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Proxemics: what it is and how it helps us understand spaces

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Proxemics is the study of relationships and communication that we human beings establish through space and through the distances we put between ourselves and towards things around us.

Then we will see what proxemics is, what has this theory contributed to the communication sciences and how it differs from other forms of non-verbal communication, such as kinesthesia.

  • Related article: "What is Cultural Psychology?"

What is proxemics?

Proxemics is a theory that emerged in the 1960s and was developed by the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who studied how we perceive space in different cultures and how we use it to establish different relationships.

In other words, proxemics is the study of proximity, and how proximity allows us to communicate with each other and even build relationships and a particular worldview.

Also known as proxemia, it is considered a part of semiotics (which is the study of the signs we use to communicate), because it pays attention to the way in which the physical distances established in different cultures cause us to communicate in different ways and not necessarily verbal.

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In other words, proxemics includes not only individual communicative competences but also the form in which the social and cultural norms on the space limit or condition these competences. That is why it is considered one of the most complex branches of human communication systems.

  • You may be interested: "Proxemic language: this is how the use of distances is used to communicate"

Communication systems and some types

To explain in more detail what proxemia consists of, we will remember that human communication is a very complex system. In basic terms, it consists of understanding and using a set of signs and symbols to convey certain information (for example, ideas, feelings, opinions, emotions, states of mind, encouragement, etc).

In other words, the process and the ability to communicate it doesn't come down to language skills (such as being able to speak or understand a language), but rather involves a much more complex set of actions in which our body always participates.

The standard and most basic scheme of communication includes two main characters: a sender and a receiver; who are the ones who emit, encode and receive a message.

This message can include both linguistic signs, as words, phrases or sentences; as body movements that also transmit information. In turn, this information, and how it is organized and transmitted, depends on the social, geographical and cultural situation in which the sender and receiver find themselves; as well as their own grammatical, discursive, strategic and sociolinguistic competences.

Two main types of communication are generally recognized: verbal and non-verbal, which are not actually found separated from each other, but are manifested at the same time in each relationship that we establish with the others people.

Non-verbal communication and the difference between proxemics and kinesia

Verbal communication is that which is established from linguistic signs and symbols transmitted through the spoken word. For its part, non-verbal communication is that which is established through non-verbal signs that generally convey information about character, personality, or mood.

These latter signs may include, for example, crying, laughing, screaming (which are paralinguistic signs); or they may involve gestures, signs, or mimicry (which are kinesthetic signs). Both types of signs, paralinguistic and kinesthetic, constitute elements of basic non-verbal communication. But, there is also another type of non-verbal communication that is more complex because it involves the cultural and social elements that define how we use the body and space, and even time to transmit information in different contexts and situations.

The latter are the proxemic system (whose signs are basically the habits relating to the use of space, for example, the distances we maintain between ourselves depending on whether we are at home with our partner, or in the office with colleagues); and the chronémic system (where the perception and use of time in different cultures is mainly studied).

In other words, the difference between proxemics and kinesics is that the former refers to the non-verbal communication established through the physical distances that we put when we interact; and kinesic is the non-verbal communication that is established through body movements such as gestures and also through proprioception.

Its importance in communication and social studies

According to Hall, the physical distances we establish are determined by cultural norms that we say, for example, what are the limits in public space and what are in private space, or what does the word inside and the word outside mean in terms of furniture or individual spaces inside the home; spaces that are also influenced by age or gender or the social rank of each person.

The proxemic norms, in addition, are those that reaffirm a set of human beings as a "group" and not like another, that is, they delimit the characteristics that some people have in common, reinforcing intragroup identity, and sometimes making intergroup identity difficult.

That is why it has important effects on the communication that we establish both with our group of belonging and with the groups. similar, and allows us to understand how we build a particular image of the world, as well as the rules of coexistence in different context.

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