Another “dimension of culture” which we want to bring closer to you within the cycle related to cultural differences is the issue of whether individual or group is more important in a given society.
The division into collectivist and individualist societies proposed by Geert Hofstede, a culture researcher, answers the question of how important and valuable an individual is in society and how important a group and its interests are.
The dimension of individualism and collectivism reflects the level of independence of members of a given group.
In individualistic cultures, own success and career development of an individual are valued and desired, an individual is required to be responsible for themselves and their family; in collectivist cultures, on the other hand, an individual is, above all, a member of a community and is expected to be subordinate to the community and to care for their welfare and well-being in the first place. In collectivist cultures, individual functions in a network of obligations towards others: close family, but also further relatives, neighbours, members of their clan or ethnic group.
An example of individualistic culture is American culture, while collectivist culture is Asian, e.g. Japanese, Vietnamese or African cultures.
In individualistic cultures, an individual is understood as an independent and individual being, which is more important than group. Goodness, success and goals of an individual are important. Dependence on a group is low because in individualistic cultures an individual relies on groups and institutions other than the family: the main source of information is the mass media, in situations requiring support, members of individualistic societies can turn to local government institutions, neighbourhood groups and NGOs for support.
In individualistic cultures, individual is understood as an independent and individual being, which is more important than group.
Dimension of collectivism and individualism, power distance likewise, is measured on a scale from 1 to 120. The lower the score obtained on the scale, the more collectivist the group is, the higher the score, the more individualised the group is. The most individualised countries are the United States of America (91), Australia (90), Great Britain (89) and the Netherlands (80). Poland also belongs to the individualised societies (60), with similar results achieved by Germany (67).
Collectivist cultures are cultures, in which the concept of “self ” does not exist in the European understanding. “Self” is interdependent, which means that a person exists only as part of some larger community, e.g. a family, but does not exist “on its own”. Therefore, in these cultures a group or community stands above the individual, in the sense that the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual. Individual considers it a success to have achieved the goal that the group sets itself. Dependence on the group is visible in many dimensions of the life of an individual, ranging from basic sources of information (contacts and personal relationships) to health care patterns (it rests mainly on the family). Each member of the group has an influence on how the whole group is perceived, so all manifestations of otherness are eliminated. This is perfectly illustrated by the Asian proverb “A protruding peg will always be sawn”.
The most collectivist countries are Guatemala (6), Ecuador (8), Panama (11) and Venezuela (12). The countries that are quite strongly collectivised are, e.g., Ukraine (25), Belarus (25), Russia (39) and Vietnam (40).
In collectivist cultures, a group or community stands above the individual and the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual. In such a culture, individual sets the achievement of a purpose important to the group as goal.
In collectivist cultures, private life is dominated by the groups, to which an individual belongs, in individualistic cultures everyone has the right to live their own lives.
Differences between collectiveism and individualism in workplace
In individualistic culture, employees primarily pursue their own financial and career development goals. An employer, when hiring or promoting an employee, relies on legal regulations and takes into account the skills, competences and experience of the person they want to hire. Implementation of tasks is a priority, maintaining good relations within the team is not so important. In individualistic cultures, employees are more willing to use electronic forms of communication than in collectivist cultures.
In collectivist culture, the promotion of an employee depends on a group they belong to, not on their individual successes. In individualistic culture, on the other hand, an employer, when hiring or promoting an employee, relies on the law and takes into account skills, competences and experience.
In collectivist culture, employees strive to achieve group goals, not individual successes. Promotion of an employee depends on which group he or she belongs to, not on his or her individual successes. Employees are also not redepartmented individually, but collectively. Decisions regarding employment or promotion are made based on the employee’s group membership. Keeping good relations in a group is more important than the implementation of planned tasks. Interestingly, the Internet and e-mail are rarely used for contacts, face-to-face meetings are preferred.
Employees in collectivist societies are much less mobile than employees in individualistic societies, which is partly due to the way young people are educated.
It is often surprising or frustrating when a person, after a long search for a job, easily leaves it, or does not come to work for a reason which in Poland we would consider trivial. A person brought up in Polish culture, faced with a choice: go to work or pick up relatives from a railway station, will usually consider that it is their duty to work and relatives are a private matter. But then again, in collectivist cultures, where group is more important than the individual and their needs, it will be much more important to support relatives in this situation. Work has to take second place. Failure to pick up relatives from the station in this culture is considered shameful and almost antisocial behaviour. In collective cultures, a person functions in a network of obligations towards other people: family, but also further relatives, neighbours, members of his clan or ethnic group. Their approach to their own affairs, even from our perspective, will be different than we would expect.
Type of culture and organisation of school activities
In individualistic cultures, children in school have the right to express their own opinions, without having to take into account the opinion of a group on a particular issue. The educational process itself is geared towards teaching children how to acquire new knowledge and develop. In an individualistic culture, obtaining a diploma is not so much about gaining more respect but about improving one’s financial situation and self-esteem.
In collectivist societies, children at school can speak at lessons if they represent the opinion or views of the whole group. Education is geared to the reproductive role. The purpose of school education is to teach children how to perform specific activities, which translates to their low flexibility on the labour market because they are taught specific activities. Diplomas enable individuals to access groups with higher status (social respect and privileges).
„Cultural differences in school – case study”
Subject: names and surnames
The experience of teachers working with children of Asian origin shows that it is very difficult for children to ask questions about their home address and the names of their parents. Sometimes, it is also embarrassing to have to answer a seemingly simple question: What is your name?
These problems may be related to the conviction prevailing in some Eastern cultures – including Asian, Arabic, Caucasian, or collectivist cultures – that the surname is something that says more about a person. It is a sign of belonging to a group, family, clan – and this belonging is more valuable than the name of an individual. For example, in Vietnamese culture, in everyday communication – at work, school, and even at home – names are rarely used. In the languages of countries where such rules apply, there are many forms of addressing another person, e.g. master – teacher, guardian – older brother, younger daughter – younger daughter. Moreover, in Vietnamese culture, a name almost always has a meaning – it is given, for example, in reference to the weather on the birthday of a child; it can also be given so that it rhymes with the name of an older child. In China or Vietnam, name is a private and intimate sphere of a person, often only mothers have the privilege of talking to their child using their name. This is due, among other things, to the collective values of Asian cultures, where the group is more important than the individual; the hierarchy maintains social order and harmony within the group, and naming each person according to his or her social role influences the maintenance of the hierarchy”.1
1Międzykulturowość w szkole, Poradnik dla nauczycieli i specjalistów, Red. Kinga Białek, Ośrodek Rozwoju Edukacji, Warszawa 2015