Unity of the Individual and the
R.C.TRIPATHI , UNIVERSITY OF ALLAHABAD
Unity of the Individual and the Collective
Rama C. Tripathi, Allahabad University
This chapter discusses the relationship between individual and the collective with a view to
understanding the processes and conditions, which bring about ‘unity’ of the two within diverse
cultures. Individual is seen as being constituted by several types of selves which seek unity with
several types of collectives. We discuss processes and factors which throw light on how a
collective comes to inhabit the individual, and individual the collective. Another question that is
examined is how certain processes and cultural contexts create permeable and impermeable
boundary conditions between self and the other, between individual and the collective. The
chapter draws from discourses and approaches in disciplines other than Psychology.
‘Meet together, talk together:
May your minds comprehend a like?
Common be your action and achievement:
Common be your thoughts and intentions:
Common be the wishes of your hearts
So there may be thorough union among you’
Rig-Veda, X, 191, 2-4.
Among several questions which have remained sufficiently unaddressed by
contemporary psychologists is the question of psycho-genesis of the relationship between ‘I-
ness’ and ‘we-ness’. To state it differently, it needs to be asked how ‘I’ comes to be related to
‘We’ and ‘We’ interiorized by ‘I’; how much and what part of ‘we-ness’ becomes part of ‘I-
ness’; what role is played by the civilizing process of different cultures (Elias, 2000 ). How are
we to distinguish between self and identity and between ‘self-ways’ and ‘identity-ways’? It is
accepted that self is embedded in cultures while identity derives from “structures and
categories”. Self is fluid and evolves; identity is bounded and constructed. But what kinds of
similarity or differences are there, if any, in the nature of unity which is arrived at by individuals
with the collectives within different cultures? In what manner do social and psychological
processes forge such unity between individual and the collective? Can processes that implicate
unity of small ‘self’ with the big ‘Self’ help us in understanding the unity between the individual
and collective? We propose to engage with some of these questions in this chapter.
Let us begin by pointing out the obvious. Human mind has a universal facet which
continues to evolve away from the nearest biological cousins of the humans and a cultural facet.
Its universal facet is a result of evolution within the physical environment, while the cultural
facet is a result of interacting social minds in the given space and time. The universal facet of
human mind differentiates and categorises physical objects as well as mind products. But the
cultural minds differ in the manner in which they think, categorise or resolve dichotomies. If
Hindu religious tradition seeks unity in diversity arising from the need of ‘ekoham bahusyam’ (I
am ONE, let me become many), the seal of the United States of America carries the inscription
“E pluribus Unum" (One out of many) which shows its preference for being like a melting pot of
different cultures. The cultural beliefs of Hindus relating to creation are similar to other cultural
traditions of East Asia that come out of Buddhism or Taoism. Most of these traditions subscribe
to the view that there should not be any distinction between mind and matter, self and other, or
even between male and female. Yet dichotomies are the rule whether in the form of ‘I’ and ‘we’,
‘us’ or ‘them’, ‘individual’ or ‘collective’, etc. All such dichotomies in the Hinduistic religions
are considered mind products and, therefore, illusory. But it may be asked how are the
dichotomies resolved, if they are at all and what the resulting outcome is. In one of the
philosophical texts of the Hindus, ‘Yog Vashistha’, it is pointed out that the apparent duality in
nature, i.e., coexistence of both positive and negative, is actually the manifestation of the whole
only. One of the central attributes of mind in this tradition, as well as in Buddhism, is considered
‘flow’ which reflects in Patanjali’s concept of ‘citta-nadi’ (mind-river) (Paranjpe, 1998). ‘Flow’
results when dichotomies resolve. There is a different metaphor which signifies unity of self in
Taittariya Upnishad. Here self (atman) is conceptualized as enveloped by five sheaths, namely,
Annamaya Kosh, Pranmaya, Manomaya, Vigyanmaya Kosh and Anandmaya Kosh. Self’s
(Atman) unity in this case is layered, somewhat like an onion. Self is a ‘bhokta’ (enjoyer) of
worldly experiences both good and bad. It is the merging of sensory experiences, often
antinomous, which converts itself in the form of ‘flow’. The mind-river (citta-nadi) may ‘flow’
quietly or turn turbulent depending on what surrounds it. In both cases, its state remains
dynamic. The term ‘flow’ also finds reflection in Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) concept of ‘flow
experience’ which connotes ‘being at one with things’.
Co-extensiveness of opposite mind products is natural to humans and is used by them
to engage in processes involving meaning making. It is an essential state if the mind is to act in a
unitary manner. It is generally surmised by philosophers, and also psychologists, that creation
results from the union of the opposite forces (Koestler, 1964; Torrance, 1994). The desire of
elements (or individuals) to unite and to remain undivided is seen by theosophists as an effort to
revert to the original state which characterises the Creator. This includes the desire of the
individual to unite with his God. One may ask, what is the true nature of this state in which unity
is found? W. James (1890) calls this state, ‘sciousness’ where self is not present. For
Krishnamurti it is a state in which ego completely dissolves itself (Martin, 1997). It results in the
obliteration of self-other boundaries and coming in of the immeasurable. The ‘Ideal’ self or
‘spiritual self’ that emerges in such a state, at least in the Hindu cultural tradition, and in some
other traditions as well, is both unique and universal. The two mind processes, which create
‘material self’ and ‘spiritual self’, are simultaneously present. When unique, the mind desires to
divide and relate with others. When diverse, it wants to unite and flow like a stream. Individuals,
as well as, collectives, too desire unique identities. They find it only in relation to the other;
individuals in relation to other individuals; and collectives in relation to the other collectives. It is
also true that individuals and collectives find unity, both in relation to, and with each other. This
is echoed in Bhagwadgita (Chap. 6/30) - “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything
in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” Here “Me” refers to the collective or universal
consciousness which Lord Krishna is said to represent.
2. Individual and collective relations from a Systems perspective
It needs to be pointed out that etymologically the root meaning of the term
‘individual’ is indivisible (from L. individuus "indivisible," from in- "not"
+ dividuus "divisible,"), which connotes that ‘individual’ imbibes the whole. Also, even if
‘individual’ is ‘divisible’ it should not be divided because, when divide it loses its meaning. In
fact, in most cultures, it is believed that nothing else is indivisible, except God. His desire to be
many, points to the inherent unity between Him, the supra-individual, and the individual. The
two are simultaneously present in each other. God’s desire to belong and also to multiply gets
mirrored in the humans also. It may be seen as His desire to find recognition and to increase his
presence through enfolding, i.e., through including others. However, enfolding implicates not
only a desire to bond with the other, but also a desire to control the other. Such a view, which
upholds a connection of individual with the infinite or Supreme Being or whole, may be rejected
on the ground that it is mythical. But the emerging developments and theories in Science have
now started offering support to this view. Seen in Quantum Mechanics term, the entire universe
is entangled (Zeilinger, 2000). It is held that all living systems, including social systems, are
governed by quantum processes for which there are no clear causes or effects; where an event
can be both a cause and an effect (Oreshkov, Costa & Brukner, 2012). Bohm (1980) proposes the
concept of ‘implicate order’, according to which, all things in the universe ‘enfold or implicate’
each other and that each thing is ‘enfolded’ in the whole, “but in such a manner that under
typical conditions of ordinary experience, there is a great deal of relative independence of
things…… each thing, is internally related to the whole, and therefore, to everything else (Bohm,
1980; p. 273). Bohm terms implicate order ‘holomovement’ or undivided wholeness in which all
things in our universe move together as part of a process in which they unfold to their
potentialities. He further explains ‘holomovement, in the following manner -- ‘All things found
in the unfolded, explicate order emerge from the holomovement in which they are enfolded as
potentialities and ultimately they fall back into it. They endure only for some time, and while they
last, their existence is sustained in a constant process of unfoldment and re-enfoldment, which
gives rise to their relatively stable and independent forms in the explicate order. (p. 273).
The relationship of individual and collective may also be seen in the above light. Where
there is unity of the individual and the collective, the collective is present in the individual and
the individual in the collective. Each individual enfolds other individuals of the collective
because it itself is ‘enfolded’ by the collective, while maintaining its relative independence. The
two systems maintain their respective boundaries, but the boundary conditions allow much
smoother inflows and outflows compared to non-enfolded systems. The question that is raised
here is about the relationship of individuals with social systems. Social systems, like living
systems, too have a core and a periphery (Zohar and Marshall, 1993). Following Chomsky,
cultures too can be seen as having a deep structure and a surface structure. Thompson (1967)
argues that the efficiency logic of the systems dictates that any system’s core should act like a
closed system, because the system needs to be protected from both internal and external
influences in order to develop transactional interdependence with other systems in the
environment. In case of all life forms, and in case of human and social organizations, integration
at the level of core is necessary. This is required for functional unification of tendencies which
are mutually conflicting. Integration of elements requires a centre around which disparate and
diverse ideas, beliefs and values can coalesce.
There is, however, a possibility that systems can have multiple centres at different levels
and locations, although, with time, these centres may coalesce to form a core or one whole.
