely viewed example of individualism happened on June 5 1989 in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

VIDEO 9: TIANANMEN SQUARE



QUESTIONS:
  1. The man in front of the tank had a bad day at the office. T/F
  2. The tank commander knew the incident could be on international TV. T/F
  3. The tank commander knew the man in front. T/F
  4. Many soldiers don't want blood on their hands. T/F


Cui Jian, a rock musician, was also in the area at some times.

VIDEO 10: CUI JIAN CHINAS FIRST ROCK STAR



Meanwhile, back to the future in America, the alternative press reported an outbreak of Collectivism.


 
 



--- one might even describe the concept of the unique individual and the theoretical basis of individualism as ideological. There are in fact two positions on all this, one of which is more radical than the other. The first one is content to say: yes, once upon a time, in the classic age of competitive capitalism, in the heyday of the nuclear family and the emergence of the bourgeoisie as the hegemonic social class, there was such a thing as individualism, as individual subjects. But today, in the age of corporate capitalism, of the so-called organization man, of bureaucracies in business as well as in the state, of demographic explosion - today, that older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists.

Then there is a second position, the more radical of the two - what one might call the post structuralist position. It adds: not only is the bourgeois individual subject a thing of the past, it is also a myth; it never really existed in the first place; there have never been autonomous subjects of that type. Rather, this construct 'is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification which sought to persuade people that they 'had' individual subjects and possessed some unique personal identity. 

FREDRIC JAMESON.THE CULTURAL TURN. VERSO 1998





        
 














 
 


Edward Hall (1914 - 2009) looked at how people in Individualist and Collectivist societies communicate differently. For Hall, people in collectivist cultures are what he called "high context" communicators, and people in individualist cultures he called "low context" communicators. If you - as a person from an individualist culture - have done some travelling in collectivist cultures you'll know exactly what he's talking about. 

 
 

 
 


 
 




 
 


 
 
 
 



Intercultural communication can be important. So why are so many of the instructions on those "Made in China" products so wrong sometimes?
Maybe the answer can be found in the next video.

VIDEO 11: 
HILARIOUS INTERNATIONAL



HI and Low Context Communication


Richard Nisbett, a cultural psychologist, summarizes what you know so far about "me" and "we" societies, and comments on how and why "me" and "we" people see and think differently. It is the way of thinking and seeing which gives rise to different outward social behaviours and perceptions of reality.  


VIDEO 12: RICHARD NISBETT - CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AT AN INSTINCTUAL LEVEL 


QUESTIONS:

  1. Interdependent cultures are collectivist, "we" societies while independent cultures are individualist, “me” societies. (T/F)
  2. Are people in interdependent cultures high or low context communicators?
  3. Why are people from interdependent cultures more sensitive to socio emotional cues (signs) than independents?
  4. What are the two cognitive styles?
  5. Analytics focus on a broad range of issues before they act. They "cook" all the information first. (T/F)
  6. You are an advertising executive in a global firm. Will your TV ads for your product or service be the same in China as in Sweden?




- we’ve seen that modern Asians, like the ancient Chinese, view the world in holistic terms: They see a great deal of the field, especially background events; they are skilled in observing relationships between events; they regard the world as complex and highly changeable and its components as interrelated; they see events as moving in cycles between extremes; and they feel that control over events requires coordination with others. Modern Westerners, like the ancient Greeks, see the world in analytic, atomistic terms; they see objects as discrete and separate from their environments; they see events as moving in linear fashion when they move at all; and they feel themselves to be personally in control of events even when they are not. Not only are worldviews different in a conceptual way, but also the world is literally viewed in different ways. Asians see the big picture and they see objects in relation to their environments—so much so that it can be difficult for them to visually separate objects from their environments. Westerners focus on objects while slighting the field and they literally see fewer objects and relationships in the environment than do Asians.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF THOUGHT. RICHARD E NISBETT, NICHOLAS BREARLEY PUBLISHING, 2005.





Buddhist cultures retained the ancient meaning of of femaleness long after the west had renounced them. Male and female, the Chinese yang and yin, are balanced and interpenetrating powers in man and nature, to which society is subordinate. The code of passive acceptance has its roots in India, a land of sudden extremes where a monsoon can wipe out 50,000 people overnight. The femaleness of fertility religions is always double edged. The Indian nature goddess Kali is creator and destroyer, granting boons with one set of arms while cutting throats with the other. She is a lady ringed with skulls. The moral ambivalence of the great mother goddesses has been conveniently forgotten by those American feminists who have resurrected them. We cannot grasp natures bare blade without shedding our own blood.

CAMILLE PAGLIA. SEXUAL PERSONAE, PENGUIN,  1992.


 
 


 
 

 



 

 
 


 

 


In this video President Xi Jinping gives a press conference at the White House in America with President Obama. An American journalist asks President Xi Jinping a question. Given what you know about Confucianism (relationships between different categories of people, ritual, etiquette and ceremony)and the different cognitive styles and ways of conveying/requesting information, what are your comments on the video?

