Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nose to nose

Proxemics is a theory of personal space advanced by Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist whose work in 1966 was groundbreaking in the field of interpersonal communications.

Hall believes that although we all share the same sensory inputs, the way we process the information is culturally distinct. He maintains that we will adjust our degrees of personal distance depending on the social setting and our cultural backgrounds.

On a micro level, personal space is the “bubble” that surrounds each individual. On a macro level, that “bubble” informs how different cultures view the planning of cities, and how neighborhoods and streets are laid out.

Hall described four zones of personal space:
• Intimate space—the closest "bubble" of space surrounding a person. Only intimates are allowed into this space. (6-18 inches.) Embracing, touching, and whispering are possible.
• Personal space—this is the space allotted for close friends (1.5-4 feet.) Conversations of a personal nature, some touching but in a platonic way.
• Social space—this is the space beyond the intimate and personal in which we feel comfortable interacting with acquaintances as well as strangers. (4-12 ft) Ordering a coffee at the café, asking someone for directions, no touching at all.
• Public space—this is the furthest space beyond our initial “bubble”, where we feel the least in control. (over 12 ft) Riding a subway, sitting in a park, crossing a lobby…


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