Individualism in Indonesia

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Across the world we are seeing a rise in individualism. This might feel like a recent phenomenon driven by Millennials, the ultimate ‘me generation’, yet in reality individualism has been on the rise globally for several generations, with recent figures putting growth in individualistic practices at around 12% worldwide since 1960 (Santos and Grossman, 2017).

As international market researchers, we recognise that the shift towards greater individualism is impacting different markets in unique ways. We carried out research in Indonesia to explore how individualism is impacting on this traditionally collectivist and conservative culture, combining quantitative research with cultural contextualisation to unearth new insights.

COLLECTIVIST CULTURE

As a strongly religious society, with a Muslim majority and inherent conservatism, affiliation and togetherness are important in Indonesia, and these are expressed in the shared values of Gotong Royong (‘mutual co-operation’) and Bhinekka Tunggal Ika (‘unity in diversity’).

Our quantitative survey of 1,000 Indonesians identified that individualistic beliefs at a societal level, such as freedom to express one’s opinions and to choose one’s own path in life, are shared by Indonesians of all ages, but when it comes to choosing brands, products, and services, a very different picture emerges across the generations.

Enabling self-expression via consumption choices was found to be important to 42% of Indonesian Gen Zers, compared with only 26% of Indonesian Millennials. In contrast, choosing brands that have a positive social impact is important to 37% of Gen Zers vs 58% of Millennials. The survey data supports the view that Indonesians, like other cultures, are becoming increasingly individualistic, with Gen Z leading the charge, but this doesn’t help us to understand what this individualism means to young Indonesians and the impact of generational differences.

To add to this cultural context we enlisted the help of our Illume Guides: our culturally savvy, leading-edge consumers in local markets around the world. They represent a wide range of personal passions and are among the first to adopt the latest trends. Through their life experiences we were able to understand how young Indonesians are thinking and feeling, adding rich contextual insight to the data.

BALANCING IDENTITIES

Whether it’s getting tattoos or listening to punk music, experimentation by the younger generations is causing tensions between those keen to embrace liberalism, and those intent on preserving the accepted Indonesian society. Torn between their own progressive ideals and the expectations of family and communities, Indonesia’s youth are exploring self-expression in a considered, measured manner.

Key to this strategic balancing act is the use of social media. Different platforms satisfy different needs, allowing Indonesians to fulfil multiple social roles (e.g. family, religion, work, or study) while continually spinning several identity plates at once. For example, Facebook is the place to keep in touch with parents and older relations; here, posts and content should be ‘clean’ and present you in a positive light to keep the family happy. Conversely, Instagram is used as a space to express the more intimate details of personal thoughts and feelings with close friends who have similar views, without the fear of being judged. On YouTube, Gen Zers share satirical videos from vloggers such as The Cameo Project and Skinnyindonesian24, who encourage their audiences to think more critically about topics ranging from gender stereotypes to political elections.

CUSTOMISING TRADITIONS

Independence and self-expression come from the ability to choose what’s valuable to you as an individual. In Indonesia, self-expression is also about having the bravery to challenge outdated opinions, while still balancing this with having respect for others in order to maintain good relationships. This means self-expression is more subtle in Indonesia, as there needs to be a balance between having individual opinions and not disrupting your wider networks.

One way young Indonesians are expressing themselves is through customising and personalising existing traditions. This doesn’t mean Indonesians are running away from traditional values or religious practices, but rather that they are adapting the ways in which they choose to celebrate them. An example of this is designer Ria Mirandawants, who produces culturally appropriate clothing with a modern twist. Her designs encourage religious Indonesians to embrace new colours and designs while still adhering to their religion.

The survey data might point to significant intergenerational shifts around individualism, but leading a peaceful life is the priority for Indonesians. With approval from the old being just as important as discovery of the new, young Indonesians are seeking safe spaces in which to explore their own sense of self without disturbing the balance.  

By Karen Schofield,

Managing Director, Join the Dots Singapore