Deciding to Use ICT in the Arab Culture: The Influence of Obedience to Authority and Collectivism

Deciding to Use ICT in the Arab Culture: The Influence of Obedience to Authority and Collectivism

Sonda Fakhfakh (University of Tunis, Tunisia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-048-8.ch002
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Abstract

Compared to the Western world, the Arab world endures a lack of ICT use and a scarcity in software production and services. One of the explanations that were advanced in order to determine the reasons of these deficiencies is the Arab world’s cultural context. In this chapter, which reports on a doctoral research, we focus on two dominant values which are supposed to be descriptive of the Arab world: obedience to authority and collectivism. We examine their hypothesized influence on ICT use within an Arab context (Tunisia) and at an individual level. Data collection was carried out on 378 Tunisian students in three quasi-experimental settings measuring the degree of obedience, and by a pilot questionnaire determining, among other things, the level of collectivism. While the obedience to the authority figures appears to positively affect the probability of technology use in the first experiment, the rationality seems to influence choices in the second and third experiments, and to deny any pressure of the foreign nationality of the figure. The results of this study also reveal that all participants have a collectivistic tendency. However, the influence of collectivism is found to be mixed.
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Introduction

Since the gate of interpretation (ijtihed) was ended (Xth century), the Arab world, composed of more than 342 million people, could not retake the lead on the world scene. Neither the oil discovery in the 1930s nor the information and communication technology (ICT) advent allowed the Arab world to ensure its place in the emerging information society. The problem of the Arab world, as far as ICT is concerned, is not related to readiness, given that the access and the infrastructure have relatively been well established (Madar Research Group, 2008). The Arab world really endures a lack of ICT use and a scarcity in software production and services, as compared to the Western world (ITU, 2009; UNDP, 2003; UNESCO, 2005). One of the explanations that was advanced to determine the reasons of the existing deficiencies is the Arab world’s cultural context (Hill et al., 1998; Straub et al., 2001).

The Arab socio-cultural system has been identified as being complex (Straub et al., 2001) and not homogeneous (Corm, 2007) for its diversity in terms of religion, ethnicity, wealth, resources, history, etc. It has also been described as having ambivalent forces. While the dominant culture emphasises traditional values such as fatalism, imitation, obedience to authority and collectivism, some subcultures do at the same time support modern values like freedom, femininity, independence and innovation (Barakat, 1993).

Shariati (1971) asserts that each society must dip into its own cultural traditions in order to find its own enlightenment. In light of this assumption, we attempt to identify some traditional values that could explain ICT use in Arab world. Many Western models treating ICT acceptance do exist, and were applied on Arab culture. But, as Alterman (2000) suggests, “We need to free our studies of new media and technology in the Middle-East from the straitjacket of western experience” (p. 355). In fact, Arab values may be concomitant with Western values. However, the concepts and their use can be different from Western connotations. So, imposing Western patterns just as they are in the Arab context may condemn our view of present and future. It may also cause researchers or managers -willing to have an idea about the Arab as an individual or as a potential worker- to fall in mistakes.

In this chapter, which reports on a doctoral research, we focus on two dominant values which are supposed to be descriptive of the Arab world (Bouattour & El Louadi, 2004): obedience to authority and collectivism. We examine their hypothesized influence on ICT use in an Arab context (Tunisia) and at an individual level.

We attempt specifically to answer the following question: If an Arab has the choice to use a technology, what technologies will he/she select and how? Do obedience to authority and collectivism influence his/her choice?

The different dimensions of obedience to authority and collectivism are first identified. Then, the relationship between these concepts and ICT use is determined and hypotheses are formulated. Next, we present our quasi-experimental setting followed by results and discussion. We propose some future directions before concluding.

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The Arab Culture And Ict

Despite the fact that the Arab world has realized a factual progress in terms of mobile phone access and use, the diffusion of Internet seems to be still slowly (ITU, 2009). Overall, the digital gap between industrialized countries and Arab countries -and even inside the Arab countries themselves- remained unchanged between 2002 and 2007 (ITU, 2009). If the economic and technical reasons of this ICT gap could be easily detected, understanding the Arab cultural barriers is more complicated. In fact, the Arab society oscillates between a continuum of homogeneity and heterogeneity of cultural orientations. However, some dominant values could be identified such as obedience to authority and collectivism. Considering these values, the use of ICT might be better adapted to the behavioral patterns of Arabs.

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