Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality and Person Perception in Africa

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality and Person Perception in Africa

Article excerpt

The paper reviews personality and social behavior in Africa. Three distinctive components of the people inhabiting present-day sub-Saharan Africa are identified: (1) traditional persons who are yet little affected by modernization, (2) transitional persons, and (3) modem individuals. The socialization of traditional and transitional persons can be illustrated in the form of a model in three dimensions: the authority dimension (vertical, diachronic, historic); the group dimension (horizontal, synchronic, social); the body - mind - environment dimension. Various personhood attributes are identified along the three dimension such as that the traditional person is socialized primarily by people, while the modern person is socialized primarily by objects. By being exposed to people, the traditional person will develop more social intelligence than technological intelligence.

For the construction of an African socialization model, results from research on child-rearing practices and cultural concepts of personhood in African societies were used as well as clinical psychological practice with African patients (Jahoda 1982; Morakinyo & Akiwowo 1981; Nsamenang, 1992; Peltzer, 1995). Psychoanalytically oriented material from West Africa (Collomb & Valentin, 1970; Parin, Morgenthaler & Parin-Mattley, 1971) and contributions from anthropology (see Riesman 1985) were also applied in the assessment of the development of African personhood. Here the term personhood will be used in considering relational and contextual aspects of African concepts of personality as opposed to the Western concept, which separates the individual from the social context and emphasizes a pronounced self (Riesman 1985; Shweder & Bourne 1984; Sokefeld, 1999).

In geographical terms, this paper is restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. It is evident that Africa is a vast continent and consists of many fairly different cultures so that some of the findings can be applied only to particular groups in specific geographic regions. If the term "African" is still used in different contexts, it should be kept in mind that the findings are limited to the particular group under study. In line with Okeke, Draguns, Sheku, and Allen (1999, p.140) it is possible to identify some promising and convergent trends that have emerged from several decades of personality-oriented research in Africa. Care is taken to avoid the risk of succumbing to stereotypes and glossing over the heterogeneity and complexity of psychological phenomena in Africa, by being mindful (1) of the great diversity among African cultures (no generalization applies to all of them and allowances must be explicitly made for multiplicity of trends, atypical features, and exceptional instances), (2) that within any culture the general expectation is for a multimodal distribution of all - or most - personality characteristics, and (3) that within a specific individual, provision is made for the coexistence of several, sometimes apparently incompatible or even mutually exclusive trends. The geographic region "Africa South of the Sahara" is seen here as a region of similar cultures which differs from other regions in the world due to, for example, a high illiteracy rate, subsistence-oriented economies, and highly permissive child-rearing practices. Okeke et al. (1999, p.150) summarized six essential socialization experiences in African societies as follows: (1) close bodily contact with the mother during infancy and prompt relief of hunger and physical discomfort during this stage of development; (2) mothering by several adults during infancy and early childhood; (3) systematic inculcation of respect and obedience towards parents, elders, and other adults beginning shortly after weaning and continuing through early and middle childhood; (4) rather relaxed and unpressured training toward bodily self-control; (5) providing a rather wide scope for exploration of the physical and social environment early in life and tolerating, it not actively encouraging, a great deal of independence as soon as the child becomes fully mobile; and (6) peer groups of children of the same age and gender assuming importance as agents of socialization, providers of security and acceptance, and sources of self-esteem. …

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