The Sense of Collectivism and Individualism among Husbands and Wives in Traditional and Bi-Cultural Navajo Families on the Navajo Reservation

Article excerpt


The sense of individual or collective self involves distinct behaviors that are built on an individual's independent or interdependent world views. In other words, people's aspirations and the way they relate to their families are influenced by the psychology they are familiar with. These psychological assumptions provide the ecological context to map out the levels to which an individual exhibits his/her sense of individualistic or collectivistic attitudes. Although a significant amount of research has been conducted on individualism-collectivism world-wide (Brewer and Chen, 2007; Hofstede, 1980; Kim, Triandis, Kagitcibasi, Choi, and Yoon, 1994; Oyserman, Coon, and Kemmelmeier, 2002; Triandis, 1995), research on the extent to which the Western globalization process and its inherent individualistic perspective is impacting the collectivistic attitudes of ethnic minorities in the United States is limited. Scholars suggest that the senses of collectivism and individualism are important social parameters to consider when studying ethnic minorities especially to understand their behaviors and roles within the family (Levine, Sato, Hashimoto, and Verma, 1995; Sampson, 1988, 2000). The current paper is an attempt to study the nature of collectivism and individualism among husbands and wives in both traditional and bi-cultural Navajo Indian families residing on the Navajo reservation in the United States.

It is important to study this particular ethnic minority population because traditional Navajo culture is typically known for its collectivism as it employs the collective approach toward the idea of human growth and family functioning. For example, within the Navajo cultural ecology, blood kin and clan membership are a focal point of their sense of collectivism that provides a solid platform for an interdependent family network (LaFromboise, Heyle, and Ozer, 1999). Furthermore, American Indians including Navajos have been negotiating the impact of settler colonialism vis-a-vis mainstream cultural values of individualism on their collectivistic norms and traditions for centuries (see Hoxie, 2008; Lomay and Hinkebein, 2006; Paniagua, 1994). Extant research suggests that technology and the market economy have been influencing lifestyle changes among many Navajos (Blanchard, 1975; Lamphere, 2007). Yet little empirical research is done to explore the extent to which contemporary Navajo Indians exhibit their senses of collectivism and individualism and how they describe the impact of mainstream values on their native culture.

Both individualism and collectivism have existed in various cultures for some time and is perhaps best explained by the distinct Western and non-Western perspectives (Brewer and Chen, 2007). Whereas the American mainstream values are based on the Western perspective that emphasizes boundaries that distinguish an individual from others, the Non-western perspective underscores the notion of flexible boundaries and emphasizes the interdependent nature of the group (Sampson, 2000). Sampson has termed the non-Western collectivistic orientation as the the ensembled psychology (EI psychology). The Western individualistic psychology highly values the senses of independence, competitiveness, and self-reliance (Price and Crapo, 2002; Sampson, 1988). Conversely, a collectivistic perspective values an interdependent and cooperative social network that is obligated to the group's well-being (Brewer and Chen, 2007). Both of these perspectives have evolved over time and have been attributed to socioeconomic differences, such as, agrarian living and industrialization, and more recently to religious differences that have defined independent and interdependent frames of mind (Morris, 1972; Sagy, Orr, and Bar-On, 1999; Sampson, 2000). Being that most EI communities have descended from cultures that value collectivism, it is of interest to see how and if Navajo Indians have maintained a collective sense of self within their culture while adopting values that are considered individualistically driven. …


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