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Another take on cultural paradigms: ‘autonomy, community, divinity’

From time to time I read Jayson Georges’ blog as a way of working my cultural anthropology skills. We have often used the three cultural paradigms – guilt, shame and fear – in order to unpack differences between Tanzania and Australia, and the way theology comes to bear on these different contexts. is doing a good job of popularising this framework.

Jayson’s most recent post outlines another framework from cultural psychologist Richard Shweder: autonomy, community, and divinity. Whereas guilt/shame/fear is about the dynamics of morality, autonomy/community/divinity is about the basis of personhood. In other words, Shweder is getting at something more underlying: the conceptions of identity that fuel how we relate to one another. So the two frameworks are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they just synonyms for the same concepts.

Shweder’s framing instantly resonated with me. Tamie and I find ourselves talking about the collectivism of Tanzania (‘community’) and the individualism of Australia (‘autonomy’) at least as often as we talk about fear, shame, or guilt. And Shweder is not talking about collectivism or individualism in more organisational terms as Geert Hofstede does, he’s talking about the underlying nature of things.

I feel like there’s a broad usefulness here. Tanzania seems generally community-oriented and divinity-oriented, whereas the dynamics of guilt/shame/fear are less straightforward (an issue I’ll return to in future posts). Meanwhile in Australia, it sometimes seems that we Christians believe we have the ultimate solution to the guilt-innocence equation, whereas ‘autonomy’ is pervasive both inside and outside the church.

I’m looking forward to reading Shweder’s whole article, and be sure to check out Jayson Georges’ outline.

Categories: Tanzanian culture Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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