The Value of Collectivism in Nepal : The Changing Dynamics

When we hear the word “values”, some of the ideas that pop in our head might be- norms, traditions, rules, beliefs, morals, and the likes. Commonly and simply defined, values are certain principles or guidelines that determine our way of interpreting and making sense of certain situation, attitude, or objects. The study of values or value system has been the interest of cross cultural psychologists, broadly to compare between cultures/societies and specifically to understand the role of values in human behavior and mental processes. The work of Geert Hofstede (between 1967 and 1973) is considered one of the pioneer works, later developed into cultural dimension theory.

The cultural dimension theory provides the basis for describing national cultures along six dimensions: power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, long term orientation, and indulgence versus restraint. Among these six dimensions, individualism has caught fancy of many researchers and they have tried to study the value systems of culture as either being individualistic or opposite of individualistic, termed collectivistic.

According to Hofstede (1980), individualistic societies emphasize “I” consciousness, autonomy, emotional independence, individual initiative, right to privacy, pleasure seeking, financial security, need for specific friendship and universalism. Collectivistic societies on the other hand, stress “We” consciousness, collective identity, emotional dependence, group solidarity, sharing, duties and obligations, need for stable and predetermined friendship, group decision and particularism. Based on these characteristics, many researchers have found in general that western cultures (societies from Europe, North America, and Australasia) tend more towards individualism while Asian, African and South American cultures are primarily collectivistic in nature (Baines, 2009).

Nepalese have a social practice called 'mela' in farming where the members in a village are obliged to participate in plantation and harvest of the crops each other in turn wise.
Nepalese have a social practice called ‘mela’ in farming where the members in a village are obliged to participate in the plantation and harvest of the crops of each other in turn wise.

While the cultures are studied in terms of polar opposites: either individualistic or collectivistic, some researchers like Sinha and Tripathi (1994) and Ebero (1998) propose that there is within-nation variability in individualism and collectivism, and that both values might co-exist in a culture/society. Due to the rapid wave of modernization and changing lifestyles, the proposition of co-existing values might hold some truth after all. Even Nepal, regarded as a primarily collectivistic culture, is witnessing shift towards individualism as evident by the choice of lifestyle by the youths and more educated groups. This doesn’t mean that collectivistic values are fading but rather that the dominance of collectivistic values (mostly upheld by the elder generation) has been challenged by the wave of individualism. It doesn’t necessarily mean a dark cloud to be worried about.

Collectivistic cultures have advantages such as social support, resources and security, which can be detrimental in positive psychological adjustment in an individual. However, restrictions on self expressions, emotions, behaviors and personal goals might hinder the overall development of an individual. Thus, it might be safe to say that both value systems have their own advantages and disadvantages. I believe that the wise thing to do would be to incorporating the positive aspects of both values and minimizing the effects of negative aspects. This way, we can probably get best of both worlds and worst of none. Instead of saying that one is good and other bad, we can move in a continuum: not being rigid but incorporating both values as per the demand of the context. So I believe that it is a great opportunity for Nepal to take the best of both worlds as it is evident that Nepal is going through a transition phase in value orientation.

Nepal has a score of 30 on the individualism dimension of the 6-D model developed from cultural dimension theory by Geert Hofstede. A low score of 30 in this (individualism) dimension means that Nepal is considered a collectivistic society (Dahlin and Regmi, 1997), which is evident in a close, long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. However, the world is developing in technology and it has brought a great change in the way people live their lives. Nepal is not resistant to these changes. With the changing world, due to technological and economical advancements, people’s values have also changed. Earlier, people used to live in large families, joint family system was dominant. So, people at that time held collectivistic values more than the individualistic values. Collectivism was at the center of the culture and people’s life. Though there have been very few researches in Nepal regarding value orientations, Bhattachan states that with the increasing trend in urbanization and mass media development, urban and educated Nepalese are becoming more inclined towards individualism (Bhattachan, 2005, as cited in International encyclopedia of adolescence 2007). It is evident in our day to day life that youths of today demand independence and are more egocentric, the characteristics of individualism. However, it is just mere assumptions as it is not backed by research. So, it is difficult to say with confidence if value orientation of Nepalese has changed, and if then to what extent, and what implications does it hold in describing and explaining the Nepalese society as a whole. This seems to be the research gap.



Baines, J. (2009). What are the factors that shape the career decisions of LSE students? (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Bhattachan (2005). International Encyclopedia of Adolescence, 2007.

Dahlin, B., & Regmi, M. P. (1997). Conceptions of learning among Nepalese students. Higher Education, 33, pp.471-93.

Ebreo, A. (1998). Subjective culture, perceived social support, and adaptive coping: A multi-ethnic study of the transition to college. Dissertation Abstracts International, 59

Hofstede, G. (1980). Cultures consequences: International differences in work related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Sinha, D., and Tripathi, R. C. (1994). Individualism in a collectivist culture: A case of coexistence of opposites. In Kim, U., Triandis, H., Kâğitçibaşi, Ç., Choi, S., & Yoon, G. (Eds.), Individualism and collectivism: Theory, method, and applications (pp. 123-136). Thousand Oaks, CA US: Sage Publication




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