Valsiner (2007) questions the usefulness of conceptualization in terms of centre/s, when he says-
“All human beings are said to belong to society—or societies. Yet they do
so in different ways—they are at different distances from the idealized core (“center”) of
whatever is meant by a given society. In fact, by assuming there are such “centers” of any
society (e.g., the core “center” of “the Japanese society”) we as researchers superimpose a
homogenizing categorization device onto otherwise heterogeneous field of human beings relating
with one another by a myriad of kinship, friendship, apprenticeship, or dominance ties that are
established through blood or ownership relations, and differentiated mutually interdependent
social roles.” (p. 70)
In case of human systems, and also systems which are created and constituted by humans,
the multiple centres can be in the form of perspectives, or internally consistent cognitive
structures, which individuals carry and use to find new meanings in their diverse life
experiences, as do others in the collectives. We also surmise that humans, like other evolving
systems, do not have a fixed center located at one point in space or time. Mind processes have
shifting centres with different mental structures getting fore- and back grounded except in special
cases of mindfulness (Tripathi, 1988). These centres are likely to shift according to the social
space through which they move and as a result of system’s interactions with its environment.
Such shifts may, often, lead to developing ‘decoherence’ or ‘dephasing’ of the ‘collective’
(Zurek, 2003) both at the peripheral level and the core.
Approaches that mimic the systems approach have been several. Wilber’s (2001)
book on ‘A theory of everything’ builds a model of ultimate reality of what he calls ‘Kosmos’, a
term borrowed from Greeks to denote “the patterned Whole of all existence, including the
physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realms.” The spiral of development of relationships
involving individual and the collective, moves through nine stages ranging from individuals
which seek to survive in societies consisting of starving masses through societies which are rigid
and paternalistic (e.g., Confucian Chinese, Singaporean) with individuals believing in righteous
order (4th stage), individualistic, materialistic and achievement oriented ( e.g., Wall street,
Colonialism, Corporates) individuals believing in reason and competing (5th stage), human
bonding, socially sensitive and against hierarchy (e.g., Green Peace, Deep Ecology, Human
Rights groups) with individuals emphasizing exploration of inner self and equality (6th stage).
After the sixth stage there is a quantum jump to another level in which the wave of development
transcend as well as include the previous level enabling individuals to think both ‘vertically and
horizontally employing hierarchies as well as heterarchies’ (use ranks in society with relations or
linking) resulting in aligning and integration of systems. The 8th and 9th stages lead to
development of integrative (differences and pluralities are integrated turn into a dynamic flow),
and holonic systems (feelings and thinking at multiple levels are integrated in one conscious
system). Wilber’s theory implies that the nature of unity at different stages and the conditions for
achieving unity between individuals and collectives are likely to differ according to a stage.
3. Meaning of Unity between Individual and collective
Individual and collective, both are less physical and more mind products. Their unity
occurs in psychological space before it expresses itself in behavioural forms within social spaces
which are given different names. The semantic space associated with the word ‘unity’ is,
therefore, complex and needs to be specified to avoid multivocality to the extent possible.
Several terms lie very close to the semantic space of ‘unity’ and are seen as containing its
attributes and processes. Some of these are identity, bonding, relatedness, reciprocality,
coherence, solidarity, integration, etc. Some theosophists also see it as a meta-force or a soul-
force or soul quality. Roy (personal communication) draws attention to Heraclitus’s concept of
‘xynon’, shareable commonality among the community members, which he says becomes dead,
when the soul force becomes dead. The term which appears for solidarity in the Holy Quran is
‘asbiyyah’. It refers to providing help and support to people belonging to one’s own group who
face aggression from the enemy, even though, the cause may be unjust (Halim, Nor, Ibrahim &
We understand individual as a unit of an aggregate of interdependent and collaborating
set of persons who constitute a family, group, organization or a community. All of these are
considered collectives, because they have a degree of coherence and order and have a low degree
of variability because of their structures which derive from social rules and norms. Unity may be
of elements of two systems or of flows, involving processes. In the former case, the unity is
functional and more a function of the context and, therefore, it is stable only within a time
segment. Flows converge and cannot return to their previous states. The two types of unity show
up in two forms of Yoga (Sanskrit term for unity), namely Hatha Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. The
former involves functional unity which is achieved by aligning body to cosmic geometry; the
latter a kind of unity of flows or a confluence in which an individual’s mind processes seek to
merge with the cosmic or universal mind. In the first case, body and mind return to their original
states but not in the latter where the being itself undergoes transformation. In both cases, unity is
said to obtain because there is order. Roy (1999) while discussing order, a concept, which is
close to unity in semantic space in the western tradition, points out that the concept of order is
intimately related to the idea that a society has of Nature and world view. The Platonic world
view sees Nature “as saturated or permeated by mind” (p.5), while the Renaissance thinking sees
orderliness as due to “laws of nature”, thus, arising due to external factors, basically a matter of
coordination between elements. Cultures vary with respect to their preference for one of these
views, i.e., Platonic or Renaissance based on which social order is sought to be established.
Indian cultural tradition, and it is not the only one, sought to establish tradition based on
‘dharma’ or a moral order which required individuals to transcend their small ‘self’ in search of
big “Self” which is not rooted in worldly desires. This leads to unity of individual and the
collective of a different kind and is considered superior to the unity that is achieved in the
The desire of an individual to belong, to be with others, and to find recognition by others,
both as similar and different, is almost primeval. It expresses itself in diverse ways across
cultures. ‘Pauranic’ texts of the Hindus are full of stories of Gods carrying such a desire. Most
religious traditions of the world consider this while reflecting on how ‘we’ came to be created. In
one of the sacred texts of the Hindus, the Creator God expresses his desire ‘I am one, let me be
many’ and so he comes to inhabit in all the sentient beings. In the sentient earthly beings, this
desire to form relationships with others, to bond and to get bonded also finds reflection in the
sentient earthly beings. The book of Genesis echoes this relationship of God with the
So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)
The religious traditions differ in whether the humans carry His image or He too could take the
human form (Tripathi & Ghildyal, 2013). Most eastern religions see living beings, particularly
humans, as emanations (‘ansh’) of the God for whom it is quite natural to carry the desire to
The unity between the individual and the collective, thus, may come about because the
collective as well as individuals carry the desire to belong, along with a desire to include.
Sigmund Freud’s concept of ‘Eros’ was actually conceptualised as a unitive drive in opposition
to aggressive and disintegrative forces (Freud, 1926). Unity is not the same as ‘one-ness’. Once
one-ness is achieved, like when identities fuse or life force unites with the soul force, it becomes
near impossible to bring back the fused units to their original states. In oneness, units have the
same attributes and there is no distinctiveness. This is not true in case of unity. It is also not the
same as solidarity which is always between two independent units and is there for a definite
purpose and obtains in the present time frame. Unity is achieved when each is present in the
other, as discussed above, consistent with Karl Pribram’s (1991) paradigm of ‘holographic mind’
and Bohm’s (op cit) ‘holomovement’. Both hold that mind is governed by holism. In a hologram,
even the smallest part of a holographic image reflects the same information as contained in the
whole pattern. And in it, there is no one fixed pattern. There is always a possibility of new
patterns emerging. The same may also be true of the mental images held by individuals. Each
image contains the same information in a holistic sense as does the mind. Each part of the mind
also has the attributes of a whole. Individuals, in Quantum Mechanics sense, then are reflections
of the collective of which they are a part. Wilbur (1982) puts it more succinctly when he says,
‘--- each individual part of the picture contains the whole picture in condensed form. The part is
in the whole and the whole in each part-- a type of unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity’
(p.2, as quoted in Zohar and Marshall, 1993).
This meaning of the sense of unity is elucidated in the Mahabharata by Badrinath (2008)
while discussing the relationship of ‘self with self as the other’, and of ‘self with the other’. He
points out that the sense of unity comes about when the self is seen not only with the other but,
also in the other at the same time. This can happen only when one liberates oneself from the
conflicting dualities of either are belonging or not- belonging (Badrinath, 2008). The duality that
exists between individual and the collective is then rendered meaningless.
There is another way in which the individual and collective can come to be related. It is
when they are seen as separate from each other. Their relationship may emerge within a context
if the realities constructed by individuals and the collectives are found intersecting.
What are the bases which bind individuals to collectives? We suggest these as- morality or
‘sva-dharma’, values (societal/group), and law/rules. In the first case, where the morality is the
base, the terms of laying down conditions for unity with the collective rest with the individual.
Individual’s unity with the collective may not be achieved, if it comes in way of following the
‘sva-dharma’. The force enabling unity springs from within the individual. Social values and
norms can also serve as the basis of individual and collective unity. But in this case, the terms of
unity are set by the collective. Individuals within them are left to align their values in line with
the preferred values of the collective. There may yet be another case in which neither the
individual nor the collective set conditions for the unity. It is external to both of them. In such a
case, the agency for securing unity between the two may lie with authority structures (formal or
informal/social) or state which can lay down the laws, both for the individuals and also for the
collectives. We surmise that there may be differences in the way individuals see these bases as
interlinked or independent which will have implications for their agency beliefs. Individual
preferences for the bases and the associated agency beliefs may determine the strength of binding
that may take place between individual and the collective.
