AN OVERVIEW OF THE IMTAR MODEL
The graphical representation of the IMTAR Model is based as a grid having three rows and three columns. Names of the rows are borrowed from Aristophanes’ basic rules in Greek drama, namely Time, Space and Action. These could be considered as physical real life components that organize our lives; the way we carry out our activities in actual interactions with our environment. The columns refer to more abstract organizers of our thinking and reasoning. These dimensions are called Universality, Point of References and Structuring. There are nine categories that fall into the grid made up by these dimensions. Each category combines one aspect of the dimension mentioned in the row and one aspect of the dimension mentioned in the column. These nine categories pave the way for a number of concepts which constitute the basis for the development of an instrument, Intercultural Modes of Thinking and Reasoning Scale (IMTARS). IMTARS attempts to collect compatible data which makes intercultural differences comparable.
The logic behind the grid and the choice of related concepts do not encompass the grand and holistic range of the human activity, but is limited with interactions pertaining to business, work, project or task-related endeavors. Inevitably some degree of abstractions related with beliefs and values are incorporated into the model, since they are an integral part of the decision making process.
In a similar vein, the model does not try to cover all possible domains of decision making or the universe of possible actions and interactions. It is limited with the ones that seem to address the crucial and critical points where the differences are easily observed. In that sense, the model attempts to create topography of critical differences in actions which come from patterns of differences inherent in the way people reason, before they make decisions about their actions.
The main purpose of the model is to help individuals become aware of their covert, automated, internalized pathways of reasoning which underlies their decisions, choices, actions and interactions. Reasoning here is understood as largely internalized and automated mental actions or steps employed in perceiving, understanding, interpreting and decision making process. These steps may be relational, but not necessarily sequential. In time, they became the basis of our mental information processing that we may become aware of the fact that we are using them. Developing an awareness of this realization in the individual is one of the major aims of the IMTAR Model.
Depending on the individual’s personal history, on the immediate environment she or he interacts with, and the geography and culture she/he lives in, people develop different patterns of reasoning related to a number of concepts which describe our behavior and mentalities we use in our lives. In a way, everybody has her/his unique pattern of reasoning. Since we share a common ancestry, or, in other words, we all belong to homo-sapiens as a species, there is an immense amount of commonness in our way of managing to lead a life in our life span. It is in between this uniqueness and commonality that we find degrees of freedom in choices regarding who we are and how we monitor our interactions with the environment we live in. This is the domain of intercultural differences. This domain does not limit its boundaries with nations, nationalities or even cultures. The boundaries are as large and as varied as the differences are. They are dynamic as life itself is; they are open to formations or reformations depending on our experiences. Awareness of the patterns describing the differences within specific boundaries may be the first step in changing them or using them in certain deliberate ways which suit our needs or the purposes of our actions. In that sense the Model tries not to be limiting with regional, national or cultural differences, but instead attempts to delineate and understand differences as they project themselves in the reasoning patterns.
It is widely accepted that variables like gender, age, level and type of education, and socio-economic status have pronounced effects on our modes of thinking and reasoning. These differences are further carried on and even enlarged at cultural or sub-cultural levels. In other words, broad lines defining differences stemming from variables mentioned above are further colored by the culture which the individual lives in. It is interesting to note that sometimes any of these variables might play a uniting or binding effect rather than the differentiating one. For example, generation gap could be a wider difference across the board between parents and youngsters than some of the differences observed in the same individuals in their cultural contexts. The perceived distance of demographic or cultural differences between graduates of a certain school, say Harvard or MIIS could be minimal even overriding the broad effects of above mentioned variables.
Reasoning is used in the Model in the sense that it includes perceptions, memory, learning, experiences and forms of mental processes. Thinking is more a deliberate and internalized action that requires time and effort usually to meet a need or to solve a problem. Reasoning is considered to be generally more automatic, spontaneous and therefore more frequently used as an underlying mechanism.
The model can be helpful at three levels:
ü It can help in simplifying and organizing otherwise complex set of relationships we use in organizing our lives; it may be possible to conceive and compare similarities and differences. Once an awareness of one’s own patterns of thinking and reasoning become clear, it is much easier to realize that there may be other patterns which are equally valid and acceptable. This awareness is the first significant step to begin understanding others and detecting misunderstandings and misconceptions we have for both ourselves and for others. The main data collection method at this stage is observation. In its simplified form the question asked here would be what.
ü It can lead us to a deeper level of understanding by working as a frame of reference for possible interpretations related with the conceptualizations at hand. In addition to observations of individual or group behaviors, focus groups and in-depth individual interviews may provide data for interpreting and making further comparisons. At this stage our main question would be how.
