Individualism versus collectivism is one of Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture, and it rates cultures on how integrated their social networks are. In individualistic societies, people generally care for themselves and their close family members without much connection to other people, at least in terms of responsibility for them. In collectivist societies, on the other hand, people form strong groups of extended family members, friends, and neighbors that support and care for each other and remain loyal to one another. Cultures, then, tend to focus on either “I” or “we”: individuals or the collective.
Let’s think of some cultures that fit into these two groups. If we think historically, we might identify the Germanic warrior cultures as highly collective. Warriors grouped around a war band leader, a king or lord of some sort, to whom they owed allegiance and service in battle. In return, the war band leader provided warriors with treasure, food, drink, and often land. The people of these cultures were dependent upon each other for survival. Other collectivist cultures include many historic Indigenous cultures as well as many East Asian cultures today, like Japan or Korea. The focus of these cultures is helping each other and working together as a group to get things done.
Now let’s think about individualistic cultures. We might think of the United States as a prime example, at least in a general sense. Many people in the US are focused on their own development and that of their family. They might work together as necessary, but they often do not rely on others for support (at least not willingly, and if they must, it is often a source of shame). Other individualistic cultures include those of many countries in Western Europe and that of Australia.