Self Organization and Social Organization: American and Chinese Constructions

By Michael W. MorrisKwok LeungChi-yue ChiuYing-yi HongKaiping Peng
1997| Working Paper No. 1458

From the writings of William James (1890) onwards, the construct of the social self has been widely employed in North American and European social psychology (see Markus & Cross, 1990 for a review). Many of the most influential theoretical perspectives in social psychology concern how a given person cognitively represents and emotionally identifies with groups; such as social identity theory (Hogg & Abrams, 1988; Tajfel & Turner, 1979), social categorization theory (Turner, 1987), and the group value model (Lind & Tyler, 1988). Although James and many of his Western intellectual heirs have voiced the caveat that the social self is experienced differently in other cultural systems, until very recently there has been little psychological research on this issue.Since the social self may be experienced differently in different Asian cultures (Munro, 1985), an analysis that focuses on Chinese culture can be useful. As others have done in the cases of Japan (Markus and Kitayama, 1991) and India (Shweder & Miller, 1985), we attempt to distill some distinctive qualities of the social self in Chinese society. In particular, we begin with the argument that differences in subjective construal and self understanding. Several differences in the social structures and constraints of Chinese and American societies are described, and they are linked to evidence that Chinese people subjectively construe themselves and others with different sorts of social categories and representations. We close by integrating related evidence on cross-cultural variations in how people congnitively reconcile conflicts between the self and others and make judgments about what is fair.