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Self and culture : a dialogical perspective.

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There is a growing library of literature on the relationship between self and culture. Most studies (Cousins, 1989; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Sampson, 1989) in this area are quantitative and approach culture as a concept that is "intemally homogenous and externally distinctive" (Hennans & Kempen, 1998, p.1113). Such studies have found cross-cultural differences in how people define their sense of self. This has led to a classificatory approach to self and culture such that the western and non-western self have been defined as distinct from one another. This thesis explores the appropriateness of such cultural dichotomies from a novel, dialogical perspective of self (Hennans, Rijks & Kempen, 1993) which allows for the special investigation of self and culture A qualitative methodology was adopted for this investigation, within the narrative paradigm. Narrative interviews were conducted with a sample of twelve women between the ages of 35 and 50 years and these women were varied by ethnicity as one measure of culture. A voicecentred relational method (Mauthner & Doucet, 1998) was used to analyse the interviews. Both investigative and methodological aims were forn1Ulated during the analysis. Investigative aims explore the appropriateness of the dichotomisation of the self as western and non-western. The results of the analysis question such cultural dichotomies criticised by Spiro (1993) and yet so prevalent in self and cultural studies (Cousins, 1989; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Sampson, 1989). Frequently in the narratives there is an interweaving of individualistic and collectivist characteristics. Such a co-existence of traits is accommodated by the dialogical view of self, which provides a large enough framework to account for both interdependent and independent characteristics in the same self. The methodological aims directed the researcher to investigate the appropriateness of the measurements of self and culture adopted by traditional approaches (Cousins, 1989; Markus & Kitayama, 1991 ; Sampson, 1989). The results of the thesis suggest that as intercultural connections are becoming increasingly common, culture needs to be recognised as a complex concept that is no longer homogenous. Cross-cultural approaches to this area are questioned by this investigation because of their tendency to simplify and categorise the self and culture. It is proposed that future research should approach this area of self and culture as an intersection or interface of complex factors that are not easily homogenised or dichotomised. The findings point to the value of qualitative research, and in particular the framework of the dialogical self, for exploring this interface.


Thesis (M.A.)- University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2001.


Self., Self--Cross-cultural studies., Culture., Theses--Psychology.