4. Individuals and collectives: Development of bonding and “we-ness”
The transformation of an ‘individual’ into a ‘person’ takes place in the context of network
of relationships which one forms in society. ‘I’ at some stage transforms itself into a ‘me’, as
Mead (1934) points out, when it develops personal identity. An essential condition for the
emergence of ‘me’ is development of self-awareness. It happens when ‘I’ as an individual starts
seeing itself in terms of how others see and hear it and also links with what it has experienced
across time. (Goleman, 2013). ‘Me’, with time leads to the formation of ‘we’, when the person
starts defining himself in relationship with other individuals, groups or collectives (Brewer &
Gardner, 1996). The process which characterizes it is bonding. Bonding is present when the state
of a system Y alters when its relation with X holds and vice versa (Turvey, 2009). The earliest
form of bonding, that takes place away from “I” is ‘interpersonal bonding’, such as, between the
mother and child and between the siblings both of which are given importance by Sigmund
Freud (1930) and by the neo-Freudians (Horney, 1945; Fromm, 1955). Such bonds are seen in
case of non- human primates also who develop adaptive social structures not only to defend
themselves but for cooperative foraging, cooperative movement, communal attack and assuaging
behaviour to maintain group peace (Pirta, 2007). All bonds have the paradoxical characteristic
of uniting, as well as, of constraining. Unlike physical bonds, which generally have impermeable
boundaries, human and social bonds develop with similar others and result in merging of
personal boundaries which can be open and closed at the same time. Personal boundaries
characterize the thoughts which one adheres to, feeling the right emotions and engaging in what
are considered the right acts. Personal boundaries characterize personal identity and as
Whitehead (1995) points out work as an individual’s immune system by protecting and
maintaining self esteem. They may be open to some and closed to others, both insiders and
outsiders. What makes such bonds even more complex is that permeability of these boundaries is
dependent on the ever evolving social dynamic. The drive to bond with the group may emanate
because individual senses a deficit in self which is overcome with the help of the group which
facilitates achievement as is characteristic of cultures of the West. However, another possibility
is that drive to bond may ensue from individual’s need to seek growth, a case found in the East.
It is possible that the boundaries which were once permeable may suddenly become relatively
impermeable depending on the nature of the social dynamic at a particular point in time. This
may happen because our perception of similar other is embedded in the social context and,
influenced by social norms. To give an example, a Hindu, who sees himself as belonging to a
certain caste group, having a certain ‘gotra’, and carrying the same social identity as other
members of his group, may suddenly be turned into the ‘other’, if he decides to marry a girl
belonging to his own ‘gotra’ or outside his caste in certain parts of rural India. This may also be
true for a Shia marrying a Sunni or a Barelvi Muslim marrying a Deobandi Muslim or a Catholic
The above discussion leads us to ask what are some of the defining attributes of collectives
and how do they get formed? Most collectives are commonly seen as aggregates of individuals
engaged in cooperative behaviour. An important defining characteristic of a human collective,
whose membership is not ascribed on the basis of sex, caste, race, family, etc., is the possibility
of replacing its members without changing its structure (Simon, Pantaleo & Mummendey, 1995).
Collectives are more than social networks because relationships among the members derive out
of their belongingness (Harb & Smith, 2008). Nations, organizations and communities each year
face attrition due to various reasons. But they also get new members without losing their identity
or facing any dilution in it. Another characteristic is that members of a collective act together
based on a set of common rules and norms. Gangemi (2008) sees collectives as held together by
one ‘plan’, accompanied by characterizing roles for the members. This makes collectives
‘intentional’. The members in them share common beliefs and feel and act in the same way
(DeRidder & Tripathi, 1992). They also have shared identity and intentionalities, although,
individual members may show variations. In contrast to this, some social scientists see
collectives as single entities, having their own ‘mind’. (Le Bon, 1895; McDougall, 1920). This
concept of ‘group or collective mind’ has been critiqued by contemporary social psychologists,
who hold that groups and societies are ‘social constructions’ of individuals (Berger & Luck man,
1966; Moscovici, 1973; Tajfel, 1974). Miller (1991) thinks that the individualist accounts of the
collectives are just as inadequate or partial as are the collectivist accounts of individuals.
Although, individuals with in a collective are unique, they do not simply add up to become a
collective. It is through the interactions of the individual group members, all of whom seek its
valued belongingness that a trans-individual phenomenon called collective emerges. When
interactions among recur with a degree of regularity over a period of time leading to
interdependence, an aggregate of individuals acquires reality as a collective in space and time.
George Mead (1934), some decades back, had pointed out how this question had been
approached differently by social psychologists, with one set emphasizing that selves of
individuals derive from social processes, and another set emphasizing that the social processes
and its products actually result from the interactions of individuals within a certain socio-
historical context. Collective is, often, seen as separate and exogenous to the individual by some,
and as endogenous, by others. This kind of duality creates a major problem in understanding how
unity of the individual can come about with the collective. Berger and Luck man (1966) point
out that the relationship between individual and the collective is reciprocal as well as dialectical.
He says, ‘both self and society are interwoven’. An individual’s identity is realized within
society in terms of conditions and parameters set by the society; just as society evolves through
dialogical interactions of individuals who constitute it. These are not purposeless interactions.
Shweder (1990) points out that cultural reality get formed only as a result of interactions of
‘intentional persons’ which take on the shape of intentional worlds. Shweder, therefore, suggests
that there is a need to ‘develop an analytic framework for characterizing the relationships
between reality-constituting psyches (intentional persons) and culturally constituted realities
(intentional worlds)’ (p. 27).
What is then the actual relationship between individual and the collective? From what has
been discussed above, it should be clear that the very essence of an individual’s ‘being’ lies in
the relationship that s/he is able to form with others. Collectives are mere ‘products’ of deeply
ingrained desires, or needs and beliefs of individuals. Gilbert (1990) terms individuals within
collectives as ‘plural subjects’. It is collective internationalities which translate into individuals
acting together or engaging in participative action (Tomasello & Rakoczy, 2003). The feeling of
collective agency or joint or coordinated action in which individuals are seen to engage is not
enough to define a collective. In some collectives, like a rioting crowd, such feelings of agency
may be ephermal. Similarly, in a formally organized collective, like a steel factory, individual
members may act in a coordinated manner but not share the same beliefs or may have the same
internationalities. Acting together may not be a sufficient condition for the emergence of
collective intentionality (See, Copp, 2006; Kutz, 2000). Collectives, therefore, can vary in terms
of their ‘coherence’. Collectives, which have social and moral bases and whose members are
high on shared internationalities and beliefs, are likely to have a much greater degree of
‘coherence’ in comparison to collectives which serve only personal goals of individual members.
Graham and Haidt (2010) argue that religion binds individual into moral communities through,
values and beliefs, rituals and religious practices. Pirta (2007) discusses how temples are used as
spaces for social binding. This idea of moral intentionality also shows up in a variety of ways in
Indian and other cultures in metaphorical forms. The parable of heaven and hell in which God
concedes to the desire of an earthly being to show him heaven and hell, is recalled here. In this
parable, God concedes to the desire of an earthly being to show him ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. He first
takes him to a room, marked ‘hell’. It has an exquisitely laid out table, with all kinds of
delicacies. The earthly being finds the room full of noisy people all of whom are found
struggling to feed themselves with very large spoons which God had tied to their hands. The
morsel carried in the spoon by each one either spills over or the spoon overshoots the mouth.
Upset and shocked, the earthly being asks God, why He gave them such large sized spoons, if He
did not want to feed them in the first place. He does not answer, only smiles and then leads him
into another room marked ‘heaven’ with exactly the same arrangements. When the door is
opened, the earthly being finds there is complete silence and no commotion. He sees that the
same large sized spoons had been tied to the hands of the people there but they were using them
not to feed themselves, but to feed each other!
In almost all cultures one finds similar parables and metaphors which underscore the values
of sharing and cooperation as necessary conditions for group functioning. Cooperation, sharing
and altruism are necessary but they are not sufficient conditions for the emergence of collectives.
The question that needs to be addressed here is how, and under what conditions, a relationship
that interpenetrates individuals develops and a collective comes to be formed. What are those
cultural and psychological processes that get implicated in individuals interiorizing the defining
attributes of the collective and how collectives get formed from the processes involving
We realize that such questions have been addressed by psychologists holding their
allegiance to different paradigms and epistemological traditions leading to different answers. But
like in the parable involving a group of blind men attempting to describe an elephant they are
able to come up only with partial truths, because their description is based on the perspective
which they develop based on the part of the elephant they touch and feel. How is this to be
resolved? The Jaina philosophy seeks to resolve it through what it calls ‘anekantavada’
(‘doctrine of non-exclusivity’ or multiple viewpoints). Only if they realized that each one of
them was describing only a partial truth and could dialogue with each other to develop a shared
‘perspective’ that, possibility of a composite picture of an elephant emerging would have
increased. Truth emerges through the dialogical processes (Valsiner, 2007). Psychologists too
while adhering to a particular knowledge tradition are able to do no better than arrive at
approximations of partial truths. It is our view that, rather than committing themselves to one or
the other approach, psychologists and other social scientists need to give credence to facts
supported by different perspectives, and should keep searching for their possible convergence.
