Sociocentrism vs Individualism

Posted by Beetle B. on Sun 28 August 2016

Most societies have a need to “resolve” the tension between individuals and the society.

Most societies are sociocentric: The group has priority and its needs override those of the individual’s.

A few societies are individualistic: The individual is the center, and society is structured to serve the individual.

Sociocentrism dominated history. Individualism mostly arose during the Enlightenment, and impacted a few societies (to this day).

Fascism is sociocentric. But countries like the Scandinavian ones are not. They may be “socialist”, but their socialist aspects are merely there to serve the individual and provide a better safety net.

Shweder felt that Kohlberg and Turiel’s theories showed the individualistic bias of the societies they came from. He demonstrated that in other cultures (likely sociocentric), the distinction between social norms and morality was much more blurred.

Orissa vs US Study

He conducted a study where subjects in Orissa (India) and the US were presented with 39 short stories. Each story violated some “rule” in either the US or Orissa. The violation was either moral or social.

  • 100 kids in Chicago (Age: 5-13)
  • 180 Brahmin kids in Orissa (same age)
  • 120 Dalits
  • 60 adults in Chicago


  • In the US there was a distinction between social conventions and morality.
  • In Orissa, there was no separation. The social order was the moral order.
  • Clearly, in Orissa, children were not figuring out morality on the basis of harm.
  • In the US, the social convention theory was not completely as expected. There were a significant number of cases where a social norm was treated as moral (i.e. wrong even if society deems it to be OK).

Turiel’s Response

Turiel responded that many of Shweder’s stories, when viewed within the context of Indian beliefs, actually did imply harm (albeit not always physical). Eating hot food was correlated with sexual appetite, thus offending the spirit of the dead husband.

Turiel may have had a point.

tags : trm, morality, Shweder