Related and autonomous: Cultural perspectives on self, acculturation and adjustment
How are culturally valued ways of being and relating reflected in different self-construals across individualistic and collectivistic cultural contexts? What happens to the self-construal of acculturating persons from a collectivistic cultural background who either migrate to, or who are born into, individualistic mainstream cultures? Self-construals – how people define themselves in relation to others – differ between cultures. I conceive of the self as culturally informed and socially grounded in specific relationship contexts. My dissertation examines how people across cultural contexts and in acculturation contexts combine relatedness (affective closeness) and autonomy (self-governance) in their self-construals. Relatedness and autonomy are complementary human motives, yet collectivistic cultural contexts (Turkey) promote relatedness more and individualistic cultures (Belgium) value autonomy more. My focus is on the self in relationships with mothers and teachers as key socialization agents. Extending my approach of culture and self to acculturation contexts (Turkish and Moroccan minorities in Belgium), I examine how acculturating persons combine relatedness and autonomy in relation to mothers and teachers who represent heritage and mainstream cultural values respectively. My dissertation addresses three research aims: establish 1) distinct self-construals across different cultural and relational contexts; 2) self-construal in the acculturation context; and 3) its consequences for adjustment. The dissertation consists of six studies which are presented in four empirical chapters (chapters 2 – 5). The chapters are written as stand-alone research papers, preceded by an introduction (chapter 1), and followed by a discussion (chapter 6).
To establish distinct self-construals across cultures and relationships (aim 1), Study 1 (Chapter 2) and 2 (Chapter 3) compare relatedness and autonomy in relation to mother and teachers across Turkish and Belgian students. As expected, Turkish students were more related and less autonomous than Belgians in relation to their teachers. In relation to their mothers, however, Turkish students were no less autonomous than Belgians. In Study 2 (not in Study 1) Turkish students were more related to their mothers than Belgians and relatedness was also less conflicting with autonomy.
To examine self-construal in acculturating persons (aim 2), Studies 3 (Chapter 3), 4, 5 (Chapter 4) and 6 (Chapter 5) assess relatedness and autonomy in minority samples in Belgium. In line with expected cultural differences, minorities were more related and less autonomous than majority Belgians in relation to both mothers and teachers. Their self-construal was affected by acculturation preferences as well as actual acculturation: those who prefer heritage cultural maintenance were more related; those who prefer mainstream cultural contact more autonomous; with least conflict between relatedness and autonomy in those who integrate both cultures. Also, minorities’ exposure to the mainstream culture in school and language mastery predicted autonomy (not relatedness) over time.
To test adjustment correlates of self-construal in acculturating youth (aim 3); Study 6 (chapter 5) compares minority and majority relatedness and autonomy in relation to teachers. While relatedness was generally adaptive for school engagement and achievement, autonomy was adaptive for majority achievement only. For minority youth, the adaptive value of autonomy was conditional on high relatedness.
To conclude, my research articulates cultural differences and acculturation processes through the lens of people’s situated and evolving self-construals of autonomy and relatedness to others.