Using Individual, Self and Person in Analyzing Ecotopia and the United States

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As people and cultures transcend boarders, it is becoming increasingly important to retain a culturally relative perspective in terms of culture. An aspect of cultural relativity is linguistic relativity, which is the understanding that language is a reflection of the culture. This means words cannot be simply translated, they must be understood from a cultural perspective. This paper will illustrate linguistic relativity through utilizing Grace Harris’s definitions of individual, self and person (Harris 1989: 601-604) as means of analyzing Ernst Callenbach’s utopian novel Ecotopia and Western culture, specifically the United States. In this novel United States journalist, William Weston, enters into the utopian world of Ecotopia. As a journalist, he documents the culture and his experiences for a column in a paper. While western culture uses the words ‘individual’, ‘self’ and ‘person’ interchangeably, Harris defines the terms to reflect different aspects of a human being. She defines individual in terms of biology, self in terms of psychology, and person in terms of sociology. “The concepts differentiate individual as a member of the human kind, self as a locus of experience, and person as agent-in-society,” (Harris 1989: 559). Harris is saying that each of these is a part of a human, but they show different aspects of that human. While they are similar, they are different. Thus, to call someone an individual is entirely different then calling someone a person. According to Harris, they are referencing different components of humanity. In ideal U.S. culture, one would not understand these differences. It is important for ethnographers and world travelers to understand these differences in relation to other cultures because other cultures may have multiple words for the essence of a person (individual and self are considered in this essence). According to Grace
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