Crime, Conflict, Justice, and Punishment: Individualism and Collectivism

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Crime
  • Conflict


According to Monchalin (2016), a worldview is the way an individual or group understands the world and how it operates (p. 23). Although there are many ways of knowing the world, this paper will focus on two worldviews found in Canada: individualism and collectivism. Hofstede (1994) defines individualism as “the degree to which a person acts as an individual rather than as a member of a group (as cited in Arpaci, Baloğl & Kesici, 2018, p. 89). Specifically, Eurocentric worldviews, known to be the dominant knowledge systems, have its roots in the thinking of European colonizers (Monchalin, 2016, p. 23). Eurocentric views of life and society are individualistic in nature, focusing on a hierarchy centred on economic growth, working one’s way to the top, and greed (Little Bear, 2000, p. 82; Monchalin, 2016, p. 23). Hofestede (1994) states that collectivism is “the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups (as cited in Arpaci et al., 2018, p. 89). Indigenous worldviews are associated with collectivism and concerned with “respect, harmony, and balance,” as well as the interrelatedness of all things in the universe (Getty, 2010, p. 8; Monchalin, 2016, p. 23). Through these lenses, this essay aims to explore the ideas of crime, conflict, justice, and punishment.

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Famous criminologists like Cesare Lombroso, Charles Buckman Goring, and Henry H. Goddard have contributed to the idea that the individual was the source of crime, whether it was their predisposition toward criminal behaviour, personality traits, or mental physical deficits (Looney, 2010, p. 301). Similarly, the individualist approach to crime is one that regards personal weakness as the major cause of crime (Lilly, Cullen, Ball, 2011, p. 33; BBC, 2019, para. 5). In fact, thanks to emerging technology, recent research shows that genes or biological processes may influence criminal behaviour (Looney, 2010, p. 306; Ling, Umbach, Raine, 2019, p. 633). Furthermore, in Eurocentric, individualistic societies, it is common to view criminal behaviour as a product of one’s genes (Nelkin & Lindee, 1996, p. 95).

Individualistic explanations of crime fail to understand that other factors might be influencing one’s criminal behaviour. For example, one interesting study done by neuroscientist James Fallon found that serial killers have low orbital cortex activity, meaning that they are more likely to engage in impulsive, as well as aggressive, behaviour (Bradley, 2010, para. 5). However, an orbital cortex that appears inactive is not enough to make someone a serial killer (Bradley, 2010, para. 6). Another ingredient is needed: abuse in one’s childhood (Gilligan, 2000, p. 749; Bradley, 2010, para. 9). Thus, the responsibility for crime appears to extend beyond the individual, thereby bringing light to collectivism and Indigenous worldviews.

Individualism also stresses the idea of autonomy, that the individual’s life belongs to them, and that they have the ability to freely choose their actions (Arpaci et al., 2018, p. 89). With that being said, individualists with Eurocentric worldviews think that, if one becomes involved in crime, that person is particularly wicked for having bad “genes” or willfully choosing to hurt their victim (Hand, Hankes, House, 2012, p. 452). Therefore, because the source of crime is the individual, they need to take responsibility of their own actions and suffer the consequences (Hand et al., 2012, p. 452; BBC, 2019, para. 5).

As opposed to that Eurocentric thinking that the human individual is the major cause of crime, collectivism or Indigenous worldviews assert that crime or abrogation of the law arises from inequality (Little Bear, 2000, p. 83; BBC, 2019, para. 5). Specifically, collectivists believe that, due to inequality and being influenced by the criminal behaviour of parents and friends, some individuals are at a higher risk of committing a crime (BBC, 2019, para. 5). Equality is apparent in Indigenous societies through the values of sharing, generosity, wholeness, totality, as well as the importance of belonging and functioning as a group (Little Bear, 2010, p. 83). Internalizing these concepts and values minimizes difference between members of a group, resulting in less individual wants, desires, and aspirations that may lead to law-breaking (Little Bear, 2010, p. 84). To put simply, if everyone is equal in terms of what they have, then everyone shares a feeling of inclusion and sense of equality (Little Bear, 2010, p. 84).

Indigenous worldviews also focus on internalizing knowledge in order to prevent members from engaging in crime. In Indigenous societies, it is expected of everyone to internalize or carry around their societal code, as it forever tells them what is considered proper or improper behaviour (Little Bear, 2010, p. 84). It is as if they are police officers for their own behaviour. Looking through the same Indigenous lens, Western societies are presumed to have societal codes that are externalized (Little Bear, 2010, p. 84). This means that those with Eurocentric views do not care about engaging in illegal behaviour, except when they get caught by police officers (Little Bear, 2010, p. 84).

In conclusion, Indigenous worldviews place a huge emphasis on collectivism and interconnectedness. These ideas are associated with a circular way of thinking, where all things, including land, people, animal, are “equal, interconnected, mutually dependent, and embracing a sacred relationship in this world” (Yaazie, 2005, p. 123; Getty, 2010, p. 9; Monchalin, 2016, p. 27). In particular, in contrast to Eurocentric worldviews that say that it is only the offender who is responsible for the crime, the traditional Navajo way employs the “talking out” process to address the criminal incident (Yazzie, 2005, p. 124). This process is a discussion between those involved in the incident, and since crime affects everyone, it includes the offender, victim, family, and community (Yazzie, 2005, p. 125; Hand et al, 2012, p. 452). To illustrate this, if one person does harm to another, they must pay the compensation, and through the importance of interdependence and duty to in-group, the offender’s family is also responsible to pay in recompense (Yazzie, 2005, p. 125).


When hearing the word “conflict,” one may associate it with a problem or disagreement that needs to be resolved. In this perspective, a conflict is viewed as something that disrupts one’s relationships and life. Eurocentric societies, particularly, approach conflicts in this manner with resolutions (Lederach, 2003, p. 3). This is evidenced by the tendency of Eurocentric societies use quick solutions that do not allow real change when dealing with conflicts (Lederach, 2003, p. 3). With that said, it seems as though Eurocentric worldviews dislike all kinds of conflicts and perceive them as negative and harmful. The reason for this assumption is that societies address conflicts just for the purpose of getting rid of them and seem to ignore important issues that causes these conflicts in the first place (Lederach, 2003, p. 3). Lederach’s colleagues would say (2003), “Is this resolution idea just another way to cover up changes that are really needed?” (p. 3).

In his work, Lederach (2003) argues that the conflict resolution perspective is centered on the need to de-escalate or end an event or issue thought as painful (p. 29). Through this lens, finding a resolution means to focus on presenting problems and immediate solutions (Lederach, 2003, p. 30). However, LeFebvre and Franke (2013) offers a different explanation as to why individualist societies view conflict as something undesirable. Again, rather than responding to conflict with constructive change, Eurocentric worldviews also see conflict as property. Christie (1997) supports this notion that the conflict itself is seen as the most valuable property taken away, instead of the materials originally stolen from the victim (p. 7). In Western courts, the victim loses the opportunity to participate by having their voice heard and talking to the offender (Christie, 1997, pp. 7-8).

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