In examining the unity of individual with the collective we take the view that ‘desire to
belong’ is coextensive with ‘desire to include’, and ‘desire to include’ is coextensive with the
‘desire to exclude’. Hornsey and Jetten (2004) point out that desire to belong is present in
individuals along with desire to be different which makes them seek optimal distinctiveness for
their own groups but also individual differentiation. They see a need to balance the two kinds of
needs and suggest strategies for achieving the balance. Such duality which epitomises western
cultures (Nisbett, 2004) is, in fact, not present in Asian cultures, both East Asian and Indian
(Marriott, 1990). The question may be asked how the issue of co-extensiveness of the opposites
is resolved. Badrinath (2008) draws our attention to one such possibility based on an episode in
the Mahabharata where it is achieved semiotic ally. The episode, towards which he draws our
attention, goes like this- A woman character of the Mahabharata, Suvarchala, the beautiful
daughter of the sage, Devala, when asked by her father what kind of man she would want as
husband, tells him that she would want someone who is blind and not-blind at the same time.
Although, she is dissuaded by everyone and told that such a person is non-existent but she
remains steadfast in her resolve. Finally, in Svetaketu, she finds the person she was looking for.
The arguments put forward by Svetuketu why he is both blind and non-blind at the same time
before Suvarchala illustrate how opposites can coexist, at least metaphorically. Svetuketu says
that he is both blind and non-blind because he is endowed with that which at all times enables
him to see, hear, touch, smell, speak, taste, think, and reflect on the true substance of things, and
this endowment makes him not blind. But in another sense, he is blind because he does not relate
with the world that is sensed, seen, heard, touched, smelt, tasted, and reflected upon. He says that
‘I engage in the customary daily activities to maintain functional order of human life but I do not
get involved in them because I know what the Self is’ (Badrinath, 2008). Like in other eastern
cultures, here too ‘the opposite poles feed into each other’ (Valsiner & Han, 2008). Formation of
linkages between individual and the collectives, both, real and imagined, paradoxical or
otherwise, and the manner in which they get formed, may also be seen in this light. While some
collectives may have tight linkages with individuals, others may have only loose linkages.
A question may be raised here, what is it in the individuals and collectives that
actually ‘unites’. What leads to ‘like mindednesses of intents, feelings and dispositions? Two
elements appear critical for unity of the individual and collective to obtain. These are identity
and goals. The unity comes about when there is fusion of individual and collective identities and
of individual and collective goals. It is possible that there may be either fusion of the individual
and collective goals, or fusion of personal and collective identity. If goals alone fuse, and not
identities, such a state characterises collaboration. If identities, personal and collective, fuse but
not goals, the condition may be said to be one of unity with diversity. It is a condition where a
sense of fragmentation within the collective is absent because both individual and collective seek
the same goals when there is no uniformity. Diversity obtains in a condition where there is
neither fusion of personal and collective identities nor of individual and collective goals. Unity
does not implicate processes of assimilation or accommodation. Unity is not indivisibility. It is a
process leading to oneness where the identity becomes ‘countable’. As per the Gestalt law of
‘pragnanz’ unity and division mutually seek out each other because human mind prefers wholes
over parts. According to Gilbert (2006), the unity may be said to have taken place when
individual develops the sense of a ‘plural subject’. He says-
“A and B […] constitute a plural subject (by definition) if and only if they are jointly committed
to doing something as a body—in a broad sense of ‘do’. (pp. 145)”
But that may not be enough. The transformation from ‘I-mode’ to ‘we-mode’ has to take place
in terms of feelings of empathy, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, apart from commitment to joint
actions. (Tuomola, 2007).
5. CRITICAL ISSUES FOR THE PROBLEMATIC
We have sought to consider the axes around which the problematic of the unity of
individual and the collective may be developed, although, we have made some detours. The
problematic of the unity of individual and the collective can be fully developed only against
different cultural models of self and the collective and the socio-cultural and historical contexts
and the implications they have for the formation of linkages between them. Contexts define and
create boundary conditions for linkages between self and the other and between the individual
and the collective. These linkages can be understood better if we focus on the processes leading
to identity fusion as well as identity differentiation within groups in different social contexts.
Furthermore, we also need to understand whether collective engagement of individuals in
various cultural activities and observance of social norms and cultural practices strengthens
bonding of individuals with the collective. We also need to look at the role played by collective
memories and sharing of the collective texts in the development of interpenetrative subjectivities.
Even where individuals engage in competitive exchanges and discourses which clash,
subjectivities are likely to clash. Inter-subjectivities are formed not only when individuals
dialogue and share but also when they quarrel and clash. There is a saying that when you
compete with your enemy you become a mirror image of him. This can be seen in case of the
Hindus and Muslims in India who have become like each other in more ways than one, be it the
commonalities seen in case of the modes of praying at Haji Ali or Ajmer Sharif , or in the
manner they have developed competing social/communal ideologies.
Based on what has been discussed so far, several questions appear to us of central
concern to understand the unity between the individual and the collective. Some of these are
stated as under:
i. We know that the constructs of ‘individual’ and ‘collective’ are not unique to
any culture. The question which needs to be asked by us is whether the constructions
of different types of individual and collective selves vary in terms of the goals they
seek? Does self operate individually and autonomously in individualist cultures; and
also, do individual selves get submerged or fused with the collective in collectivist
cultures and, if, they do, then in what manner?
ii. How do the ‘individual’ and ‘collective’ get unified in various cultures and whether
this process of unification is culture- specific? Are there different types of unities
which get formed between the individual and the collective and, if yes, what are their
distinguishing attributes? Are such unities fluid and specific to the contexts?
iii. Is the relationship between the individual and the collective reciprocal? Are the two
simultaneously present in each other in space and time or the two are independent
entities, both exogenous to each other having only loose coupling?
iv. How do collective beliefs, collective internationalities and collective emotions
influence collective actions and behaviours?
Answers of many of these questions are likely to emerge as we attempt to
engage with the possible ways of achieving unity of the individual with the collective.
We will engage with these questions, but not one by one or in the order in which they
have been posed as most of these questions are interrelated. Our attempt will be to
address issues as and when they emerge in the discourses and studies with which we
engage. The question which needs to be addressed first is the primitive desire of the
individual to belong with which we began.
6. Connecting individual with the collective
The question how individual and the collective get connected is considered
somewhat knotty. It has been approached in several ways. There are other terms with which it
comes to be used interchangeably many a times in a non-nuanced manner. The terms are self and
person. Harris (1989) considers “individual” as a “bio logistic” concept of humankind, “self” as
“psycho logistic”, and “person” as “sociologist”. Individual is a mortal being and an observable
entity to the extent that his behavioural acts, feelings and dispositions are recognised within all
societies. As a person, he is a complex of social relationships (Radcliff-Brown, 1940) which
gives him his unique identity. Individual’s awareness of his unique identity and his own
construction that results from it is what defines “self”. As Oyserman, Elmore and Smith (2012)
put it ‘self’ refers to ‘a warm feeling that something is “about me” or “about us”. (p. 71).
Society’s confirmation of that unique identity turns an individual into a person (La Fontaine,
1985). We have discussed above how George Mead and others point to the problem on
connecting individuals with collectives that are either endogenous or exogenous. The other
question relates to the processes implicated in belonging to a culture and, also in formation of
social identity. The classical evolutionary approach understands it in terms of need of an
individual who through belonging improves upon his chances of survival and propagation of his
kind through reproduction. Tomasello et al (2012) propose a two step process which is involved
in the development of interdependence among humans. The first step involves development of
collaboration or joint intentionality based on obligation which makes individuals feel motivated
to help their partners. In the second step, a group mindedness evolves which contributes to the
development of group life and creation of conventions, norms and institutions. Maslow (1968)
provides psychological bases underlying this need. There is also an opposite view which holds
that the need of belongingness is cultivated through the pressures generated by the systems in
which an individual is born as it contributes to coherence and order of the system. Cognitive
processes too are implicated in how individual and collective come to be connected (Abrams &
Hogg, 1999; Turner, 1982) Does one take a static or a dynamic view of the systems to
understand how networks of interpretive frameworks of various social phenomena and the social
rules and norms which influence individual actions emerge? There are studies which show that
socially shared cognitions contribute to one’s cultural belonging, also that belonging motive
influences how and what people within a cultural group think (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). But in
spite of shared cognitions of individual members, cultures are never monochromatic. This is
because the individual cognitions are situated according to their locations in space and personal
experiences. Cultures are also said to result from contested practices. In that sense, a culture is
always ‘fluid’ and not formed.( Jahoda, 2012) The sense of belonging comes in not so much with
development of shared cognitions but more with shared emotions and actions that ensue from
such shared cognitions.( Tripathi & Mishra, 2012 )
The dynamic part of cultural belonging shows up in the members of a culture developing,
what Tomasello and Carpenter (2007) call shared intentionality and also, in the relative freedom
that is felt by them to act as agents of transformation of the culture or of culture making. This
shared intentionality may be instrumental in serving the safety and security needs of Abraham
Maslow (op cit). What appear more important for the relationship between individual and the
collective, though, are the needs of relationship and belongingness. Harlow’s (1958) experiments
on rhesus monkeys demonstrated the importance of social contact in their development. There
are other studies which show how animals and humans actively seek out others, particularly in
conditions where they have been socially isolated (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008) as loneliness leads
to ill health. Cacioppo and Patrick (op cit) point out that Homo sapiens have a meaning making
social brain which in conditions of isolation, has a tendency to anthropomorphise non human
agents, e.g., pets, and objects. Even humans’ heightened belief in God and in giving Him a
human form is explained in this manner.
