Concepts of Individual, Self, and Person in Description and Analysis



This article asserts the need to distinguish among “individual,” “self,” and “person” as biologistic, psychologistic, and sociologistic modes of conceptualizing human beings. The concepts differentiate individual as member of the human kind, self as locus of experience, and person as agent-in-society. The author follows out various descriptive and analytical implications. Ethnographic examples are used to illustrate and clarify points relevant to single-case studies and comparativist work. Within a particular local scheme, concepts of individual, self, and person are interrelated, sometimes hierarchically so. The article briefly takes up issues following from the double nature of these concepts as “native” categories and outsiders' analytical constructs. It is held that adopting as analytically central any one mode of conceptualizing human beings has consequences for the analyst's view of culture and/or social structure.