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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds By now, it has perhaps become obvious to you that culture is more than just the context. Edward T. Hall has observed many behaviours related to how people use or respond to time and space. He called the analysis of various approaches to time as “chronemics”, which we will explain soon. For the varied perceptions and uses of distance and space, he coined the term “proxemics”. In social and interpersonal settings, most of us will keep bubbles around us. They are invisible, but they reflect the distance we keep from others, and these are affected by the cultural standards of what is appropriate.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Hall developed a very detailed handbook for the study of proxemics as an academic subject, but for this course we mainly want to alert you to become a better observer of how various cultural groups use the distance and space. You might want to go to a train station, a coffee shop, a local wedding, or a family dinner. Observe how people interact. How big are their comfortable zones? How do people respond if someone gets closer? When does it seem to become uncomfortable? Take some field notes and share with the class.

Introducing time and space

This video introduces Edward T. Hall’s concepts of Chronemics (time orientations) and Proxemics (space orientations). These provide helpful ways of describing or contrasting culture standards for what is considered appropriate.

Culture is clearly more than just the context. Among the many other domains of culture, Edward T. Hall and other intercultural scholars have also observed behaviors related to how people use or respond to time and space in communication. Hall coined two terms:

Proxemics, for the varied perceptions and uses of distance and space (the primary focus in his book, The Hidden Dimension, 1966 and his academic reference work, The Handbook of Proxemic Research, 1974).

Chronemics, for analyzing various approaches to time (explored further in his later book, The Dance of Life 1983). This domain looks at how we treat time in nonverbal communication, how we perceive, structure, expect and react to frames related to time in our cultural systems. Hall coined the terms Mono- and Poly-chronic for describing contrasting patterns and Tom Bruneau coined the term Chronemics in 1973.

His proxemics work shows how most of us have personal and social space bubbles that we maintain. These form an invisible sense of appropriate distances according to the culture standards we’ve adopted, mostly by observed mimicry. Therefore they are best discovered in other contexts by training our observations, which we hope you’ll actively do in the next step.

Further resources:

We highly recommend Jeff Berglund’s “Space (Proxemics)” entry in the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication Competence and have provided the downloadable article.

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)