Culture and self concept

Internship Report, 1999

21 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)


Summary of activities and experiences

My work is part of a cultural comparison study about the self and the self concept from young people at the age of 18 to 25 in Peru as well as in former East and West Germany. It is interesting to know the whole structure about the self concept where the single elements of knowledge refer to one another and not the single independent variables. To get an idea about this concept you need to work methodologically. We used qualitative structured interviews with basic questions like „How should the ideal person be?“ or „How do you describe responsibility?“ (which is my part to evaluate) or „Is friendship important to you?, What means happiness to you?“. Furthermore we integrated the dilemma-methods according to Kohlberg and Selman (Kohlberg, 1963; Selman, 1980).

We need to understand the level of the structure like developmental stages, where we can find on the one hand the conception of Piaget and Kohlberg (hierarchy, integration, consolidation, structuring and equilibration (Hoppe-Graff, 1983) and on the other hand structures of knowledge (Mandl, Friedrich und Hron, 1988) where the context and the form is connected with one another. The logic of the structure level is independent from the culture, it is universal. The question is: Does any universality exist for all cultures at every time? Presupposition in every case is a cultural environment which makes a higher level of development possible.

The content of the knowledge structures is first the result of post-construction of the cultural definition on self concept (ethnotheory) and second the result of construction from individual unique experiences in a certain culture. Thus in theory you distinguish between three different parts of self concept:

a) the formal-logical structure of every stage from the self concept,
b) a general structure of knowledge which comes from the certain culture,
c) and knowledge structures which results from personal experience like critical

life events and which are more or less integrated in the entire self concept.

There were investigations in the Asian and Western countries about the self concept (Germany, United States, Slowenia, Croatia, Corea, Indonesia, Japan and China), which showed both: universality and cultural specifications. Universality means formal- (developmental)-logical levels of structure which consists of five self concept stages.

In general sense of culture we distinguish between collectivistic-individualistic. Asian people had these both orientations, while western people are more individualistic oriented. Moreover we found such combinations in different stages of the self concept.

The five main levels of implicit anthropology which are used to investigate individual’s conceptions of the human nature will be described as followed. These stages are divided into four main dimensions:

personality theory

social (environmental) theory

action theory

type of thinking.

The five stages: (Oerter, R., 1995)

Stage I:

Human beings are conceived as actors characterised by overt actions (driving a car, sewing, cooking, working) and material and social possessions (owning a house, having a wife and children). Actions are not clearly differentiated into goal, means, and end.

Stage II:

Humans are seen as owners of psychological traits. Psychological concepts are conceptualised as dispositions explaining the stability of behaviour across time and situations. Social partners have an instrumental function, they are necessary as a means for reaching a goal just as the subject him/herself is instrumental for others (instrumental exchange). The action theory at Stage II becomes differentiated into the sequence goal - means - end. The subject realises that psychological costs may have to be invested in order of further development.

Stage III a:

The autonomous identity forms the core of covert psychological entities and organises them for a meaningful life-style. This identity is attributed to all persons, and therefore everybody has the right to choose his/her own way and to build a different value system. Relativistic thinking in this stage allows to justify the existence of contradicting value systems and life-styles. The action theory is expanded by considering the consequences of actions and feeling responsible for them.

Stage IIIb:

Human beings are conceived as mutual (reciprocal) identities. Identity is defined by mutual relations. Subjects realise that their attitudes in regard to values and life-styles may change, and that inner conflicts are normal and necessary. This experience of inner contradictions is accompanied by a new way of thinking: dialectic thinking. But at this stage dialectic thinking deals only with subjective conflicts and contradictions occurring as psychological events within the subject. Action theory takes into account consequences of one’s own actions for others, in small systems like family, school, and place of work.

Stage IV:

The individual is perceived within the polarity of culture or society as well as an autonomous self. The subject is confronted with the contradiction of ego-identity and role-identity, and of conflicting demands of the surrounding culture. Humans become elements of the entire global system, namely society, and also are exchangeable. Objective dialectic thinking becomes necessary in this process of understanding societal influences. Contradictions and incompatibilities exist within the society and, only as a consequence, also within the individual.


According to these stages first I started to categorize different interviews from Peru and Germany. Then I continued with interviews from the former East and West Germany, categorized the whole interview and finally took the two questions evaluating the answers as I mentioned before:

1. „How should the ideal person be?“ and
2. „How do you define responsibility ?“

Therefore we constructed different graphics:

For the ideal person we have four main graphics and according to the answers in the interview I changed the graphic.

E = traits

Z = aims

S = self

A = Others


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Culture and self concept
LMU Munich  (Pedagogic Psychology und Empirical Psychology)
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
466 KB
Quote paper
Petra Ursula Decker (Author), 1999, Culture and self concept, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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