Empirical and theoretical scholarship since the 1970's has presented alternatives to the universality of the self across culture and gender, and has challenged the utility of the construct as heretofore defined. Humans' experiences of self have been found to vary substantially across cultures and gender, especially regarding the importance of independence and separation versus interdependence and relationship. For example, American psychologist Hazel Markus, Japanese psychologist Shinobu Kitayama, and their colleagues found in their 1991 and 1997 studies that the concept of an individualized self as uniquely differentiated from others is descriptive of Americans' psychological experience. In contrast, Japanese personal experience is often more consistent with collective, relational roles, a conclusion that has been replicated with other collectivist cultures.
Feminist psychologists working at the Stone Center in Massachusetts have drawn on the developmental psychological work of Americans Nancy Chodorow and Carol Gilligan, observing that many women find the notion of a discrete and individualized self places too much emphasis on separation between people. This research group proposed the concept of self-in-relation to capture the extent to which one's core sense of being is defined by one's relationships with and commitments to other individuals. Likewise, as American developmental psychologist Mary Field Belenky and her colleagues interviewed women about their learning processes, they found that the sense of self as an individual, separate knower and speaker is only one stage of development. The individualist stage is often followed by respect for the ways one's subjectivity is informed by empathy and intimacy with others. These empirical observations suggest that theories of the self should attend more carefully to the interplay of individual and interpersonal or social experience.
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