ü It can pave the way for a detailed exploration in terms of finding out the reasons, factors or the rationale behind our observations and interpretations. Here the question would be why.
As it is mentioned earlier, the graphical representation of the model is a grid form with three columns and three rows which displays nine cells that are cross sections of the dimensions. These nine cells are called Categories. More than 80 concepts are placed in any one of those categories depending on how they related to the category. The dimensions on the columns, that is, Time, Space and Action refer to rather physical aspects of interactions; whereas the ones placed on the rows, namely Universality, Point of References and Structuring define more abstract level of socio-cultural organizations.
Time is a relative concept that has gone through various definitions throughout history. It is defined and measured in different ways in spite of the fact that we use standard time measures in most part of the world today. When it comes to how we perceive and relate to time varies at the individual as well as group level.
Space defines the whole three dimensional world around us. Together with time as the fourth dimension, spatial dimensions define the boundaries of our world as we experience it. It is the stage where our lives are performed.
Actions are behaviors of people that range from uniquely individual to actions that are the outcomes of traditions, religious beliefs, rituals or any kind of code of conduct expected under certain circumstances. Everything we do deliberately or accidentally is the result of some form of reasoning that underlies our mental processes.
Universality refers to the degree of complying with the universal or generalized understandings, therefore generalized assumptions leading to everyday usage of these concepts. In addition to all common understandings about the past, present and future, there may be other commonly accepted ways of relating to the movements of the sun or the moon or seasonal changes which may underlie our conceptualizations. Depending on the geographical locations, use of technology and the needs of people in their interactions in space related matters or in any kind of transaction at large, the degree of universality or complying with the globally/commonly accepted standards determine our conceptualizations.
Point of References indicate broadly accepted sets of organizing, regulating, formulating principles that we base on actions. Religious books or commandments, all forms of legislative material such as constitutions, laws, group norms, and formal or non-formal commonly understood ad accepted ways of practicing life.
Structuring is a term used to address the social, economic and psychological constructs that we have devised and improved over the centuries to make our ways of living more organized, safe and open towards progress and development in all aspects of life. Physical and social structuring of the world around us as well as and the mental representations of these described this dimension. All sciences related studies, as well as technology, not only its products but also abstract tools such as mathematics/statistics, scientific method, systems thinking or virtual reality, are part of structuring, as it is used in this study.
There are nine categories in the grid defined by six dimensions described above: Quantification of Time, Measurement of Time, and Usage of Time Line are Time related categories. Conceptions of Space, Physical and Psychological Boundaries, and Land Arrangement are the categories at the Space column. The last category, Structuring Actions include Planning, Systems Thinking, Relations with Technology, Trade Relations, Abstraction (operating at an abstract level), Rules and Principles, Levels of Cooperation, the Influence of Religion and Ethics. This last category has sub-categories since it embraces a considerable amount of interactions defining our daily actions at all domains of contemporary life.
There are a number of concepts in a category to enable us with specifying broader conceptualizations. The number and the nature of these related concepts vary depending on the characteristics of the cultures examined. In this study culture is defined as totality of interactions with nature, people, abstractions/tools and others at large within a group of people who with relatively commonly shared means of communication and operations. In that sense, its boundaries are not necessarily nations nor localities. In more operational terms, we are more likely to talk about a culture as the variation within the population in our observations and measurements decrease.
The concepts given below can be regarded as examples of differentiating and/or crucial observations that help to make comparisons more meaningful between two or more cultures. These may not be valid or critical for some cultures; new ones might be added, or irrelevant ones excluded from the model.
Following list of concepts and exemplary question may help us to have a more clear understanding. Some concepts are not self-exploratory.
Unit of time: Is there a fixed, standardized measure of time? Is the concept of time flexible? Does it change depending on the day, season or the year?
Measurement of time: How is time measured? Is there a standard measurement instrument? Is the measurement flexible or cyclical? Are there any other tools or instruments that people use, or indicators of time, to arrange their daily lives. How do people use time when they make appointments? Do they specify a finishing time for appointments? Do formal and informal activities have different usage of time? Does the way person use time change when formal or informal activities are planned? Are there deadlines? What role does time play in planning for major events such as marriage ceremonies? Do people use agendas, calendars or organizers when they go about their routines? Is there a link between the quality of the work/task accomplished and the duration it takes to complete it?
Value of Time: Is time free and abundant or is it budgeted? Is time money?
Usage of time line: What is the dominant orientation of the people in terms of time line? Are they present oriented or past oriented? What is their relationship with here and now orientation? Do they have short-term concerns or long-term concerns? How do they regard their pasts and the heritage they have? How do they see the future? Do the past and present determine the future? Is the time a process of progress? How many chances do we have to change the future?
