The concept of individualism-collectivism (I-C) has been a prominent construct in philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology, and organization and management. Its meaning may vary greatly in scope, content, and levels of analysis, depending on the fields of inquiry and the phenomenon of interest. We focus on I-C as it relates to values, identities, motives, and behaviors in the context of organization and management. At its core, I-C is about self-collective relationships and the impact they have on the relational dynamics and outcomes at various levels of analysis. Theory and research have identified patterns of contrasts between individualism and collectivism. While the individualist orientation emphasizes individual self-identity, personal agency, and values that tend to prioritize individuals over collectives, the collectivist orientation emphasizes individuals’ collective identity, collective agency, and values that tend to prioritize collectives over individuals.
Various I-C conceptions have been critically evaluated with the focus on basic assumptions regarding the nature of individualism and collectivism as unidimensional, bidimensional, or multidimensional constructs, and whether or not individualism and collectivism are conceived as inherently oppositional or complementary to form a high-order construct. Specifically, previous reviews of culture and value studies in general, and of I-C studies in particular, acknowledge the possibility that individualist and collectivist orientations may coexist within a diverse society, organization, or group, and that those orientations may change over time or evolve to tackle emergent survival challenges. However, most previous reviews continue to focus on the unitary construct of I-C composed of two entities as polar opposites of each other, the high of one meaning the low of the other. Over time, instead of or in addition to the initial unidimensional conception of I-C, research has adopted the bidimensional or multidimensional conceptions. Furthermore, more of bi- or multidimensional conceptions have adopted the unipolar approach. That is, maintaining I-C as a high-order construct, individualism and collectivism are conceived as independent dimensions of I-C, each varies on a separate continuum, making it possible that individuals, groups and societies may be categorized on the various combinations of individualism and collectivism.
The advantages of the multidimensional approach have been emphasized, but issues of conceptual muddiness have also been raised, together with the challenges of theory-based research. It is recommended that I-C researchers be mindful of conceptual equivalence in developing I-C constructs and measurements and consider the optimal distinctiveness theory and the dialectic perspective as two potential overarching perspectives for comparative research on I-C. Finally, areas of future research have been identified as fertile fields for generating knowledge and understanding of I-C.