The DMIS Model: Moving from Ethnocentric to Ethnorelative

In the 1980s, Dr. Milton Bennett began developing a framework known as the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). This framework can help us understand how we and the people around us approach new intercultural experiences. As you look at the stages in the DMIS, consider where you might fall when engaging with someone from a different culture. Can you think of a situation when you felt or behaved in a more “ethnocentric” way? Can you think of a time when you shifted from an old way of reacting to a new way, moving toward a more “ethnorelative” approach?

Ethnocentric Stages

My cultural experience is the only one that is real and valid. There is little to no thought of “other.”

“We” are superior and “they” are inferior. I feel threatened and am highly critical. What is strange may be labeled as stupid.

Other cultures are trivialized or romanticized. I tend to deny differences (e.g., I’m “color blind”) and only seek similarities.

Ethnorelative Stages

I accept but may not agree with other cultures. Generally, I am curious and respectful.

I “see” the world through different eyes and make intentional changes in my own behavior and values.

I easily move in and out of different cultural worldviews.

How can you use this model in your cultural development journey?

  1. Ask yourself, “Where are these feelings coming from?” What deeper cultural values or beliefs could be causing you to feel uncomfortable, confused, or annoyed? 
  2. Try to analyze the situation and determine if your response is more ethnocentric or ethnorelative. Are you leaning toward defense or minimization, or are you closer to acceptance?
  3. Once you’ve established where you are on the scale in that moment, try to imagine what your reaction to the situation would look and sound like if you moved up one place in the DMIS model. What would you say, do, or think differently? How would you perceive or interpret the other person’s actions if you looked at them with a greater focus on acceptance, adaptation, or integration?