Conception of space: What is the fundamental orientation of land and space? Is it more topological, that is more in line with concepts of topological geometry such as closeness, neighborhood, relatedness, adjacency, inclusion and continuity? Or is it closer to more Euclidean geometry definitions of space such as location on a Cartesian plane, fixed points and accurately measurable distance? How common is the use of the universal measurement tools like GPS in defining locations?
Boundaries: How are boundaries defining space conceptualized? How fixed and standardized or how flexible and arbitrary are they? What kind of role do these concepts play in solving the disputes over the ownership or use of land?
Psychological space: How close do people feel in different sets of relationships with each other? Do the relationships between people determine the psychological distance between people? What is the role of the individual to define his/her distance? What would be the cost of this choice? How is psychological space translated to physical space? What does public mean? What degree does unanimity and multilateralism dominate psychological space? Where does the self stand against others? How valid is it to say “mind your own business”? How close or far away are people in getting involved with others’ lives? How is psychological space reflected in real use of space or distance in interactions?
Land arrangement: How natural, largely untouched or how well planned and controlled is the land arrangement in and around places where people live? What is the place and role of vernacular architecture? What is the differentiating mode of transportation? What is the extent of city planning? What is dominant practice in designing and constructing houses and other buildings? Who funds the housing costs?
Recording communication: What is the prevailing mode of communication within the members in a community? Is it basically oral and face-to-face or through written medium? What are the means and medium of rules regulating everyday practices of people in their interactions? Are they accessible, clear and consistent over time? What are the means and ways of works of literature and music? Is music monophonic or polyphonic? How is history studied? How are formal and informal documentation and record keeping organized? What are the means and methods of accumulation and sharing of knowledge and information? What is the extent of integration of mathematics, statistics and science into everyday life of the people?
Contracts/business arrangements: Are they basically verbal or written? What is the degree of specificity in mutual agreements and contracts in terms of deadlines, criteria for progress, calendar and overall action plan? What is the degree of subjectivity and objectivity in specifying the task or arrangements? What is degree of using common formats or individually devised ones? How hierarchical or equal distanced are people in their work relations? How influential is the role of seniority, gender, family status and education? How well is the recording of data related to individuals resume or work performance? Is it evidence based?
Planning: Is planning vague and rather tentative or is it more strategic and operational? What is the chance of planning to become actualized?
Systems Thinking: How valid and widespread is systems thinking in the culture? What is the role of a systematic approach in preparing, implementing and evaluating tasks and performances? In critical times, what do people rely on? How frequent is the reliance on relations, persons, family or on social systems?
Relations with technology: What is the degree of participation in improving technology and in creating new devises, tools and instruments? Ratio of individuals involved in the making of innovation, transfer or usage of technology? What is the overall relationship between people and manual or electronic tools in terms of usage, effectiveness and maintenance? What is the degree of automation?
Trade Relations: Is the dominant mode of trade closer to traditional buy and sell practices or is it closer to creating new markets? How simple or complex and sophisticated is the finance sector in supporting trade and business in general?
Abstraction (Operating at an abstract level): What are the defining forms of beliefs? What role concepts such as faith and luck play in the lives of individuals? What is the degree of alignment between perceived and aspired conceptualization of the self (be the way you seem to be or seem the way you are)? What is the degree of disparity between the social, economic or organizational position they are in and their assorted perception of it? How much is the influence of people coming from the same locality play in their preferences in their decisions? How powerful a rationale is it for making favors or acting favorably? What is the eminence of unanimity and multiplicity? Do people incline to agree or come up with a different view? How well is dissent received in the culture?
Rules and principles: How commonly known, accepted and implemented are the rules and guiding principles? Do they change according to whom and when they apply to? Is man superior over rules under certain circumstances? Is it predominantly a “to be” or “to have” culture?
Cooperation: Where does the culture stand In terms of continuity between individualism and collectivism? Which underlying factor is more apparent: Cooperation or competition? Are people more task oriented or give priority to group orientation? What is the relation between people and nature? Is it more being in harmony with nature or is it controlling nature? How important is it to mind one’s own business? Are people considered to be accountable for their actions or do others take part both in decision making and being accountable for the decisions? What is relevance of free will?
Religion/ethics: Does the role of religion directly or indirectly effect everyday actions and decisions of people? Does work-ethic play a role? What is the dominant paradigm in explaining the existentialist questions? Do people tend to submit and go along with what life brings to them or try to change life towards their goals through struggle and hard work? How is the concept of integrity displayed in the culture?