VIDEO 13: CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING AVOIDS AMERICAN REPORTERS QUESTION






Collectivism, interdependence and a holistic cognitive style could be called Asian values.


VIDEO 14: KISHORE MAHBHUBHANI: WHAT ARE ASIAN VALUES?


QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the official date for the end of the Cold War?
  2. Why were some western intellectuals cocky and triumphalist at this time?
  3. The Command Economies may have failed in societies with different "underlying ethnic fabrics", but underlying cultural values and beliefs didn't change at all. (T/F)
  4. What happens if western values and practices are suddenly introduced to societies with a "different underlying ethnic fabrics"?
  5. Francis Fukuyama (The End of History?, National Interest, 1989) and Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilisations?, Foreign Affairs, 1993) wrote these essays around the time the Cold War ended, and the Chinese take off in the 1980's and 1990's. T/F 



Another argument is that we are experiencing a “clash of civilizations.” In this view, cultural differences are regarded as immutable and generating rivalry and conflict. At the same time, there is a widespread understanding that growing global interconnectedness leads toward increasing cultural standardization and uniformization, as in the global sweep of consumerism. A shorthand version of this momentum is McDonaldization. A third position, altogether different from both these models of intercultural relations, is that what is taking place is a process of cultural mixing or hybridization across locations and identities.

JAN NEDERVEEN PIETERSE. GLOBALISATION & CULTURE, ROWMAM & LITTLEFIELD, 2009.

 
 
   
       


An interesting objection to the hybridization argument is that what are actually being mixed are cultural languages rather than grammars. The distinction runs between surface and deep-seated elements of culture. It is, then, the folkloric, superficial elements of culture—foods, costumes, fashions, consumption habits, arts and crafts, entertainments, healing methods—that travel, while deeper attitudes and values, the way elements hang together, the structural ensemble of culture, remain contextually bound. There are several implications to this argument. It would imply that contemporary “planetarization” is a surface phenomenon only because “deep down” humanity remains divided in historically formed cultural clusters. Does this also imply that the new social technologies of telecommunication—from jet aircraft to electronic media — are surface phenomena only that don’t affect deep-seated attitudes? If so, the implications would be profoundly conservative. A midway position is that the new technologies are profound in themselves while each historically framed culture develops its own takes on the new spaces of commonality.

JAN NEDERVEEN PIETERSE. GLOBALISATION AND CULTURE, ROWNAN & LITTLEFIELD, 2000




     



 
 



In this video Ann Lee and La Toya Petersen talk about Popular Culture and the Chinese - American youth experience in China and America.


VIDEO 15: THE PANEL DISCUSSES DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHINESE AND AMERICAN CULTURE.


QUESTIONS:
  1. What's the title of the book by Ann Lee?
  2. Why does Lee say that China has a " more restrictive social code " than America?
  3. Some American cultural media exports are superficially entertaining?
  4. How long before we have a global culture?
  5. What can America learn from China?
  6. Is the Internet forming a new global language?
  7. China has learnt from South Korean and Japanese rapid modernisation/industrialisation? 
  8. What do you think Ann Lee is thinking when she supposes that China will have to market and brand itself? 
  9. America is a "developing country". T/F

     
     
     

      

What Ekman is saying is that the face is an enormously rich source of information about emotion. In fact, he makes an even bolder claim - one central to the understanding how mind reading works - and that is that the information on our face is not just a signal of what is going on inside our mind. In a certain sense it IS what is going on inside our mind.

MALCOLM GLADWELL. BLINK, PENGUIN BOOKS, 2005.



What do some Chinese in America think about cultural differences ? Lets leave Alex and Victoria for later.

VIDEO 16: ASIAN CULTURE vs AMERICAN CULTURE




     


The idea that the present contains distinct historical epochs called traditional and modern seems especially problematic for North American anthropologists who have been critical of ethnographic writing that tacitly equates social with temporal distance. (2) Instead it makes more sense to say that our global contemporaries all equally inhabit a late twentieth-century world. From this perspective, to speak of certain groups as if they inhabited another century or millennium smacks more of metropolitan prejudice than considered judgment. 

NESTOR CANCLINI. HYBRID CULTURES, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA PRESS, 2005.


Precisely as we move from the descriptive character of the notion of hybridization — as a fusion of discrete structures — toward developing the concept as an explanatory resource, we are able to indicate in which cases the mixes can be productive, and when they generate conflicts owing to something that remains incompatible or irreconcilable in the practices brought together. Cornejo Polar has contributed to this move forward when he says that, just as one "enters and exits modernity," one could also understand historically the variations and conflicts of the metaphor that concerns us if we speak of "entering and exiting hybridity" (Cornejo Polar 1999)

NESTOR CANCLINI. HYBRID CULTURES, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA PRESS, 2005.





VIDEO 17: FICTION WRITER YIYUN LI