Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Individualism and Collectivism

 Hofstede and Triandis on the Cultural Dimension of Individualism and Collectivism:

An Overview.

Shriram Venkataraman and P.Govinda Reddy

Management Matters, Vol.1, Issue 14, 2011
Value preferences, attitudes and behaviors are choices made at individual level.  They are individual characteristics.  In a society, certain social processes try to give uniformity and predictability to these characteristics.  Role modeling, general socialization in the family, in the educational institutions etc. and subtle methods of social rewards and punishments can influence the formation of value system and attitudes and determine the behavioral choices.  The ensuing uniformity within a society is considered a cultural variable, as the social processes across cultures are likely to be different.  Individualism and collectivism are two variables that have attracted lot of attention in the literature.
Individualism is a general orientation in a society which emphasizes personal aspects such as personal goals, personal uniqueness and personal control and marginalizes social aspects (Hsu, 1983; Kagisticibasi, 1994; Triandis, 1995).  Individualism emphasizes creating and maintaining positive sense of self, personal success, developing unique qualities for the self and relying on abstract traits (Baumeiser, 1998; Oyserman and Markus 1993).  Individualism implies that attainment of one’s personal goal is important indicator of well being and life satisfaction (Diener and Diener 1995).  Individualism also implies that judgment, reasoning and causal inference are generally oriented toward the person rather than the situation or social context (Morris and Peng, 1994).
The core element of collectivism is the assumption that groups bind and mutually obligate individuals (Oyserman et al.2002).  In these societies the personal is a component of the social and in-group is the key unit of analysis (Triandis, 1995).  Collectivism emphasizes group membership as central aspect of identity (Hofstede, 1980 and Kim, 1994) and valued personal traits are based on goals of collectivism (Oyserman, 1993).  Collectivism implies that individual’s life satisfaction comes from the performance of social roles and obligations (Kwan and Singelis, 1988).

Studies of Hofstede on Individualism and Collectivism

Hofstede, in 1980 published a work quantifying the cultural dimensions for the first time, based on an extensive research  ( conducted twice between 1967 and 1969 and again between 1971 and 1973)  with over 116,000 questionnaire responses of over 88,000 employees of IBM in 72 countries (later reduced to 40 countries and again extended to 50 countries in three regions). With a minimum of 50 respondents in each country, the survey was conducted in 20 languages and was published as a comprehensive work in the form of a book titled “Culture’s Consequences” in 1980. Through theoretical reasoning and a country level factor analysis he introduced four factors or dimensions of culture which determine national cultures and called the first dimension as individualisma and collectivism.  According to him, the dimension of Individualism – Collectivism refers to:
“The high side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society's position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we’.”

Hofstede (1983) mentioned that through his study he observed that poorer countries in terms of wealth were collectivistic and wealthy countries were individualistic in nature.  Hofstede (2001) is of the openion that the dimension of individualism and collectivism is affected by economic factors such as wealth or poverty. 

Studies of Triandis on Individualism and Collectivism/Communitarianism

Similarly Trompenaars (1994) introduced seven dimensions of culture. One among them is Individualism versus Communitarianism.  According to him it refers to:
“The degree to which people see themselves function more as a community or more as individuals. In a principally individualistic culture, people place the individual before the community. This means that individual happiness, fulfillment and welfare prevails and people take their own initiative and take care of themselves. In a principally communitarian culture, people place the community before the individual. Thus, it is the responsibility of the individual to act in ways which serve society. In doing so, individual needs are automatically attended”.

According to Traindis (1990) collectivists emphasize on relationships whereas the individualists emphasize on rationality. Triandis and Suh (2002) observed that the interpersonal relationships of people in collectivistic cultures were more stable than those in individualistic cultures.

Triandis (2004) states that people in collectiovistic culture pay more attenntion to how something is said (like attention to gesture and tone of voice) than to what is being said.  Further, collectivists see environment as immutable and people as mutable and indiviudlists see peole as stable no matter how the environment is.  Similarly, collectivists see behavior as due to external factors such as norms and roles than due to inernal factors such as attitudes and pesonality and the self is interdependent and changeable based on the in-group one is with, whereas, individualists see self as stable.  Also, people in colectivistic culture give more preference to in-group goals than to personal goals.

Triandis (2004) also observes tht within any culture, individuals can either be idiocentric (think, feel and behave as people in individualistic culture) or allocentric (like people in collectivistic cultures).  Similarly, collectivistic cultures have around 30 to 100 percent allocentric people and between 0 to 35 percent idiocentrics.  Individualistic cultures have between 35 to 100 percent idiocentrics and 0 to 35 percent allocentrics.

Triandis (2004) states that idiocentrics are high on expressiveness, dominance, initiation of action, logical arguments, aggressiveness, regulation of flow of communication, eye contact, tended to finish task and has strong openions.  Further, idiocentrics in collectivistic cultures tend to feel dominated by the culture and want to eacape from it.  Similary, allocentrics are high on accommodating, avoidance of argument, shifted opinions more easily than idiocentirics.  Further, allocentrics in individualistic cultures feel the need to join groups, associations, unions among others.

Triandis (2004) states that factors such as affluence, leadership role, education, international travel and social mobility, socializing in bilateral families, movement to an indiviuslistic culture after upbringing in a collectivistic culture, greater exposure to western mass media and acculturation for years to a western culure as factors that influence idiocentric tendencies.  Similarly, factors such as financial dependence on an in-group, low social class, limited education, limited travel, socialization in unilateral families, traditionally religious and acculturation to a collectivistic culture as factors that influence allocentric tendencies.

Triandis (2004) states that organizations that have indivisualistic cultures have greater individualistic human practices and people in these organizations are selected on the basis of their individual attributes.  Further, these organizations have less training as employees are seen to be less loyal and less committed to organizations and are seen to leave the organizations when better opportunities arise.  Paternalism is not common, boss does not maintain personal relationships with the employees and mangers are highly concerned about performance.  Similarly, organizations tht have collectivistic cultures have collectivistic human practices.  People in these organizations are selected on the basis of group memberships.  Organizations have more tarining as employees are seen to be loyal and highly committed to organizations and are observed to stick to organizations.  Paternalism is common, boss maintains a personal relaionship with his employees and managers are more concerned about interpersonal relationships than performance.

Triandis (2004) also observes that a national level, the wealth of nations can be correlated  to individualism and collectivism and states that countries can move from being collectivistic to being individualistic when they become more affluent, but he also states that this might require several generations.
Comparison of works of Hofstede and Triandis on Individualism and Collectivism
It is interesting to observe the contributions of Hofstede and Triandis on the same dimension of individualism and collectivism from two different perspectives.  While Hofstede explores this cultural dimension from a macro level, Triandis expands and explores this dimension at a micro level.

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