There
have been a myriad of researches on proxemic behavior which reveal extremely
exciting and useful information about how space is used as communication and
its subsequent effects on communication outcomes. Watson (1972) conceived two classes of variables that determine
proxemic behavior, i.e. interactant (or participant) and environmental
variables. Another category, variables related to the nature of the
interaction, was added by Burgoon and
Jones (1976). Especially, I am really interested in the last classification
that basically consists of “formality or intimacy of the situation and
topic, familiarity of the interactants with the setting, the purpose of the
interaction, and, in group situations, the presence of a leader” (p. 134).

In
Hall’s (1966) analysis based on anthropological
observations, personal distance (founded on the degree of intimacy or formality
of an interaction) is described in four distinct zones: intimate space (close
phase: less than 1 to 2 cm, far phase: 6 -18 inches), personal space (close
phase: 1.5 – 2.5 feet, far phase: 2.5 to 4 feet), social space (close phase: 4 –
7 feet, far phase: 7 – 12 feet), and public space (close phase: 12 – 25 feet,
far phase: 25 feet or more). The first phase is for private interactions or
physical contact, such as embracing, touching or whispering or in Hall’s words
– “this is the distance of love-making and wrestling, comforting and
protecting” (p. 117). The second one is for situations involving less sensory
involvement.  The third one is for such exchanges
as “impersonal business” or “social gathering” (p. 121). The last one is used
for public speaking or distances from public officials. Despite not clarifying
the personal space as specifically as Hall, Engleberg &
Wynn (2006) maintained the
four zones. Close friends, lovers, children and close family members are
allowed in the intimate zone. The next zone is reserved for conversations with
friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions. A further range is used
for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances. Speeches, lectures,
and theater which are for larger audiences are presented in the farthest
distance.

It is widely agreed that personal space is higly valued and people
tend to feel discomfortable, angry, or anxious when their personal space is invaded;
and acoording to Engleberg
& Wynn (2006), permitting a person to come into
personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of
perception of those people’s relationship. Moreover, clearly,
no matter the culture, the distance zones that we choose for different groups
and people can communicate our feelings towards them in very powerful ways (Proxemics, 2011). Intimate distance is obviously the space set aside only for those who we trust, love
and consider the most important in our social spheres. If such people are
present in our most inner circle, we, of course, enjoy their presence, but to
other uninvited existence, we will shut down and try to retain somehow our
comfort zone. This implies why
we feel uneasy, embarrassed or even furious when a person we are not familiar
with gives a sudden hug or kiss.
The confusion and panic caused by one’s exposure to unwelcome invasion of
his/her personal distance can be usefully exploited in some cases. “For example, one of the popular
interrogation techniques is to intimidate the suspect by getting very close to
invade his intimate zone. Then, while he is helpless, try to exploit his
vulnerability and discomfort to extract information” (Tarakanov, n.d.). People that we feel at ease around and have a good relationship
with are accepted in personal zone, which is an easy and relaxed space for “talking, shaking hands,
gesturing and making faces” (Tarakanov, n.d.).
Depending on personal preference and affection, this zone may contain some
smaller divisions but the main point is that the more we like someone, the
closer we tend to sit or stand to him/her. This is the reason why people of the
same group have a tendency of sitting in same table when they attend parties
and even in the same group, people often choose to sit next to the person they share
more things in common and feel comfortable to talk to. Social space is the most neutral
zone reserved
for starting a conversation with strangers and new
acquaintances that we may have some
interaction with, “such as shopkeepers, clerks in the bank and other sales or
service providers” (Tarakanov, n.d.); or
the one we first meet in a meeting or a club. The explanation Tarakanov (n.d.) finds most appropriate to this
behavior is that

in those cases, there is usually some
kind of an artificial barrier between you and the stranger – a desk
or some board/book/paper you or they hold. This barrier helps to relax and
maintain the comfort zone and in the meanwhile allows you to be in closer
proximity to discuss and examine details.

The outermost distance is suitable for public
speaking, lecturing or art performance in that not only do people find it
advantageous and convenient to address
a large group of audience from
such space but this is comfortable
for the audience as well. More exactly, the speakers, lectureres or artists
seem to consider the whole group of audience as one individual with a great
amount of personal space and vice versa, the latter all get to see and
hear the former well enough. 

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