Culture and self

Authored by: Gary Gregg

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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The sections on “culture and self” in the row of social and cultural psychology textbooks on my shelf all present the consensus that Westerners live in individualist cultures and develop “independent” or “egocentric” selves, whereas non-Westerners live in collectivist cultures and develop “interdependent” or “sociocentric selves” (see Cross and Gore 2003 for a review). This research was spurred by Hofstede’s (1980) multinational survey of IBM employees, by Shweder and Bourne’s (1984) contrast of “sociocentric” Indian versus “egocentric” American selves, and by Geertz’s discussion of the Moroccan “mosaic” self, in which he made the often-cited observation that “The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe … [is] a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures” (1984: 126). Many of the textbooks illustrate the basic contrast with a diagram showing selves with “solid” versus “fluid” boundaries based on Markus and Kitayama’s “Culture and the Self” (1991), and several illustrate it with photos contrasting idiosyncratically clothed American students in informal settings with Asian students at festivals in uniform. None, however, reports the well-established criticisms of the “we’re egocentric/they’re sociocentric” view, such as Spiro’s (1993) observation that William James, G.H. Mead, and Erik Erikson all proposed sociocentric theories of the self, or the ample evidence that individualism (hereafter “I”) and collectivism (hereafter “C”) co-exist in most societies, as Triandis (1994) argued. In fact, Markus and Kitayama originally presented both a boundary permeability model (sociocentrics have less solidly bounded selves), and a repertoire of schemata model (people have both I and C self-schemas but sociocentrics more frequently activate C). The latter model points to the co-existence of I and C, but the textbooks continue to feature the boundary permeability view.

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