Autonomy or Dependence – or Both?: Perspectives from Bangladesh
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The idea of personal autonomy is central to many accounts of eudaimonic well-being. Yet it is often criticized as a Western concept celebrating individualism and independence over group obligations and interdependence or dependence. This paper rejects this view and argues that coherent accounts of autonomy must always recognize the interdependence of people in groups, and that autonomy can coexist with substantial relationships of dependence. It illustrates this drawing on evidence from Bangladesh, a poor country usually absent from cross-cultural studies and one where personal relationships of hierarchy and dependence are endemic. Argument and evidence are presented showing the coexistence of personal autonomy and dependence, and the relationship between collective action and autonomy. We also address some of the specific problems encountered in researching autonomy in a social context where it is mainly expressed in relational forms. We conclude that autonomy can be directed toward both personal and social goals, and can be enacted individually, or by participation in groups. Autonomy is a universal psychological need but its expression is always contextual.
Keywordsautonomy Bangladesh eudaimonic wellbeing individualism and collectivism relationships
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