Edward T Hall


Edward T. Hall

The famous anthropologist

The anthropologist Edward T. Hall was born in Missouri in 1914. As a young man, Edward Hall worked as a construction foreman in Arizona, where he lived with the Hopi Indians. During this time, he also gained firsthand experience of the Spanish American people and of the culture of Northern New Mexico. This interaction with people who were culturally completely different from him fascinated Hall to conduct anthropological research among people with different cultural orientation. As a project director of communications research at the Washington School of Psychiatry he studied non-verbal communication and began to believe that basic differences in the way that members of different cultures perceived reality were responsible for  many miscommunications.

Edward Hall has brought a revolution in the sphere of human interaction with his theory of proxemics or the study of the human use of space within the context of culture. He coined term proxemics during the 1950′s and 1960’s. Proxemics is a path breaking venture to the study of our use of space and how various differences in that use can make us feel more relaxed or anxious. Hall developed his theory of proxemics in The Hidden Dimension (1966), arguing that human perceptions of space although derived from sensory apparatus and are common to all are molded and patterned by culture. His emphasis was that our culture and social background directly influence our perception of even a universal concept called ‘space’. This has a slender similarity with the philosophy of Strawson who believed that the general features of our conceptual structure lie submerged under the surface of language. In contemporary society, Hall’s argument that unlike cultural frameworks for defining and organizing space are internalized at an unconscious level and can lead to serious failures of communication and understanding in cross-cultural settings. Therefore, its relevance in modern civilization cannot be ignored!

Hall’s most famous innovation and one that has tremendous influence on his successors is the definition of the informal or personal spaces that surround individuals. From his perspective space can be conceived as

Edward Hall Theory of Proxemics

  • Private or intimate
  • Public or social
  • Intimate space, he has defined as the closest “bubble” of space surrounding a person. Entry into this space is acceptable only for the closest friends and intimates. It is a guarded space.
  • The social space may be the spaces in which people feel comfortable in allowing social interactions with acquaintances as well as strangers. This can also be termed as public space, ‘the area of space beyond which people will perceive interactions as impersonal and relatively ‘anonymous’.

Hall’s claim to fame is associated with his concept of anthropology of space. He believed that culture is not made up but something that evolves. In his book ‘Beyond culture’ he claimed that there is the path to improvement in intercultural interaction if we investigate the cause through the right method. Resolution of the problems that arise in this field of contemporary society where different cultures have more and more frequent contact with each other. It can only be achieved if each side is able to transcend the ingrained stereotypes present in its own culture. He worked to break the barriers of culture that would eventually lead to global community.

His work has pursued anthropologists to investigate how the built environment expresses culturally shared ideas and sustains relations of inequality between people. In his book ‘Beyond Culture’, Hall presented the concept of high and low communications. This theory assumes a strong linkage to exist between culture and communication.  In fact what kind of communication dominates in a given culture relates directly to the type of the culture or to be more precise, to the role of social context in that culture. In high-context cultures, in which one’s behavior is to a great extent determined by social roles and expectations, a person is usually spoken to in order to motivate him or her to behave differently from what he or she would otherwise probably do.

Edward Hall Beyond Culture

In high-context cultures, in which one’s behavior is to a great extent determined by social roles and expectations, a person is usually spoken to in order to motivate him or her to behave differently from what he or she would otherwise probably do.

In low-context cultures, however, the speaker expects to influence the partner to act in the speaker’s interests by pointing out a number of options and providing enough information to enable him or her to take the desirable decision by himself.

Here rational information prevails over social motivation.

Hall’s objective in this book is to raise awareness of the latent. Subconscious aspects of culture to conscious awareness and recognition so that the issues of intercultural relationships can be dealt with successfully.

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