chapter  5
Cultural Schemas and Experiences of the Self Among The Bimin-Kuskusmin of Papua New Guinea
ByFitz John Porter Poole
Pages 32

This essay explores certain aspects of the nexus between cultural schemas and personal experiences of the self among the Bimin-Kuskusmin of the West Sepik hinterland of Papua New Guinea. 1 The focus of the exploration is concerned primarily with the senses in which matters of the individual, individuality, and individuation — that is, personal differences not readily subsumed under status role or other social differences — are both culturally and personally constituted, instantiated, represented, articulated, and given experiential shape and force in Bimin-Kuskusmin conceptions of selfhood and in the contexts in which such concepts are implicated. This focus on the facets of self that mark some sense of individualization and on their role in conceptions of agency brings an ethnopsychological perspective to significant problems concerning not only the predication of the individual in anthropological accounts (compare Emmet, 1960; Evens, 1977), but also the personal configurations of identity that interrelate and give a semblance of coherence and continuity to “personal symbols” (Obeyesekere, 1981) in experience. The intent of the essay is to suggest that a more or less rigid dichotomy 56between individualism (often subsuming diverse ideas about the individual, individuation, and individuality) as a historical peculiarity of the West 2 and holism or sociocentrism (connoting a socially constituted and embedded self) as characteristic of the non-Western world, usually framed as mutually exclusive, monothetic categories, unduly inhibits cross-cultural comparison, blunts the subtlety of single-case analysis, and distorts sensitivity in ethnopsychological ethnography (see Geertz 1973, 1984; compare Dumont 1977, 1986; Poole 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986a, b, 1987a, b; Fajans 1985; Kirkpatrick 1985; McHugh 1989; Kondo 1990). 3 Indeed, certain conceptual distinctions among individual, person, and self — here taken to illuminate potentially significant (albeit phenomenologically intertwined) aspects of various mosaics of identity, 4 mutatis mutandis, in any culture and society — may facilitate description, analysis, and comparison in important ways (see Harris, 1989). Such analytic discriminations need not be simply an uncritical, undeconstructed artifact of any of the various notions of the individual implicated in Western ideas of individualism, which is itself susceptible to comparative analysis.