Independent and Interdependent Views of Self: Implications for Culturally Sensitive Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Article excerpt

The contrasting concepts of individualistic (i.e., independent) versus collectivistic (i.e., interdependent) orientations are increasingly noted in recent literature addressing issues of cultural differences (Bochner & Hesketh, 1994; Lee & Boster, 1992; Parks & Vu, 1994; Triandis, 1990). These contrasting orientations, in turn, are woven into corresponding world views, values, attitudes, and behaviors that are at the very foundation of culture and, therefore, have profound effects on personal, family, and community systems (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1993). While the U.S. majority culture, considered by some the most individualistic in the world (Hofstede, 1980), lies at one extreme of a worldwide individualistic-collectivistic continuum (Triandis, 1993), most U.S. minority groups (e.g., Mexican-Americans or Latinos, American Indians, and Asian-Americans) have contrastingly collectivistic orientations, reflective of their respective cultural origins (Chan, Lam, Wong, Leung, & Fang, 1988; LaFromboise, Trimble, & Mohatt, 1990; Lowrey, 1983; Medina, Marshal, & Fried, 1988). The U.S. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) culture, like the U.S. culture in general, also strongly emphasizes individualism (Nisbet, Rogan, & Hagner, 1989; Nosek, 1992), which may limit its effectiveness when serving clients with more collectivistic cultural orientations.

The intent of this paper is to examine the basic concepts of these contrasting views of self and culture, and their impact upon the U.S. VR structure and on persons with different cultural orientations. Topics discussed will include: (a) a comparison of collectivistic cultural attributes to those of the individualistic U.S. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) culture; (b) problems that may result when applying VR's individualistic system with more collectivistically oriented clients; and (c) rehabilitation counseling techniques and practices that better correspond to collectivistic cultural factors and that are, therefore, likely to be more effective with clients who espouse more interdependent views of self or collectivistic cultural values.

It should be noted that the terms "individualism" and "collectivism" were recently used by Hofstede (1980) to define these contrasting cultural constructs identified when comparing cultural differences among workers from 50 different countries. These terms have been subsequently adopted and extensively used in cross-cultural research and literature referring to this phenomenon, or "cultural syndrome" (Triandis, 1993), found among different cultures (see Bochner & Hesketh, 1994; Lee & Boster, 1992; Parks & Vu, 1994; Triandis, 1990, 1993). In contrast, the terms "independence" and "interdependence" were selected by Markus & Kitayama (1991) to represent diverging views of self that are often related to and/or derived from the above cultural views, but which may vary among individuals in all cultures. As these two sets of terms are consistently used in the literature to differentiate between cultural and individual differences, they are likewise used in this paper: "individualism" and "collectivism" refer primarily to cultural differentiations, while "independence" and "interdependence" are used in relation to contrasting views of self.

Independent and Interdependent Views of Self

The independent view of self is grounded in a belief of individual primacy where the self is considered unique and autonomous while family and community are of secondary consequence. Behavior is interpreted through one's own thoughts, feelings and actions rather than those of others, emphasizing more private, internal aspects of the self expressed as distinctive, personal attributes. Self-worth is measured by personal achievement, and the individual is believed to be in control of his or her own destiny. Valued behaviors include: individual creativity, self-expression, recognition of personal attributes, and promotion of personal goals (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). …