The need for social belongingness is a human drive which expresses itself in several ways
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Generally, it shows up in feelings of embeddedness and entitavity
and a positive self esteem which results from social identity based on belonging to a group
(Campbell, 1958; Tajfel & Turner, 1986; Dasgupta, Banaji & Abelson, 1999). Brewer (2001)
points out that more than the need for self enhancement; social identity entails a motivational
shift from self-interest to group-interest. Feelings of belongingness emerge when individuals
experience and attempt to understand social reality together within the same time frame. Reicher
and Haslam’s (2006) BBC prison study showed how those in socially subordinated position in a
prison jelled together to develop resistance to their oppressors. Common fate was another reason
that created possibilities of bonding in this case. Other studies also support such results which
show that common fate increases entitativity which leads to increased competing with other
groups (Insko, Wildschut & Cohen, 2013).
Cacioppo and Hawkeye (2003) surmise four types of connectedness. These are:
intimate connectedness, seen in case of dyads involving mother and child and couples; relational
connectedness, seen in case of close friends; collective connectedness, which leads to individuals
deriving satisfaction from their membership of groups, communities and/organizations and
nations and fourthly, in the form of divine relationships. A distinction is made between
belonging and bonding by Brewer (2003). The first two types are different from the other two in
the sense that the possibility of replacement of members or their inter-changeability in these
relationships is either zero or low. In the other case, belonging refers to inclusion where one has
the freedom to choose to belong or opt out of a membership, such as, of a group. Also, in case of
a group, community or organizations, as Brewer(2003 ) points out the size of the network is
necessarily large ( She quotes Dunbar(1993) that close personal relationships have a size of
about 15 while it is 150 or more in case of social groups) and the connectedness results through
shared symbolic group identities. However, the four types of connectedness fall within a
hierarchical order with intimate connectedness being at the lower level and the divine at the top
level. Each level supports the level above it and it in turn comes to be supported by the levels
above. Also, individualistic and relational values appear to coexist, sometimes in oppositional
form, and often in complementary form (Vignoles, Chrissochoou & Breakwell, 2004).
7. Attachment Behaviour and desire to connect
Two parallel processes seem to be involved in individual’s developing feelings of social
or cultural connectedness. Bowlby’s (1973) theory of attachment behaviour of children which
focuses on how children develop affectional bonds with others, particularly with their care
givers, brings this up rather well. These processes involve seeking closeness or proximity to
those who are likely to provide protection and security in threatening situations, ( although,
Bowlby suggests early attachment is ‘monotropic’, i.e., more directed towards one particular
person which researchers now believe is more hierarchical in terms of preferences) and avoiding
those, who appear as threats to their security, both of which, according to Bowlby, serve an
adaptive function through the development of an attachment-behavioural system, a concept put
forward by ethologists (Lorenz, 1935; Bowlby, 1953; Hinde, 1991 ). Attachment behaviour is
characterised by four characteristics according to Bowlby (1969). These are: desire to be close to
persons one is attached to; returning to the attached figure in case of threat; using the attached
figure as a base of security to explore outside environment; and separation anxiety that is
experienced when the attached figure is absent. Attachment behaviours emerge as a result of
social interactions which infants have with their caregivers and others around them. Kartner,
Keller and Chaudhary (2010) found that mothers in Delhi put greater emphasis on relational
socializing goals, such as, obedience and pro-social behaviour than did the mothers from Berlin.
The bond or attachment which children develop with their caregivers and parents, the caregivers
and parents with children, and those between adults, are all different in nature and quality. All of
them involve connectedness. However, connectedness or proximity by itself is not enough.
What matters is whether or not relationships formed are based on trust and positive emotions
which underlie these relationships (Maldonado et al, 2005).
Corsaro and Johannesen (2007) focussing on peer interactions in early childhood argue
that culture creation is a collective per formative process which involves ritualised sharing. The
acts of sharing and interdependence and also positive emotions that are experienced during play
activities lead to development of shared meaning systems which enable individuals to transcend
their personal identities and agency issues. In fact, Wiltermuth and Heath (2009) find that acting
in synchrony in any social setting is enough to weaken psychological boundaries between self
and group and positive emotions are not required for this purpose. Such attachment behavioural
systems extend to adult relationships. There is also a degree of consistency and universality
found in attachment patterns across cultures. Nevertheless, the manner in which they find
expression and the desire to belong gets enacted is regulated by cultures and their values which
create structures of understanding (Van Ijzendoorn & Sagi-Schwartz, 2008; Wever-Rabehl,
It is suggested that while individuals in the west may seek out belonging to a group
which is loose, somewhat temporary and less tight, in the east individuals may look for secure
and tight belongings. Thus, one of the rituals which Hindu couples engage in is a dip which they
take in the Holy river, the Ganges with a piece of cloth tied to their wastes to ensure that they
will unite again as wife and husband in the next seven births. There are various cultural markers
in the form of dress, cultural practices, the manner in which symbolic resources are used that also
create conditions for cultural belonging. Repeated exposure to such markers leads to the
development of affinity for individuals who bear these markers who are treated as similar to the
self and recognised as such compared to others who do not bear these markers.
Cultural markers and participation in cultural practices, however, are expressions of minds
which are rooted in a culture. Culture itself is a product of thinking style/s peculiar to a culture.
Thus, Cartesian thinking is seen at the root of how self, identity and personhood comes to be
constructed in western societies (Strozier, 2004; in Foster and Froman).While it is true that the
texture of a culture may evolve as a result of preferred modes of thinking of people belonging to
a culture, it is somewhat problematic to accept that they are based on a single mode of thinking.
Cultures around the world not only connect regularly through their inhabitants, they also import
ideas which as Bartlett (1932) had suggested they transform by employing elements of the
culture in which they are situated. These are eventually assimilated with in a culture. Such
processes cut across cultures and individuals. This only shows the possibility of a minimum
common mode of thinking, part of which may be universal.
Duveen (2007) draws our attention to Moscovici’s (1976) suggestion that individuals, as
well as collectives, have built in multiple registers to accommodate contradictory modes of
thinking, values and information which can possibly pose threat to their unity. This state has
been given the name of ‘cognitive polyphasia’ It explains how multiple registers regularly come
in to play to deal with contradictory information based on different modalities of knowledge and
how an accommodative relationship evolves among them. Cultural and biological factors
contribute to the core of human thinking in tandem. Thus, the processes of categorisation,
differentiation and integration are processes in which all humans engage. But such processes are
mediated and modified by factors and relationships which define and give stability to cultural
contexts. Cultural systems like other human and social systems are never found in finished forms
as they are continuously evolving. They display only ‘quasi’ structures which provide views of
systems after their processes have been arrested at a particular point in time. Triandis and
Gelfand (1998) distinguish between the manner in which western and eastern cultures differ with
respect to the manner in which hierarchical or vertical integration is preferred in forming
While attachment may be guided by security concerns and various biological factors may
explain the basis of attachment behavioural patterns, there are a host of other factors which
appear to influence the bonds between individuals. Hoffman (2000) argues in support of
altruistic motivation which grows out of feelings of empathic distress, a feeling which appears
similar to compassion or ‘karuna’ in Buddhism. It is a process which unfolds when one
vicariously experiences the pain being experienced by another person. Hoffman gives the
example of how even a 10 month old child reciprocates to the crying of another child, although,
he himself is not under any kind of distress. By about 13 or 14 months, he develops a tendency to
start comforting the distressed child through approach, touch or a pat. Hoffman’s view is that
once the child develops a separate view of self and another, he begins to feel empathic distress
which results in his developing a motive to help the other person. It supports the argument put
forward by philosophers in various cultural traditions that humans are morally programmed
8. Desire to exclude
It has been argued above that desire to belong and desire to include others are
coextensive. Such a desire to include is not totally non-discriminatory. All living systems, and
even cultural systems, control the entry of what is considered a foreign element and to somehow
keep the system integrated and ‘pure’. If this is not done, the core which systems try to protect in
order to maintain their integrity either get diluted or compromised and a dynamic of
disintegration is unfolded. The elements which seek entry into a system have to have the same
‘gunas’ (qualities) as those inside it. According to the Hindu ‘guna’ theory, human nature results
from three gunas, namely, ‘sattva’ (intelligence and goodness), ‘rajas’ (desire or spiritedness),
and ‘tamas ’(passivity and impurity The ideal situation for an individual is when all of these
gunas are in a situation of harmony (‘sama’). Ordinarily, in case of individuals, one of the
‘gunas’ is more or less salient depending on the situation faced by them and the quality of mind
at that point in time. Harmony, however, is the desired state of the system, a relatively ‘pure’
state of the system, and it is reached when all the ‘gunas’ combine in the correct proportion.
Entry of elements into cultural systems, particularly, is governed by the logic of ‘purity’. In this
sense, culture evolves out of deliberative ‘educational’ efforts of its members.
