Ours is a still largely consumerist society. We measure and define status, success and social acceptance by the commodities we do or do not own. Think of the long running advert campaigns for Mac and Windows: are you a PC or a Mac?  Do you make your own clothes or buy particular brands?  Do you recycle or not? Reacting to this,  people are increasingly asserting their autonomy by personalising items and services to suit their own lives.  Although following the trends, there are increasing movements towards making items and services suit your lifestyle and reflect your personal identity. This is linked to a more complex definition of personal identity – how we define ourselves in relation to others.  Faced with diverse and contradictory opinions, ideologies, faiths, sub-cultures and communities, people are less willing to conform to narrowly defined identities. They are expressing increasingly more fluid personalised needs and preferences.  Linked to this movement is the recognition of self-reliance and personal responsibility, which can particularly be seen in the personalisation of care agenda. 

What are the implications?

  • Rise in the customisation of personal effects
  • People increasingly personalise and control the information they receive and that other people can access about them
  • Increasing use of aggregates and other filtering mechanisms to control the flow of information
  • A requirement for service access to suit individuals needs, for example by offering different modes of access and opening hours to suit the 24/7 society
  • Increased flexible working options to suit different lifestyles and needs
  • Individual responsibility forming an important part of social activism alongside collective action
  • A trend towards more personalised services
  • There can be tension between the need to ‘stand out’ and to ‘fit in’, particularly amongst young people
  • Individualism is often associated with selfishness and a decline in concern for and involvement with the community

Moving forward

  • There is a move towards personalised services that fit in with different people’s own lifestyles.  How many different ways can your service users or beneficiaries contact you (for example email, skype, telephone, texting, social network sites)?  Are there ways you can tailor your services and/or activities more to suit individualised needs and preferences?
  • With people increasingly controlling the information they receive, how can you ensure your organisation is one of the ones people access?  How do you keep your organisation interesting and contemporary?
  • Individualism is sometimes associated with selfishness and a decline in community.  How can you ensure that people retain their interest and activism to community and group action, whilst enabling individual freewill and autonomy?

Want to know more?

A Wrong Turn in the Search for Freedom?

Published by: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)

Date: 2008

Format: PDF (111KB)

What is it? An in depth report that explores the themes behind Individualism. 

How useful is this? This report is particularly useful for gaining a general overview on the themes of individualism that exist in society today and the historical context these issues have arisen from.  While we have gained many individual liberties and have access to an abundance of consumer goods, people feel less content and secure than they once did. The issues examined in this report revolve around the impact such insecurities are having upon society, why these trends have arisen, and the possible solutions needed in order to maintain democracy and equality.

Individualism and Consumerism: Reframing the Debate

Published by: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) 

Date: 2008

Format: PDF (248KB)

What is it? A report looking at the loss of solidarity, the retreat into individualism and subsequently the “wasteful consumerism” this entails. 

How useful is this? Of particular interest within this report is the section on suggested approaches for reducing the growing distance between the individual and the state, focussing on improving community links and increased funding to the VCS.  The report argues that by supporting social virtues within civil society we can generate positive global change but suggests it is down to central government to implement the decisions needed to make these changes happen.  To quote the author this report is not “a manifesto for the future but an indication of a direction of travel”.

Last updated at 15:37 Thu 20/Jan/11.

Recent comments

Véronique's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I’m really pleased that individualism has been integrated to the 3s4 list of drivers. It’s very helpful to look at individualism when trying to understand how people engage. The new version of the Voluntary Sector Strategic Analysis and particularly the chapter on changing participation shows how individualism is impacting on patterns of participation.

Regarding individualism and the personalisation of services, the debate is open as how things will evolve. The House of Commons Children’s Committee has been trying to find out how personalised learning has progressed over the last 4 years. The BBC article Let’s not get personal that refers to this is telling. It concludes that personal learning “was more of a symbolic gesture than a real turning point in education policy”.

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