Differences between various groups and classes in perceptions of social reality result in different interpretations of social and cultural events—collective representations—which can cause opposition and conflicts among social groups. This contribution analyzes this complex problem, especially in relation to two pivotal concepts: individualism and collectivism. In most political discussions, these concepts are used in opposition to each other, even though they are always interdependent. Moreover, in a modern society we can distinguish between seven types of individualism and six types of collectivism. Finally, this analysis of collective representations is connected with questions related to the present problems confronting the European Union (EU). With the introduction of the concepts of collective representation, collective identity, and the opposition between individualism and collectivism, we have paved our way toward an efficient debate about the future of the EU.
Jan Berting has been Professor of General Sociology and Methodology at the University of Amsterdam and Professor in Theoretical Sociology at the State University of Groningen. He has also held a professorship at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam (Sociology and History of Sociology). He was dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences during three periods. He was chairman of SISWO, Universities’ Joint Institute for Co-ordination of Research in the Social Sciences at Amsterdam, and chairman of the Dutch Sociological and Anthropological Association. Since 1995, He has lived in Marseille-Port Frioul, France, a new situation that adds to his European experience.