It is possible that sometimes ‘alien, impure and unfriendly’ elements may enter a system
and contribute to conditions of disintegration. At the level of the individual, these may be in the
form of ideas, beliefs, ideologies or cognitive schemas. But such elements are isolated and
‘quarantined’. If they are in the form of individuals, they are turned into ‘social outcasts’, or
ejected out of the system. In the animal world, the other or different is attacked and may even be
killed. All systems create processes both for interiorization as well as exclusion based on a
continuously evolving system of norms and values. Individuals who are rejected by the collective
find this state as quite distressful. The experience of ex-communication has been found to be
very negative in a large number of studies and also found to have implications for the health and
wellbeing of individuals (Bloom, White & Asher, 1979; Kubeka & Masango, 2010; Major &
O’Brien, 2005; Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002). It affects the whole being of an individual, his
perceptions, cognitions, emotions and in fact, his overall behaviour. Ravi (2007) presents an
interesting analysis of ‘metissage’( racial and cultural mixing) based on novels written by three
mixed race individuals, a Franco-Vietnamese, Mauritian-Creole and Vietnamese-Senegalese, in
societies in which race is considered an essential category and mixed-race individuals, whether
male or female, are considered inferior objects. She particularly focuses on the experiences of the
‘metis’ women who find no acceptance either by the colonial or native societies but are able to
use such ruptures of individuals with the collectives to self-empower. We will return to the
theme of repair of such ruptures later in this chapter. Let us first consider some forms of
exclusion. While different cultural groups may use their own specific ways to engage in
exclusion, the desire to exclude shows up in some of the following forms:
- ‘S/he is not me’. An example of this would be the signboards which used to be hung
outside social clubs meant exclusively for the Europeans in India during the Raj days,
prohibiting entry to Indians and ‘dogs’. This kind of desire also shows up in language use
and through coinage of special terms for the ‘others’ or those who are excluded from
being an in-group member. Thus, among the Hindus there are groups of people who are
categorised as “shudra” or ‘untouchable’. Muslims use the word ‘kafir’ for a Hindu, and
Hindus ‘mleccha’ for Muslims and someone who is ritually impure. Similarly,
‘Bourgeois’ is used by the Marxists to denote a person who is unsympathetic to Marxist
ideology. These are only some examples of this type of exclusion. Children born out of
inter-racial, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages form another category in tight
cultures as they create conditions for production of what Ravi (2004) calls a ‘metissage’.
The problem actually is that children born out of such unions develop ambivalent
identities which create problems in maintaining stable social relations.
- ‘S/he was me, but no longer me’. This may appear in cases where an individual member
is seen as breaking a strong norm of the group or seen as crossing over to the rival group
(e.g., by converting to another religion). Individual members of the groups may seek their
banishment. Ex-communication of individuals in which groups engage falls in this
category. A Sikh who violates the tenets of the Gurus or works against the interest of the
Sikhs runs the risk of being declared a ‘Tankhaiyya’. Tribal councils have their own ways
of dealing with such errant members. Errant members may be treated very harshly or may
have to pay with their lives for shaming the community.
- ‘They are no longer us’. Collectives may undergo divisions on political, religious or other
grounds resulting in treating individuals who share the same historical experiences and
collective memories as not belonging to one’s cultural group. Recent examples of this can
be seen in Yugoslavia, Bosnia and the Republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union or in the
partition of India and Pakistan. The divide between the Arabs and the Jews in the
Palestine and Israel is another example.
The desire to belong and, as also the desire to exclude, are generic processes which
are common to all socio-cultural systems. However, to the extent socio-cultural systems are
qualitatively different in terms of their core values, and how these values weave into a unique
pattern, the grounds employed for belonging or inclusion, and exclusion of individuals vary
across cultures. The desire to migrate, or to belong to another religious group, may arise
because of a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons can be personal, like inability to find
answers to existential concerns or spiritual questions, while in other cases they may also be
due to influence exercised by others in the group or individual’s desire not to lose their
friendship (Rambo, 1998). The nature of permeability of boundaries of different cultural
systems is also likely to play a role in this matter. To take an example, boundaries of various
tribal, racial and caste groups, even some religious groups, which are less porous, make it
difficult for some one to desire and seek membership of these groups. However, such a desire
may be considered perfectly legitimate if one desires to belong to a different nation which
welcomes immigrants or for that matter within the same nation when some one desires to
move up to an upper social class.
9. Self and Collectives in Cultures
One of the points which we have deliberated upon above is that cultures are
constructed and flow out of certain thought systems. Cultures may not be unitary and
difficult to define, as is pointed out by many psychologists (Jahoda, 2012) but may actually
display ‘cultural syndromes’ (Triandis, 1996). Their associated features which constitute the
cultural syndrome are sufficient to distinguish them from other syndromes. Oyserman (2011)
calls cultures as situated cognitions which build mind-sets which in turn, influence the
processes of meaning-making, mental procedures and goals which are pursued. She and her
colleagues have also gone on to show how within one culture different mind-sets are possible
and when cued they lead to different kinds of thinking (Oyserman & Sorensen, 2009).
Cartesian thinking may be said to be at the root of how societies evolved during the period of
enlightenment. Colonialist thinking continues to influence the manner in which post-colonial
societies have been evolving. In contrast to these, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian thought
systems, have led to the emergence and evolution of qualitatively different kinds of cultures.
Eastern cultures are more holistic, make less use of categories and are dialectic, while
western cultures are more analytical and make use of rules and formal logic to understand
behaviour (Nisbett, 2004; Nisbett, Peng, Choi & Norenzanan, 2001). They differ not only in
their conceptualizations of self and the other but also in the manner in which self and
collectives come to be connected. Miller (1991) points out how Indian and American
conceptions of, even, persons differ with the former conceptualizing person and individual
actions as duty-based and the Americans as right-based. Her studies carried out in Odissa
show how different cognitive consequences follow from the duty-based conceptions of
person. One problem which appears in these approaches is that cultures have been broadly
categorised into cultures of the West and of the East which have certain fixed attributes
denying any relatedness between them. This is not only counter-intuitive but also against
what we know about the evolution of cultures. A large part of cultural change and evolution
has taken place due to the contacts that have taken place among and between them. Such
contacts take place through entry of individuals who represent a different culture or through
ideas propagated through books and other cultural products and through other means of
communication. This is not to deny that cultures cannot be differentiated from each other.
What we do wish to point out is that very often researchers pass by the similarities between
cultures and make their differences to be more salient. Sinha and Tripathi (1994) and later
others (Misra & Giri, 1995; Tripathi & Leviatan, 2003; Varma, 2004) have shown how in
Indian culture, which is widely believed to be collectivist, both collectivist and individualist
values are found to be co-existing.
Let us focus on some of the typologies that have been developed of self and
collectives before we turn to the question of tension and unity between them. In doing so let
us also draw attention to what Brewer and Gardner (1996) have to say in this connection that
individuals seek to represent themselves in terms of what they hold as their distinctive traits
and qualities (personal self) or in terms of roles and relationship with others (relational self)
and also in terms of social groups or collectives they belong to and from which their personal
qualities that flow out of their group membership (group/collective self). Markus and
Kitayama (1991) argue that cultures shape the preferences for development of selves. Thus,
individualistic cultures tend to encourage development of ‘independent selves’ which draw
more from their awareness of stable representations of personal self knowledge than
collectivistic cultures where people focus more on relational and collective selves or what is
termed by them as ‘interdependent self’ which consists of the nature of relationship in which
the person connects with others in his social network. Oysterman et al (2009) carried out
experiments to show that cultures are associated with development situated cognitions.
Collective mind-set procedures are assimilation and integration which, when cued, result in
individuals focusing on multiplicity and integration, whereas, individualistic mind-set
procedures result in individuals’ focus on a single target or point because of their preference
for contrast and separation.
What is then significant to understand here is that independent, interdependent or
relational self may coexist side by side (see, Sinha and Tripathi, 1994), as do personal, social
and collective identities of individuals which focus on self definition in relation with other
persons and social groups. However, in case of identities, there is a possibility of fusion, but
not in case of selves, which are involved only in interplays and interactions.
As discussed above, self can evolve in opposition to the other (Tajfel & Turner, 1979)
and also in relationship with ‘particular close others’ (Brewer & Gardner, 1996). Brewer and
Gardner (op cit) implied that the focus on any of the three kinds of selves, independent,
relational and collective, lead to the emergence of different kinds of societies. The first kind
leads to a society where self is in competition with others and always seeking to be
distinctive. It seeks distinctiveness through ‘freedom’ (Sen, 1999). The discourse of ‘rights
and empowerment’ is not only its consequentiality but the raison d’etre for individuals
seeking unity with the society. The focus on ‘independent self’ leads to a society which is
hierarchical and inegalitarian, because the goals which individuals pursue within it, are
‘power’ and ‘authority’. Such goals are obviously in opposition to a true ‘democracy’
because individuals in it have fixed-pie perceptions. Their gain in power can come about
only when someone loses it. In a ‘true’ democracy (or for that matter in tribal societies in
which members my sometimes willingly share scarce resources), the perceptual bias, relating
to the size of pie as being fixed, is absent. The size of pie is seen as expandable (in some
societies that face scarce resources, as potentially shareable) so as to allow all members to
have relatively the same sized pie-piece of power/scarce resources. The fixed pie approach
also influences the nature of communication that takes place among the members of the
collective. In it, communication is characterized by ‘debate and discussion’ but no
‘dialoguing’ which is possible when others are considered as equals and one leaves oneself
open to be influenced by others. Discussion by its very nature involves ‘crushing’ making
them different and debate always has a proponent and an opponent who listen not to
understand, but to refute each other. The Indian culture, on the other hand, like many other
Asian cultures, sees self as evolving in relationship with ‘others’ where others are not only
the humans but the trees, animals, in fact, the entire animate and the inanimate world. Self is
both part and ‘whole’ of the ‘akhand’ (the indivisible) (Das, personal communication). Self is
at once is in the field, and is also the field itself. Unlike in individualistic societies, where the
self in opposition is like a ‘particle’, the Indian culture considers it part of the field, which is
not to suggest that individuals do not act out of selfish motives. Markus and Kitayama’s
(1991) ‘interdependent self’ and Sedikides and Brewer’s (2001) ‘relationship self’ typify
such societies and collectives as does Triandis and Gelfand’s (1998) horizontal collectivism.
