The Individualist-Collectivist Continuum 

Lesson 2: Topic 8 of 19

The Individualist-Collectivist divide shouldn’t be seen as a strict either/or dichotomy. Instead, imagine a continuum, like a number line, with various national cultures on it. Some Individualist cultures are actually extreme Individualists (such as Australia and the United States), where autonomy and self-actualization are highly prized. In these societies, individual freedoms are viewed as worth fighting for. The idea is sometimes expressed as “No one can tell me what to do.” 

If you were born in the U.S. within a family from elsewhere, you likely know quite a bit about Individualism, even if your family maintains a Collectivistic worldview. Second generation immigrants are familiar with this tension. Anthropologists have long noted the tendency of children to gauge “fairness” in their own families by what happens with their peers. 

Israel, India, and Spain are a few of the nations in the mid-range, but this is actually more complex than for countries situated squarely at either end of the continuum!  

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  • Israel is heavily blended, with immediate family relationships preferred. Individual achievements are important, but extended family does figure into the lifestyle. Both personal responsibility and duty to one’s community are highly valued. 
  • India, with its multitude of cultures, is collectivistic in many ways. The individual is expected to cooperate with the larger family needs: financially, socially, and spiritually. Loyalty to family and company is expected. Jobs are often directly due to relational networks. The dominant religion is Hinduism, and the cycle of death and rebirth are believed to be dependent on the way one lives out life. This contributes to an Individualistic component.
  • Spain, within the context of Europe, appears to be highly collectivistic. Teamwork is expected, and this level of interdependence is a valuable trait when relating to non-europeans. The late morning start and long lunch break indicate how important relationships are — both at home and with coworkers. As communicators, though, Spaniards believe they are quite direct, which is an attribute usually only expected in low context cultures.