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Ansuni Stories is a storytelling and research project, where we are capturing the experiences of the South Asian diaspora across the U.K. in relation to our diverse and sometimes conflicted experiences with our families and our community. The project explores the healing, nourishing and positive aspects, along with the challenging, toxic and harmful impacts that result from our "collectivist culture". So far we have captured submissions via an online survey and a workshop. Watch this space for our findings and for future workshops.

What is a collectivist culture?


A collectivist culture is one where the needs and expectations of the community are placed above those of the individual. Typically, in collectivist cultures, interpersonal relationships and the interconnectedness between members of the community play a central role in each individuals’ identity. 


Common traits of a collectivist culture include:

  • Individuals being encouraged to do what is best for the community and, widely, society.

  • Families and communities hold a central role. 

  • A greater emphasis on commonly shared goals rather than individual pursuits


In collectivist cultures, members are considered “good” if they are generous, selfless, dependable, attentive to the needs of others and somewhat passive. This is a stark contrast to individualistic cultures where the emphasis lies on the individuals’ needs and pursuits, and encourages independence, assertiveness, personal identity and self-centred behaviour. 


Collectivism in South Asian communities


Within South Asian communities, collectivism manifests through emphasis on maintaining family and community ties, cultural gendered norms and the immediate and wider family's wellbeing.


Collectivist cultures enjoy increased stability due to the mutual care and support encouraged by the community. Individuals are less likely to face problems alone and feel protected by their community through a shared identity, financial stability and a close family for moral guidance.


However, this means individuals are expected to sacrifice their personal desires to protect their family's well-being, especially when there are conflicting individual and group goals.. Pursuing personal goals that clash with community goals is seen as selfish and a betrayal to the community as the idea of self exists in relation to others within collectivist cultures.


Children are often socialised to remain emotionally dependent on their elders throughout adulthood, and in many South Asian cultures, individualisation is seen as a loss of control. Therefore, autonomy and independence is usually undesired and often actively prevented. 


The differences in values between individualist and collectivist cultures make cultural reconciliation challenging for diasporic South Asians. Balancing individualism with collectivism is a challenging personal journey that many within the diaspora won't engage in due to the difficulty of negotiating between the dominant, individualist culture experienced daily while simultaneously living within the boundaries of a collectivist culture at home. 


Community exclusion and othering


During the initial phases of our research on gender-based violence in diaspora communities, we learned that many womxn hesitated to come forward about their domestic abuse experiences out of fear of community exclusion. This fear is imbued with the dynamics of a collectivist culture - putting the needs of the community before your own, judgement from your family and peers, tarnishing yours and your family’s reputation, carrying the burden of honour, and feeling as if you have failed to live up to your gendered roles and expectations. 

Community exclusion affects individuals who identify as women, non-binary, queer, or trans disproportionately. We created Ansuni Stories to give these experiences the space to be heard, surfaced and challenged. We recognise that collectivism allows our communities to practice community exclusion on the grounds of doing what is best for the whole but, often, these practices cause harm and distress and, yet, those experiences are either ignored or silenced. 


A few snippets from our first virtual Ansuni Stories workshop - held on Friday 31st July 2020.

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