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

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

November 27, 2021

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

Then we will see what proxemics is , what this theory has 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 physical distances established in different cultures make us communicate in different ways and not necessarily verbally.

That is to say, that the proxemics includes not only the individual communicative competences but the way in which the social and cultural norms on the space limit or condition these competences. That is why it is considered as one of the most complex branches of human communication systems.


  • Maybe you're 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 is, 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 transmit certain information (for example, ideas, feelings, opinions, emotions, moods, etc.).

That is, the process and the ability to communicate it does not come down to language skills (such as being able to speak or understand some language), but involves a set of much more complex actions in which our body always participates.

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


This message can include both linguistic signs, such as words, phrases or statements; 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 are located; as well as their own grammatical, discursive, strategic and sociolinguistic competences .

Generally, two major types of communication are recognized: verbal and non-verbal, which are not really separated from each other, but are manifested on a par with each relationship we establish with other people.

Nonverbal communication and difference between proxemics and kinesia

Verbal communication is what is established from signs and linguistic symbols transmitted through the spoken word. On the other hand, non-verbal communication is that established by non-verbal signs that generally transmit information about character, personality or mood .

These last signs may include, for example, crying, laughter, shouting (which are paralinguistic signs); or, they may involve gestures, signs or mimicry (which are the kinesthetic signs). Both types of signs, paralinguistic and kinesthetic, are elements of basic nonverbal 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 the 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 that we maintain between us depending on whether we are at home with our partner, or in the office with co-workers); and the chronémico system (where the perception and use of time in different cultures is studied mainly).

That is to say, the difference between proxemic and kinesthetic is that the former refers to the non-verbal communication established by the physical distances that we put when relating to each other; and kinésica is the nonverbal communication that is established by means of bodily movements such as gestures and also by proprioception.

Its importance in communication and social studies

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

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

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

Bibliographic references:

  • Cestero, A. (2014). Non-verbal communication and effective communication. ELUA Magazine, 28: 125-150
  • Schmidt, S. (2013). Proxemics and intercultural communication: non-verbal communication in the teaching of e / le. Doctoral thesis to obtain the degree of Doctor in Spanish Philology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
  • Losada, F. (2001). The space lived. A semiotic approach Notebooks of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the National University of Jujuy. 17: 271-294.

Proxemics: the study of personal space (November 2021).


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