Interdependent Self: Self-Perceptions of Vietnamese-American Youths

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Theories of Self

Western psychology presumes that individuals carry within themselves, as an essential self, an autonomous "self' which exists independently of the social order. At the core of each self-contained individual resides an identity, a persistent self that transcends particular contexts and comprises the essence of the person (e.g., Cushman, 1990, 1995; Gergen, 1991, 1994, 1999; Sampson, 1989, 1993; Shotter, 1993; Wilkinson, 1997). Postmodernist thinkers have deconstructed this notion, arguing that there is no core, or essential self, that persists across situations. Instead, the self is described as perpetually in flux and inextricably linked to social exchange. The self is constituted in ever-changing social contexts, especially in the discourses that are the vehicle of social exchange; different selves emerge in differing circumstances of relationships. It is not just simply that an individual or an identity acts as an agent manifesting different aspects of his/her autonomous, continuous core self in varying circumstances but rather that the self exists only thorough integration with the process of relationship in the context of the communal. The self does not exist within the individual but in the space between and among people, in conversational exchange (e.g., Cushman, 1990, 1995; Geertz, 1997; Gergen, 1991, 1994, 1999, 2001; Gergen & Gergen, 1988; Harre, 1984; Sampson, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1993; Shotter, 1993).

Psychosocial Development

Like postmodernist thinkers, some feminists have reappraised femininity. Such feminists have adapted sociological and psychological theories to explain the nature and the origin of gender.

In the realm of socialization, it has been argued that gender is rooted so early and so profoundly within the personality that prior to its acquisition there is no self at all. Femininity is seen not as an impoverished identity but is praised for its social rather than individualistic qualities. This view emphasizes the social aspects of the self since it focuses on the development of selves through their relations (of separation and intimacy) with others (their "objects"). This object relations theory associates maturity with separation and autonomy, but feminists detected in this a specifically masculine bias and urged a focus on the differential evolution of feminine selves.

While Miller (1976) associates gender difference with masculine activity versus feminine passivity, object-relations theory equates it with separation versus attachment. Chodorow (1977) explains that the distinct different masculine and feminine personalities are not a result of internalizing different values, but a function of the asymmetrical family: mothers elicit contrasting responses from daughters and sons. Looking at parenting patterns where the mothers carry out the primary care-taking activities, girls develop their identity through connection with their mother. Identity comes to be defined by connection. Girls remain longer in the primary relational mode. In contrast, boys are pushed to separate from their mothers earlier. They develop a self in opposition to the feminine with more rigid ego boundaries but a weak, defensive gender identity. Boys must separate from their mothers in order to develop their masculine identity. Thus identity becomes grounded in separation and independence. In effect, boys are drawn to a value system and subject-orientation centered on autonomy and detachment. Girls' feminine selves are constituted through relatedness, connectedness, and intimacy. Female selves have a stronger tendency to experience the needs and feelings of others as their own; they feel more continuous with nature and more embedded in social contexts.

Similar distinctions have been drawn by Lykes (1985) in her study of autonomous individualism and social individuality. Lykes (1985, 1989) examined conceptions of self among Guatemalan women who were exiled and at that time living in Mexico. …

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