Types of Distances in Interaction – Proximics

Proximics: Evidence from Moroccan culture
Part 1:
1-Types of Distances in Interaction

Speech does not constitute the only channel through which human communication in face-to-face interaction is carried out. The non-verbal medium like the verbal medium plays an important role in the daily interaction of the human beings.

As Wilfred d’souza says:
In a normal two person conversation the verbal band (…) carries less than 35% of the social meaning of the situation –more than 65% is transmitted via non-verbal bands. These non-verbal bands relate to how people more, gesture and handle special relationship (Quoted in Hodge 1981; 43).

There are many aspects of non-verbal behaviour through which different messages are communicated in interaction ; these aspects include the way people orient their bodies in conversation, the way they use gestures and eye gestures and eye contact in this regard, Hudson (1980) says that “the distance one person stands from another, the study of which has developed to such extend that it has its own name- proxemics” (p135).

Proxemics refers to the use of space in interaction and to how people in a cultural community conceive of spacing. It also refers to what those people regard as acceptable way of using space, that is how close or far apart they are allowed to stand from each other in interaction according to intimate and non- intimate relationships one can have with his interlocutor.

However, people are most of the time unaware of the distance they use in their daily transactions. They rather pay attention to the way they speak and the way they make their speech appropriate to different situations and to different interlocutors.
One of the questions given to the interviewed informants is : Have you ever noticed how distant you stand from your interlocutor in an interaction ? 40 informants show complete unawarness of the use of distance as a means of communication. Some of them are simply indifferent to this question and do not care if space affects messages conveyed in daily interaction or not. However, a minority of these informants affirm that distance plays a certain role in communication and should be taken into consideration, This minority consists of university students.
In this context Hudson says the following “Arabs confronted each other more directly when conversing…, they sat closer to each other…, they were more likely to touch each other…, they looked each other more squarely in the eye…, and they conversed more loudly.” (P.136).

The use of distance as a communicating device seems to be restricted to educated people only as far as Moroccan culture is concerned. The only 5 employees (male) whole who could be interviewed  ignore completely the role distance plays in face to – face interaction. Four other non-intellectual informants who were housekeepers do not show any understanding of the question and simply say that they do never use distance as means of communication.
Out of 21 pupils (10 male and 11 female) informants of an age between (6-11) no one affirmed that he uses distance as a medium of communication. One male of these informants says that he finds it ridiculous to sand far away from his interlocutor even if this behaviour is meant to show formality. He claims that distance does not change according to different situations, and that what he changes and makes appropriate to situations is speech.

Awareness of the role that distance plays in communicating formality and informality differs from one informant to another. However, students nearly have the same attitude as pupils in what concerns the use of space as a « register » in face – to – face interaction. From 39 students (19 male and 20 female) only 8 out of 19 male and 5 out of 20 female informants declare that convey messages of intimacy and lack of intimacy by means of space. For 11 out 19 male and 15 out of 20 female, distance is not an expressive.

Communicative act of formality and informality in daily interaction. They say that they rather pay attention to the language they use: It is an elaborated refined language informal situations and a colloquial, simple language in informal situations. There is much evidence then, that the majority of informants does not pay much attention to spacing patterns. However, the minority of informants which shows awareness of the use of distance in daily interaction should not be neglected. These informants claim that space can shift continuously from intimate with friends and equals to formal with superiors and strangers.
Relying on the collected data, we could distinguish between three different distances used by Moroccans: intimate distance, casual distance, and formal distance.

   One Comment

  1. Simmer
      19 May, 2011


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