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Discuss some of the ways in which the concept of the 'person' varies cross culturally

The understanding of the 'person' in western society and culture has been directly associated with the human being and the self. This 'person' is the philosophical or moral aspect of the biological human. The Western (or Euro-American) concept of the person is unconsciously used as the absolute or model to compare and contrast against culturally different perceptions. Every culture, throughout time and space, has had an idea of themselves, their personhood. This essay discusses some of the ways in which the concept of the person varies through culture.

Schmitz (1998) analysis of the linguistic history of the term 'person' serves as a background to the concept and how the modern, Euro-American meaning formed. It also shows how a concept can vary cross-culturally. The term derives from the Roman 'Phersu' cult - a goddess who marked her subterranean transition. Theatrical Rome saw a 'dramatis personae' - masked character, and so the term came to be associated with communication through representation and hidden agents. Law in Rome dictated only a man be seems as a person of/in law (slaves, children and women were not referred to as "persons" in Roman jurisprudence). Greek prosopon merged with persona to emphasise the visually expressive encounter of face to face communication with humans. Mauss (1938) also analyses the linguistic history of the term and finds the Latin the 'persona' is the ancestral mask or disguise.

The concept of the person concerns linguistics, and is important in social, religious, political, medical and judicial realms. Religion has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on ideas about the 'person' for so many cultures. Indigenous religions focus upon the elements of the person left after death, and concepts of the person are more often dualistic and non-western cultures focus upon the role of the person within the community. Where there is cross of western and non-western ideology, we see a combination of the beliefs of the person, which I have discussed in relation to Asian and African traditions.

The main difference, as analysed by Peltzer, is that the western person is socialised by objects, whereas the non-western person is socialised by people (Peltzer 2002: 5 quoting Agiobu-Kemmer 1984: 189). The western concept of the person is ideologically defined as self-enclosed and often autonomous, and generally the non-western concept of the person is integrated within the community, or the family, and is not always concerned with the physical presence of the body of the individual, but what their existence means for the group as a whole.

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