The unity between the individual and the collective typifying such selves is achieved through
relationships, be they in families, groups or large organizations. It is not unusual for
organizations in India to invoke the use of the metaphor of family while making a reference
to their employees in one context or the other. Sinha (1990) points out that even Indian
bureaucracy is characterized by strong dependency relationships and preference for own
group people. Most social relationships in collectivist cultures are seen as driven by
obligations and reciprocality (Janoff-Bulman & Legatt, 2002).This kind of approach to self,
although, it is not concerned with ‘here’ and ‘now’, is enunciated in various vedic texts (e.g.,
Taittariya Samhita and Shathpatha Brahmana) leads to a culture which is a culture of ‘debts’
or ‘obligations’, of ‘rinas’ which one owes to ‘devas’ (debt one owes to the cosmic powers
or Gods), to the ‘pitras’ (to one’s parents and ancestors), ‘rishis’ (to sages and one’s
teachers), ‘nri rina’ (to ‘fellow sentient beings’) and , finally, ‘bhuta rina’(which is owed to
all living beings including plants). Related to this is the concept of ‘purushartha’ which
prescribes the relationship (responsibilities/duties) of individual to various others in society
and life goals to be pursued at different stages of life (ashramas) in the form of ‘dharma’
artha, kaam, and ‘moksha’ based on psychological tendencies of individuals (Sharma, 1999;
Mishra, 2013). Further, it is through, performance of various ‘yajna’ (which involves
sacrificing a part of his possessions in favour of the whole and those he is obligated to) an
individual is able to pay off his debt (Jain, 1932).
In view of what has gone on before, a question may be asked whether societies need to be
painted with different brushes. In fact, all societies actually have more in common and the same
social and psychological processes are observed in each one of them. Societies, however, can
differ from one another in terms of their history, social and cultural contexts which influence the
preferential focuses or mental frames used by their respective members in making sense of
different behavioural and social events which take place within them (Brewer, 1991; Hogg,
2006). Such preferences do have a bearing on the nature of relationships that are formed between
individual members and also between individual members and the collectives in terms of what
each draws from the other, and the strength of their relatedness. While such cultural preferences
play a role, the ongoing social dynamic and individual experiences play a major role in effecting
the relatedness between individual and the collective. Many among the Sikhs of Delhi who
watched the killings that took place in 1984 or the Muslims of Gujarat who were witness to 2002
riots from all accounts are not able to relate to the Indian nation in the manner individuals from
other states who were not witness to such riots are able to do. This is supported by the fact that
memories of actual victims (field memories) and those who observe them from a distance
(observer memories) influence the development of personal, as well as, group/collective self and
for the relatedness that gets developed between individual and the collective (Nigro & Neisser,
1983). Oysterman, Elmer & Smith (2012) suggest that the two perspectives in association with
independent or relational selves which vary over time decide the nature of relationship that
emerges between individual and the collective of which individual is a member.
In contrast to somewhat static typification of cultures, a different approach is taken by
Hong, Morris, Chiu, and Benet-Martinez (2000) which they call ‘dynamic constructivist’. It
proposes that when both kinds of self-construal, i.e., independent and interdependent/relational,
are available to an individual, the self that is fore grounded depends on knowledge that is
accessible to him. The support for it comes from a study in which researchers manipulated the
multiple cultural identities of Chinese-Americans. When the cultural identity manipulated was
that of a Chinese, the self that surfaced emphasized duties and obligations towards others in their
social network. When their American cultural identity was made more salient, individual rights
were used by Chinese-Americans to define their personhood (Hong, Ip, Chiu, Morris, & Menon,
2001). A question that gets raised in this context is how two contractictory desires, to belong and
to be different get balanced in individualist and collectivist societies. Hornsey and Jetten (2005)
have studied this and suggest that this is achieved through developing distinctive self-perceptions
in the two kinds of cultures. In individualist cultures, the balance is achieved by individuals by
developing a self-image where they see themselves as loyal but not open to group influence.
Individuals from the collectivist cultures self-enhanced themselves on loyalty to establish their
distinctiveness relative to others in the group while retaining their loyalty towards their groups.
Such results uphold the view that cognitions are culturally situated. However, they also
caution researchers who take a simplistic and a static view of cultures. To the extent, cultures
evolve; they are always in a flux. The cognitive frames consonant with the ‘essence of cultures’
is reflected in values, norms and cultural practices. When used, they exhibit culturally
appropriate ‘modal’ behaviours. The desire to present self in a favourable light to others within
the collective is present universally. However, such self-presentations are influenced by cultural
ways. Greenfield (2013) tested her theory of social change and human development which holds
that changes in socio-demographic ecologies bring about a change in cultural values of a society.
She found that individuals, adapted to rural environments, preferred social obligation, duty,
social belonging and relatedness, relative to those who were adapted to urban environments.
They preferred individualistic and materialistic values and gave preference to choice, personal
possessions which fostered unique or independent selves. Reviewing literature from 1800 to
2000 based on the Google Books N-gram viewer, she found that as societies moved towards
greater urbanization, the word frequencies of words ‘obliged’, ‘give’ relative to ‘choose’ and
‘get’ declined. This, for her showed that ecological changes alter cultural values. These findings
support the theory that individualism is a consequence of modernization. However, in Asian
societies like Japan, the traditional values that support collectivism, such as, importance of social
obligation, making a positive contribution to society have shown an increase over time
10. Modes of achieving unity of individual with the collective
In our discussion above, we pointed out that there are several facets of unity of
individual and the collective which express themselves differently in different cultural contexts.
These facets were- unity of feelings, beliefs and cognitions, intentions, cultural practices and
actions. Although, these facets may be independent, yet, in our understanding they involve
psychological states which need to converge if unity of individual and the collective is to happen.
We will still need to ask how psychological processes come to be connected to unite individual
with the collective. Norm Violation theory (NVT) (DeRidder & Tripathi, 1992) provides a
pointer to conditions that need to obtain for the unity between the individual and collective to
come about for engaging in collective actions. Although, the theory focuses on collective actions
that members of a group are likely to take in inter-group context, it is surmised that the same
processes may be implicated in the intergroup context. The NVT, following Tajfel and Turner
(1979), assumes that relevant inter-group comparisons in which individuals engage are
associated with the development of their distinctive social identity. This makes individuals to
internalize social/cultural practices and group norms and also develop shared beliefs and
cognitions. Such cognitions, in turn, determine preferences that individual group members
develop relating to persons, groups, and things in their environments. When a situation presents
itself for action to a group, it is made sense of and assessed by its members in terms of shared
cognitions of a group from which they derive their social identity and threat or opportunity it
poses to that group. The reaction to situation by its members is also based on their collective
cognitions and beliefs and, also, the collective emotions that get invoked by the situation. The
collective emotions may be of moral outrage resulting from the perception of rival group
members having malevolent intent when important norms of the group are violated by rival
group members, if the groups involved are competing against each other. A perception of
malevolent intent of the rival group then feeds into development of collective intentionality
leading to negative action directed against the other group members. In a contrary situation,
where the other group members respect and support the norms and they also become co-
participant in group’s cultural practices, individual members of the group are likely to have
collective cognitions and emotions of a positive kind leading to collective intentionality which
seeks positive affiliation with the other group. There are several such instances that are seen in
India, such as, when Muslims of Buxi-ka- Talab in Lucknow take part in Ram-Lila by enacting
various roles from Ramayana and Hindus taking part in celebration of “Matam” processions of
Shias in Lucknow or Muslims in Kashmir offering material and moral support to pilgrims going
on Amarnath Yatra (see, Chandra & Mahajan, 2007).
A factor that has not been paid sufficient attention to in the unity of individual and the
collective is religion. Graham and Haidt (2010) argue that religious beliefs, rituals and practices
bind individuals into “moral communities”. Eldering and Pandey (2007) studied the Maha
Kumbh Mela at Allahabad and found that the pilgrimage to the Mela actually was a collective
process in which pilgrims sometime came with three generation family along with fellow
villagers. Most of them (85%) engaged in the same rituals of taking bath in the holy Ganges,
performed puja, listened to the religious discourses and attended to performances based on Hindu
epics. How do individuals within the group coordinate their thoughts to converge on one
common interpretation leading to common action, is a question that remains to be answered
satisfactorily by Psychologists. Even computer scientists have sought to understand how belief
propagation takes place but have not been able to answer it satisfactorily (Smart et al, 2010).
