Social Dependence

Social Dependence

the extent to which members of a society are dependent upon others and are obligated to maintain social connections

The social ties which bind the members of a society to one another vary from culture to culture. Many cultures lean toward individualism—where the ties between individuals are loose and everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family (father, mother, children). Conversely, many societies lean toward collectivism—where individuals are part of strong in-groups (including the family, extended family, and sometimes entire villages). A culture’s Social Dependence is a measure of the extent to which individuals are dependent upon community ties.

Below is a comparison of some of the characteristics found in individualist versus collectivist societies:


  1. “I”
  2. Universalism (others classified as individuals)
  3. Individuals
  4. Tasks come first, relationships after
  5. Low-context communication (things must be specified and communication is more lengthy)
  6. Confrontations can do no harm and can sometimes be healthy


  1. “We”
  2. Exclusionist (in or out group)
  3. Tribes
  4. Relationships come first, task seconds
  5. High-context communication (things are obvious, and communication can be kept short)
  6. Harmony exists to keep community/society from falling apart

The measurement of a culture’s Individualism Values (IDV) again ranges from 1-100 and can only be measured relative to other societies. Hofstede found that individualist societies tended to be wealthier (placing a higher emphasis on profit), had a faster-paced lifestyle, had greater human rights, and a greater freedom of the press. Collectivist societies tended to be poorer (placing a higher emphasis on relationships), had slower-paced lifestyles, fewer human rights, and a lower freedom of the press. It is also worth noting the greater use of the word “I” in the language systems of individualist cultures. English, for example, is the only language that capitalizes the word “I.”

There is a correlation between a culture’s IDV and its PDI, where countries with smaller power distances tend to be more individualistic and vice versa. This turns out to be mainly an effect of the distribution of wealth.

Disrupt This!

Expanding this beyond a scale of individualism vs. collectivism, it would be useful to consider to what degree affiliation informs identity:

  • In what ways might a person’s self-identity conflict with their group-identity and sense of belonging?
  • Potential sub-dimensions to consider might include: national identity, political leaning, faith-based identity, ethnic and racial identity, pan-global identities of various kinds.

Importantly, people have multiple, overlapping communities they feel a part of, so assessing degrees of affiliation and the contexts of overrides is worth considering.

An understanding of stakeholders’ social interconnectedness is, at the very least, helpful in determining what research techniques should be administered when collaborating with the people of a given culture. If decisions are usually made by communal agreement, then singling out individuals for the purposes of user research may produce conflicting results. Conversely, if decisions are left to smaller family units, then it may be difficult to reach consensus when performing research on larger groups. It is also possible that this may carry over into design decisions, where a solution which relies on individuals working together may prove unfruitful (and vice versa).

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