Individual Autonomy And Social Structure Essay

Individual Autonomy And Social Structure Essay

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In her 1959 article “Individual Autonomy and Social Structure”, Dorothy Lee evaluates the relationship between individual autonomy, the freedom to make one’s own choices in life, and social structure, the rules governing social interaction stemming from common cultural values. Lee considers the issues that arise when thinking of these two concepts as mutually exclusive, especially in Western society. While Lee explores these issues through examination of various themes within several societies, the following arguments will focus on her analysis of the distribution of labour in traditional Balinese culture. Namely, Lee argues that social structure ought to facilitate mutual respect, which allows for true individual autonomy.
The key social problem that Lee addresses is the apparent contrast between individual autonomy and social structure in Western society. Lee believes that American culture holds the value of individual freedom above all else, to the point of stating that social organisation is an affront to personal liberty. She indicates that American culture pushes the notion that, in order to achieve true independence, one must overcome the obstacle of social structure and find their own way in life. Lee opposes this notion stating that “we have to reconcile principles of conformity and individual initiative, group living and private freedom of choice, social regulation, and personal autonomy” (5). She argues that this apparent dichotomy of individual autonomy versus mutual respect is not necessarily valid. According to Lee, social structure and individual autonomy can coexist and even guide one another. One example discussed in lecture is the game of basketball, in which a great number of mutually agreed-upon rules guide pl...

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... are encouraged through the imperative of all working toward a common goal based on a shared culture. Specific to Western culture, Lee emphasises that individual independence ought not to be idealised as the end goal of personal growth. This concept, known as negative freedom, was discussed heavily in lecture and highlighted as unfeasible. It is impossible for an individual to disconnect completely from his or her society and fellow mankind. For example, a lottery winner is not free of society; rather, he or she now controls a large amount of capital to be used in obtaining services from other people. In contrast, true individual autonomy, or positive freedom, derives from working with other individuals within a shared cultural upbringing. This common backdrop allows mutual understanding and respect to flourish, through which true individual autonomy can be reached.

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