from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The individuality is a thought and values, where the individual is the focus of attention. According to some philosophers and sociologists , individualism is opposed to collectivism . There are individualistic theories in the cultural and human sciences.

Individualism is also - especially in everyday language use - a personal mindset in which independent decisions and opinions are sought, regardless of whether they conform to the social context or not. The opposite in this case is conformism . An individualist in this sense does not necessarily have to be an individualist in the above sense. In a context in which individualism prevails as a value system, the deviation from the norm, the individual, can consist in striving for a greater degree of collectivism (e.g. life in a monastery). Artists and creative people in particular are often considered individualists in this sense. In addition, the individualists of this type are often ascribed characteristics such as moral courage , independent and astute thinking, etc., but on the other hand also stubbornness and poor teamwork .

Especially by advocates of the idea of self-realization , individualism is interpreted as a distinction from conformism as an emancipatory and civilizational further development.

Opponents of the idea of ​​self-realization see it differently. They emphasize that self-realization is only really possible in a team / community. The individual is at least more challenged due to the social interactions, which can bring about a growth in personalities.

Development and Consequences of Individualism


The relationship of the individual to the community (or society ) in which they live has always been the subject of controversial discussions. While Aristotle saw humans as community beings ( zóon politikón , literally “the animal dependent on a polis ”) and this remained the predominant view for a long time, there has recently been a stronger emphasis on the individual. In terms of intellectual history, this happened through liberalism and anarchism . In the extreme case, individualism was exacerbated to egoism . Opposing positions to individualism were z. As in socialism , Nazism , in nationalism , in pan-Arabism or Islamism erected. Religious communities such as Christianity are also mostly very skeptical of individualism.

The basic idea of ​​individualism is an idea of ​​liberation. The liberation of the individual from too many constraints is perceived as pleasant, the collective as obstructive and restrictive.

Another reason for individualism is given by economic efficiency. The western individualistic system is obviously the most efficient on earth. With this argument, general prosperity is viewed as the result of many egoisms (cf. Adam Smith ).

Ferdinand Tönnies (in the sense of his study Community and Society , 1887) formulated the sociological thesis for epochs of individualism (such as the historical Renaissance ) that there is no "individualism" that is not based on "community" and in "society" münde ( Spirit of the Modern Age , 1935, ²1998).

Social and Legal Implications

Individualism has an abundance of consequences in our lives that we are not always aware of as appearances of individualism. This includes the dissolution of the family as well as the village and other communities. About a hundred years ago, people organized themselves within their communities, often with a work-related role , for example in trade unions and professional groups. There were railroad sports clubs, teachers' choirs, and other class and professional associations that ran through life.

On the other hand, new communities (e.g. clubs ) developed during industrialization , with the possibility of exercising individual interests together with other interested parties. Paradoxically, individuality and community grow together under this aspect: Individuality is usually exercised with other and overlapping interests. Nevertheless, the contrast to the collective remains that communities can now form freely based on individual interests.

The changes are also becoming clear in sport. There is a gradual but significant increase in individual sports over team sports. In the popular culture, too, the small singing group gains more weight than the large choir. The same items of clothing as an expression of togetherness are used to a much lesser extent. So also has uniformity removed in many professions or has been completely removed, in other it is stored outside of the training range faster than before.

In administrative law, the rights of individuals (residents, “affected persons” etc.) have increasingly been strengthened over the decades. The common interest is hindered more by the rights of individuals than was previously the case. The weights shift. This applies to all types of municipal, state and federal projects. Administrative procedural law knows a constant strengthening of the rights of the individual citizen.

Economic considerations

In the economy and also in state administrations, however, individualism is already reaching its limits. Individual objectives of the work are often supplemented by team goals or replaced. Community building through “ teams ” is spreading again, especially in critical areas . Top performance is often achieved in a community. In management training courses today, there are events with the aim of promoting the egoism of the individual as well as those promoting team spirit.

Political individualism

The ultimate goal of society is the cooperation of individuals, because more can be achieved in cooperation. The collective is in the service of the individual and not the other way around. Today, societies are so strongly organized that individuals hardly have any room for self-determination.

Individualism speaks out for the freedom of the individual. In contrast to anarchism, it accepts state laws, especially when they affect the legal interests of the individual, for example life, freedom, property and self-determination.

Political individualism stands in opposition to the collective coercion of dictatorial and fascist systems.

Major theorists of individualism

Max Stirner

The concept of individualism is particularly clear with Max Stirner . His book The One and His Own (1844) begins with the lament:

“What shouldn't all be my business! First of all the good cause, then the cause of God, the cause of humanity, truth, freedom, humanity, justice; also the cause of my people, my prince, my fatherland; finally even the matter of the spirit and a thousand other things. Only my thing should never be my thing. "

Ferdinand Tönnies

In his last book Geist der Neuzeit 1935, the founder of German sociology Ferdinand Tönnies substantiated his sociological thesis that individualism can only determine an intermediate epoch because it can only (not: must) follow an age that is essentially “communal” and is necessary its own end is brought about by the fact that it leads to an era of a largely "social" character. (See his basic work, Community and Society (1887)).

