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Individualism and Collectivism: Implications for Women

Abstract

This essay examines the nature and dynamics of individualism and collectivism as social and interpersonal phenomena. It considers the importance of affirming the true self as a key feature of individualism as conceived by Donald Capps. By means of cultural and gender analysis, the essay explores aspects of self-affirmation among women, especially Korean American women in both individualist and collectivist societies. It ultimately proposes a “self-affirming collectivism” that promotes the authentic individual self as imago Dei whose unique identity is expressed within community.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    There are two types of individualism — utilitarian and expressive. Utilitarian individualism, which can be traced to Benjamin Franklin, focuses primarily on individual self-improvement through material resources. Expressive individualism, represented by Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, is seen by Bellah et al. (1985) as the more destructive type, i.e., as a form of self-expression that promotes celebrating the self above all things and therefore poses a threat to American society.

  2. 2.

    Though family systems theory tends to focus more on systems, it does not entirely ignore individual persons in the system. Moreover, the trend in family systems theory is toward a more intentional reclaiming of individuals within the system.

  3. 3.

    Tanner (2007) contends that it is not plausible to apply the concept of the Trinity to human relationships, for such reasons as limitations of human language in describing of the Trinity and the fundamental differences between the Triune God and humans. However, Tanner sees the possibility of bridging the gap between the Trinity and human relations by starting from Christology and then moving to the concept of the Trinity.

  4. 4.

    The term “interpathy” is a special skill of the intercultural counselor. It refers to “an intentional cognitive and affective envisioning of another’s thoughts and feelings from another culture, worldview, and epistemology” (Augsburger 1986, p. 31).

  5. 5.

    Neuger (2001) developed five Rs to help women gain clarity: remembering, reframing, reversing, re-imagining, and restorying.

  6. 6.

    It is expected that Korean American men may resist taking part in Korean American women’s self-affirmation process, for this may result in the initial loss of power and thus the possibility of shame for the men.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Emory University’s Candler School of Theology faculty for their invaluable comments and suggestions on my paper: Elizabeth M. Bounds, Carol Lakey Hess, Rodney Hunter, Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Joy Ann McDougall, Ian McFarland, Mary Elizabeth Moore, and Jonathan Strom. I wish to extend my special gratitude to all the participants and presenters at the 2008 Capps Conference at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary for their keen insights, especially to Donald Capps, Robert Dykstra, Carol L. Schnabl Schweitzer, and Ralph L. Underwood. Lastly, my heartfelt appreciation goes to David Dai Sung Hong for his presence, passion, and extensive engagement throughout the entire paper.

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Correspondence to Simone Sunghae Kim.

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Kim, S.S. Individualism and Collectivism: Implications for Women. Pastoral Psychol 58, 563 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-009-0236-4

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Keywords

  • Individualism
  • Collectivism
  • Imago Dei
  • Perichoresis
  • Korean American women
  • Self-affirming collectivism
  • Donald Capps