Miller’s (1991) view, that these categories of thought are vicariously passed on to individuals
because of their participation in social practices, institutions and symbolic actions, has received
wide acceptance among psychologists.
Collective intention for action, thus, is largely a function of identity, collective feelings or
emotions, collective cognitions and beliefs. Collective actions flow out of collective intention
(Searle, 1990). But how can individual cognitions and intentions which are so heterogeneous
become collective to enable individuals to find their unity with the collective? A commonly
accepted view is that no such unity is possible unless the personal self boundaries fuse with the
boundaries of the group to form a collective identity. Swann, Jetten, Gomez, Whitehouse, and
Bastian (2012) reviewing constructs relating to fusion from Durkheim through Lewin to modern
day social psychologists see identity fusion as oneness with the group. In their view, after
identities have fused the personal and social self boundaries become permeable such ‘that
aspects of both the personal and social self can readily flow into the other’ (p.442). The theory
suggests that identity fusion leads to the development of strong relational ties with other
members of the own-group, transfer of personal agency to group goals, pro-group behaviour and
accepting other group members as carriers of group norms. Fusion of personal self and social self
is assessed in terms of degree. Complete identity fusion take place in small number of cases only.
Where personal and group identities fuse they act in a synergistic fashion and support engaging
in highly extreme levels of individual and group behaviour (Swann et al, 2009). The fact remains
that, however, tenuous the fusion or relationship between the individual and collective,
membership of a collective has significant bearing on individual’s behaviour. After collective
identity is formed and collective beliefs and shared cognitions have developed, individuals come
to imbibe collective intentionality which propels collective action. Van Zomeren, Postmes and
Spear (2008) propose a model which suggests that for collective action to ensue individual
members should also have feelings of collective efficacy and injustice besides, identity. Thomas,
Mavor and McGarty (2012) have carried out studies in support of their model.
A question which gets posed here is this. After collective identities come to be formed
how do they sustain over a long period of time and generations after generations? As Assman
and Czaplicka (1995) point out cultures do not maintain themselves due to phylogenetic
evolutions but due to interiorization of norms, customs and beliefs by individuals and as a result
of social intercourse that takes place within any group or social collective, as also cultural
memory. But most individuals are not likely to stay at one place throughout their lives and can
move across groups. They develop multiple identities which can come into conflict with their
central identity (Settles, 2006). Social identities by their very nature are fluid. It will be pertinent
to ask, therefore, what processes and factors may maintain the unity of the individual with the
collective and, further, how does it remain central to person’s self definition? Also, how is the
primacy of the collective retained? Alternately, we may also ask, what happens to the unity
between the individual and the collective once formed, when individuals develop new
allegiances? We have in mind the cases of immigrants, who in this era of globalization are
migrating to new countries and cultures? The challenge remains for psychologists to understand
the processes which enable individuals to acculturate to a group which once was considered
distant or the ‘other’. The specific case of Muslim workers migrating to various European Union
countries may be considered.
But, let us first consider the case of maintenance of unity of individual with a
collective. We have already discussed that personal and social identity draw from individual’s
embeddedness within a culture in which phenomenological experiences of all social actors are
turned into cognitive representations which, when shared and given meaning to by others, form
social representations.. Moscovici’s (1973) theory of social representation elaborates this in great
detail without taking recourse to person’s identity. According to him, social representations
develop out of ‘a system of values, ideas and practices’. They provide unambiguous meaning to
various aspects of social and other aspects of people’s world so that they may communicate
effectively. In this process, order comes to be created through construction of a social reality and
a ‘consensual universe’ develops which shapes our collective consciousness (Duveen, 2007). It is
a world that ‘constructors’ believe they actually live in. ‘Consensual universe’ is contrasted with
another universe which Moscovici terms, ‘reified universe’. The representations which constitute
this universe are constructed by and through scientific knowledge. However, these two kinds of
universe do not deal with representations of those who truly believe that ‘another world is
possible’, be it on the basis of what is constructed on the basis of religious books, or social and
political discourses. Individuals have different world views and some among those try to seek
and create such worlds and they have been doing it, may be since humankind discovered
sociality. For want of a better word, let us call this kind of universe, ‘promised universe’. Al-
Qaeda’s use of ‘jihad’ and Lord Krishna’s sermon to Arjun in Bhagwadgita to engage in fight
with his relatives and actions are illustrative of representations which constitute ‘promised
universe’. Individuals may construct their own scripts which are likely to lead them to their
‘promised universes’ (Tomkins, 1978).
Are minds of individuals constituted by one kind of representations? The term ‘cognitive
polyphasia’ is used by Moscovici (1984) to denote incompatible representations of the same
reality, which he thinks should actually be a rule. The modern does coexist with the traditional,
as Wagner, Duveen, Verma and Themel (2000) found out in case of psychiatric notions people
held of mental illness, their aetiology and treatment in an Indian city. Such incompatible
representations that create the condition of cognitive polyphasia, Moscovici seems to suggest,
characterise the ‘consensual universe’ only. Does this mean that ‘reified universe’ is constituted
by compatible representations only? We do not think so. It is possible that incompatible
representations may coexist in both the universes proposed by Moscovici, and also in the third,
‘promised universe’ suggested by us. We propose that the unity of individual and collective is
maintained to the extent group members draw and use these representations which constitute one
or more of these universes to define self. The unity based purely on ‘consensual universe’ is
likely to be relatively more fluid because individuals within a collective are perpetually engaged
in the process of meaning making. The consensual universe, because it is in motion raises the
probability of multiple identities and pluralism/multiculturalism. This is going to be less true
when personal and social/cultural identities that fuse draw cognitive and social representations
from the ‘promised universe’ which evolved on the basis of discourses based on cultural texts
and/or cultural and collective memories. Fusions of identities based on compatible social
representations from the ‘promised universe’ are likely to be of a more permanent kind
increasing the probability of monocultural identities and monism. We may suggest that that
effective mobilization for collective action is made easier, when representations are drawn from
all the three kinds of universes. Sen and Wagner (2013) discuss how ‘consensual universe’ was
built by the ‘Hindutva’ forces that resulted in the demolition of Babri-Masjid. Many of those
who participated in the action may have actually believed that they were answering a ‘divine’
calling to build a Ram Temple.
11. Concluding comments
When we began, we had hoped to answer the questions we had raised as part of the
problematic. We feel that we have been able to do so in a very limited way. It does appear that
available literature points out that the psychological processes that underlie the unity between the
individual and the collective hold across cultures, but get modified in important ways.
Psychology is still short on grand theories. The middle-range theories that are available use
empirical researches carried out across socio-cultural settings that are similar in some ways, e.g.,
economic and political structures. However, societies differ significantly in terms of how they
are socially structured, their preferred social and cultural values, also in the mindsets and the
world views that people who belong to such societies have. Cultures, of course, show overlaps,
particularly in the ways the modern world has been evolving and creating structures under the
push of ‘modernity’. It is there that the middle range theories are found to work, e.g., in formal
organizations and university settings. The understandings that we have been able to make in
India based on these middle-range theories remain partial, largely because the theories and the
empirical studies based on them do not emanate from our socio-cultural reality. India today
presents a case of culture that is a mix of rights-based culture in the urban areas and seemingly
duty-based in rural areas. This is in contrast to a completely rights-based culture in the western
societies. Clearly this cultural difference has implications for the manner in which the unity
between the individual and the collective is achieved. Tripathi, Savani and Cervone’s (2013)
study showed that autonomy given to workers did not boost motivation universally. It was also
found that Indians in autonomy- supported work contexts spent less time on task at hand. The
nature of reciprocity that emerges in case of rights based culture is unlikely to be similar to what
is likely to be found in case of duty based culture. Further, whose responsibility is it to facilitate
unification of the individual with the collective? Social inclusion may be a right of an individual
in a rights-based culture but not in duty-based culture where a person either finds inclusion
because of ascription or earns it by going through the prescribed route. To point out, there are
innumerable examples of low caste people among the Hindus, Valmiki and Raidas, for example,
who attained sainthood in this manner. Unity of individual and the collective is explained, most
often, in terms of social identity theory (Persson, 2010). The assumption made here is that the
individual develops social identity as a member of a group by seeing how s/he is different from
members of his own group, and his group is different from another group with which it is in
contestation. Both, individual and the group, retain their separate autonomous positions in this
case. But it was not too long ago that such a dichotomy did not obtain. Individual was ‘almost’
the group. To a large extent that continues to be the case in Hindu families even today. The
‘karta’ (head) in the Hindu undivided family is entitled to represent the family collective before
the legal entities in India. Sociality has been evolving in the modern world differently and is
throwing up new forms which may pose new questions. We have in mind unity of individuals
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I have greatly benefited from the comments of Professors Lila Krishnan, R.S. Pirta, R. Roy,
G.C. Tripathi, R.K. Naidu, ESK Ghosh, Namita Pandey, Ritu Tripathi and Yoganand Sinha.
They are, however, not responsible for the shortcomings that still remain in the paper. Through
this paper I redeem a promise I had made to J. Valsiner some years back. It is for you Jean !