Cultural comparison and value system

Individualism has experienced a spread in the western world as it has never been the case in history. Thus the West stands in opposition to its own traditions, which were non-individualistic, but especially to all other cultures. It is noteworthy, however, that none of the currents of Western individualism, not even the radical representatives of libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism ( Murray Rothbard , Ayn Rand ), refer to Max Stirner, but even expressly distance themselves from him.

With respect to a value system focused individualism, the subordination of common goals for the benefit of personal ambitions and stresses in addition autonomy and self-responsibility and competitive spirit and competence thinking. With regard to individualism in Western cultures, special reference is made to the last aspects. Individualism is also already reflected in the forms of upbringing of the respective cultures, in which children are generally brought up to be independent at an early age. For example, toddlers in more western cultures usually sleep alone in a separate room, while in more collectivist societies they often sleep with their parents or mother.

Nevertheless, individualism as a value system cannot be generalized as a rigid construct, since the individual characteristics in the respective cultures appear with different weightings and not in their entirety. Therefore, an assignment to purely Western societies is problematic, even if the tendency is correct.

Comparison of cultures in psychological research

There are studies in the field of cross- cultural psychology that refer to individualistic or collectivistic cultures. As a rule, test persons from more individualistic countries (e.g. the USA) are compared with persons from more collectivistic cultures (e.g. many Asian countries). Important research contributions come from a. by Nisbett, Kitayama and Markus (Myers, 2005). Some of their investigations as an example:

  1. Test subjects are shown a picture on which an underwater scene with several fish is shown. When asked to describe the scene, Asians concentrate primarily on the environment or the overall presentation. People from western cultures, on the other hand, concentrate more on one of the large fish that dominates the picture. They seem to proceed rather “individually”.
  2. Test subjects are presented with several pens. All but one pens look exactly the same, but one pen has a noticeably different color. Around 65% of Asians choose one of the pens of the same color. Americans choose a single differently colored pen to a significantly greater extent.
  3. Test subjects are shown a small square with a drawn line. You will be asked to draw another line in a second square. Asians perform better when they draw a line that should be the same as the first line in its proportions to the surrounding square. Americans, on the other hand, perform better when they draw a line that should be the same length as the other. Americans can thus apparently better orientate themselves to “individual” objects and Asians better to “collective” objects - that is, objects related to their surroundings.

Cultural differences

In the analysis of cultural characteristics, the comparison of individualism and collectivism in their manifestations in countries, companies, social groups, but also individuals is one of several assessable, conscious and sometimes also visible dimensions.

However, individualism and collectivism are not opposites of a single dimension, but two independent dimensions; in a cultural comparison they do not necessarily appear as opposites. For example, many Latin American cultures are both highly individualistic - where they achieve similarly high values ​​as the USA - and highly collectivistic. Only the latter feature clearly distinguishes them from North American and Western European cultures.

Individualism in Ecology

In individualistic theories ( often classified under “imbalance ecology” in nature conservation discussions ), the individual is assumed: in an area all species coexist that have reached it and found suitable environmental conditions. In their existence they are not tied to fulfilling functions for others or a superordinate society, as in the ecological organism . The explanation therefore does not serve a functional reference to a totality of a community or an ecosystem that encompasses the individuals . It is the needs of the individual, not the functional needs of a community, that force the individual organisms to establish relationships (competition for resources , cooperation ) with others. The change in society, the succession is aimless, its direction depends on random factors (environmental changes, migrations). If one can speak of higher development in the context of these theories, then it is not a community that approaches a given goal, but rather an improvement from the perspective of individuals, namely those who prevail in the competition for resources.

Early representatives of individualism in ecology are z. B. Gams in Germany, Ramensky in Russia and Gleason in the USA. In the ecology dominated until the mid-20th century organicist theories. In the US, individualism became influential from around 1950.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Individualism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Dapha Oyserman, Heather M. Coon, Markus Kemmelmeier: Rethinking individualism and collectivism. Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyzes . In: Psychological Bulletin , Vol. 128 (2002). Pp. 3-72, ISSN  0033-2909 .
  2. Helmut Gams: Questions of principle in vegetation research. A contribution to the definition of terms and methodology in biocoenology. In: Quarterly journal of the Natural Research Society Zurich , vol. 63 (1918), 293–493.
  3. Leonty Grigorevich Ramensky: The regularities in the structure of the plant cover . In: Botanisches Centralblatt , Vol. 7 (1926), pp. 453-455.
  4. ^ Henry Allen Gleason: The individualistic concept of the plant association . In: Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club . 53 (1926), No. 1, pp. 7-26, ISSN  0040-9618
  5. ^ Annette Voigt: Theories of synecological units. A contribution to the explanation of the ambiguity of the term ecosystem . Dissertation, TU Munich 2008
  6. Ludwig Trepl : History of Ecology. From the 17th century to the present. 2nd edition. Athenäum-Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1994, ISBN 3-89547-007-4 , pp. 139-158.