Collectivism refers to a situation where group values have priority over individual values. When this happens, group values function as guidance and evaluation criteria for personal achievements and actions.
Types of subgroup settings that practice collectivism include:
In collectivist cultures, individuals make their actions compatible with group values. Thus leads to harmonious group behaviors that promote stronger ties among group members. These strong connections and feelings toward the group serve as motivators for the group members (Triandis, 1995, p. 2).
Collectivist Culture Examples
- China: China is considered one of the most collectivist cultures in the world, as reflected in the nation’s official communist ideology. This ideology puts the goal of a classless society first and foremost above individual rights and freedoms.
- Cuba: Perhaps even more than China, Cuba embodies the communist ideal of a ‘communal’ culture where a central government runs a command economy, expecting everyone to contribute equally to the nation-building project.
- Scandinavian Social Democracy: When progressives in America look to a collectivist ideal, they often point to Scandinavia, where individual freedoms are balanced against a shared responsibility for universal healthcare and low-cost higher education.
- Worker cooperatives: Outside of nation-states, we can see collectivist cultures in workplaces such as worker cooperatives, where all the workers are the owners of the business. This creates a flat hierarchy and a shared interest in the group’s success.
- Trade unions: Trade unions often encourage a one-for-all mentality, especially during strikes where “crossing the picket line” is frowned upon, and staff are expected to sacrifice their wages for the good of the contract negotiations (see more: pros and cons of unions).
- The nuclear family: Collectivism tends to be a key trait of the nuclear family as well, where family members are often expected to make personal sacrifices and “pitch in” for the good of the group, even if it’s not for immediate personal benefit.
- Church groups: Many, but not all, church groups will function as collectivist groups. They may expect, for example, tithing of income to contribute to the church, volunteering of time, and adherence to a collective code of ethics based on religious doctine.
- Indonesia: Heavily influenced by Islamic teachings, Indonesia is seen as a nation that puts less emphasis on individual liberty and more emphasis on actions for the social good, as prescribed by Islamic thought. This is seen, for example, in its strong centralized legal system with laws that emphasize a collectivist morality rather than tolerance for individualism.
- Military organizations: Soldiers work in teams where a collectivist mentality is encouraged. This is because soldiers need to rely on each other in life-or-death situations, so trust for each other and working as a unit rather than individuals is extremely important.
- Democratic classroom cultures: A collectivist classroom culture may be encouraged if a teacher takes issues like classroom rules to a democratic vote among the class group.
Collectivist vs. Individualist Cultures
In individualist cultures, individual liberty is emphasized. Individual self-expression and self-reliance are core values that lie at the heart of personal success and their cultural values.
Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, encourage deeper consideration for and adherence to collective values. They may consider themselves less competitive and more interdependent. There may be a one-for-all attitude, but also a cultural expectation that people do not stray too far from the social norms.
Scholars roughly categorize “non-Western” countries such as Brazil, India, Russia, Japan, China, Indonesia, and others as having cultures with collectivist cultural traits to different degrees.
In contrast, France, England, Germany, the United States, Australia, and Canada are “Western” countries with individualistic cultural traits to various degrees (Green, Deschamps & Páez, 2015, p. 321).
However, in both collectivist and indiidualist types of cultures, individuals might feel as if they are a part of the collectivist or individualist ideal – not everyone adheres to the cultural norm (Triandis, 1995).
|Collective needs hold high social value||Individual needs hold high social value|
|Responsibility to others is highly valued||Individual rights and liberties are highly valued|
|Non-Western nations such as Indonesia, Russia and China||Western nations such as the United States, UK, and Australia|
Worth Knowing: How Sociologists Define Culture
5 Case Studies of a Collectivist Mentality
1. Declining a job offer abroad.
A person from a collectivist culture can decline a job offer abroad.
This job may elevate his/her career and result in a better life. In an individualist culture, the person would accept or decline the offer based on personal considerations and preferences.
However, in a collectivist culture, the person decides not only to meet personal goals but also to see to it that personal goals are in harmony with the group goals and expectations.
If going abroad is a collective good, the person emigrates. If it is not, then the person may decline the offer.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from an individualist perspective may not be so from a collectivist point of view. Therefore, the person turns it down and stays home, close to the groups the person has an attachment to.
2. Marriage approval
Marriage approval is family and community approval of the partner choices of individuals for marriage.
An individual brought up in a collectivist society will not wed the other person if the group disapproves of the match under collective expectations.
In collectivist cultures, marriage is an institution tying both individuals and families together. That is why families approve or disapprove of partner choices. The interdependency of the collectivist culture underlies the decision-making.
However, in individualistic cultures, it is believed that people are autonomous beings who are free to choose as they please. So they choose their partners and wed regardless of communal approvals (Triandis, 1995, p.3).
3. Taking care of the elderly in the same household.
Taking care of the elderly members of the family in the same household means continuing to live with the aging members of the family and taking care of them even when moving out and living an independent life is an affordable option.
Self-supporting and individualist lifestyles are not unheard of but are uncommon.
Spatial proximity is a feature in collectivist cultures. Often, family members continue to live under one roof or in the vicinity, even after marriage. Spatial proximity and intergenerational support are closely connected.
In collective cultures, elderly group members have a role in the decision-making process. The younger individuals turn to them for advice, for example, on child-rearing or financial matters.
4. Low occupational mobility because of company loyalty
Low occupational mobility because of company loyalty occurs when an individual prefers to stay with his/her employing company.
This person may not consider moving to another company, even when a better opportunity arises. The importance of social harmony and a sense of belonging in collectivist cultures influences individual preferences.
Therefore, individuals continue their careers in their work environment, where they feel they belong and work in harmony.
Despite better occupational options, they may prefer to stay in their current social environment since they prioritize harmony, social relations, group needs, and expectations over individual preferences.
These individuals may think that the company needs them.
It is suggested that occupational mobility is lower in collectivist cultures compared to individualist cultures (Hofstede, 2001).
5. A student can talk in classes only when sanctioned by the group
What people express in speech is also conditional in collectivist cultures. Raised in collectivist cultures, individuals seek permission and approval to maintain harmony and strengthen existing social and emotional ties.
Individuality and originality of the ideas are not at the forefront of a talk, but belonging together and group values are. Individuals act as the agents of the group.
A student willing to talk in class does so when the group approves the ideas.
In collectivist cultures, this student’s self-image is ‘We.’ So, he/she talks for the group, reflecting group ideas and not strictly personal opinions.
Collectivism and individualism are two cultural patterns that refer to the attitudes of cultures toward group norms, social obligation, and individualism.
Generally, collectivist cultures focus on the social rather than the individual. Group goals and harmony rather than individuality, personal needs, and independence take priority.
Collectivism is characterized by interdependency. Individuals adhere to their groups and subgroups. The desire for social cohesion and harmony underlies decision-making and choice.
The expectations or norms of the subgroup, such as an extended family or a close-knit community, determine the conduct and attitudes of collectivists (Green, Deschamps & Páez, 2015, p. 322).
On the other hand, independence, autonomy, self-reliance, distinctiveness, achievement focus, and competition are typical characteristics of individualism. Individualism portrays individuals as in charge of and accountable for their behavior.
Green, E. G., Deschamps, J. C., & Páez, D. (2005). Variation of individualism and collectivism within and between 20 countries: A typological analysis. Journal of cross-cultural psychology, 36(3), 321-339.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. Sage.
Triandis, Harry C. (1995). Individualism & Collectivism. Routledge, New York.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]