Silent Assumptions

Hall, Edward T. 2009 [1964]. Silent Assumptions in Social Communication. In: Gutman, Robert and Nathan Glazer (Eds.), People and Buildings. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 135-151.

The investigations reported briefly in this selection deal with proxemics, the study of ways in which man gains knowledge of the content of other men's minds through judgments of behavior patterns associated with varying degrees of proximity to him. These behavior patterns are learned, and thus they are not genetically determined. But because they are learned (and taught) largely outside of awareness, they are often treated as though they were innate. I have found this type of behavior to be highly stereotyped, less subject to distortion than consciously controlled behavior and important to individuals in the judgments they form as to what is taking place around them at any given moment in time. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 136)
Indeed there seems to be a "proxemic consciousness" which facilitates awareness of the immediate environment - especially of the social situation.
The insights and sensitive observations of Thoreau are helpful in pointing up certain consistencies in behavior in heretofore unsuspected areas, such as perception of body heat. They strenghten my original premise that man's behavior in space is neither meaningless nor haphazard. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 137)
E. T. Hall's masterly use of language is worthy of imitation. The first bold span could be used in discussion of concursivity: literary authors often refer to consistencies in behavior which are otherwise difficult to describe. It could even be said that to write about something, even in passing, in a novel, demands one to be well acquainted with what one is writing about. And the second bold span characterizes the whole proxemic project and follows essentially birdwhistellian premise that behavior is not meaningless unless proven otherwise.
Many of these utterances are virtually stream-of-consciousness. They are valuable because they provide clues to what specific events in other people's behavior stands out as significant. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 139)
Yet another point for concursivity - we don't talk and write about "insignificant gestures," it is the significant movements and postures which draw attention to themselves and make us aware of them.
The distinction that Hediger makes between "contact" and "non-contact" species can also be made for man or groups of men. Indeed, it seems to be the first and possibly the most basic distinction between groups. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 140)
This is incredible. The contact/non-contact culture distinction propounded by Jourard (if I'm not mistaken) originates from Heini Hediger's Studies of the Psychology and Behavior of Captive Animals in Zoos and Circuses. [utlib, Sebeok]
"Personal distance" (close phase: 18 to 30 inches; far phase: 30 to 48 inches) is the term originally used by Hediger to designate the distance consistently separating the members of non-contact species. It might be thought of as a small protective sphere that an organism maintains between itself and others. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 143-144)
The wording here is useful: "a protective sphere". Almost like Werkmelt.
At intimate distance (full contact to 18 inches), two subjects are deeply involved with each other. The presence of the other person is unmistakable and may at times be overwhelming because of the greatly stepped-up sensory inputs. Olfaction, heat from the other person's body, touch or the possibility of touch, not only by the hands but also by the lips and the breath, all combine to signal in unmistakable ways the close presence of another body. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 145)
"Overwhelming" because of "greatly stepped-up sensory inputs" are actually what's great about intimacy. In the right circumstances, it is extremely pleasurable.
Close Phase: Intimate Distance. This is the distance (full contact to 6 plus or minus 2 inches) of lovemaking and wrestling, comforting and protecting. Physical contact is featured. Use of the distance receptors is greatly reduced except for olfaction and sensitivity to radiant heat, both of which are stepped up. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 146)
Could this stepping up up heat-radiation be due to sexual arousal?
Vocalization at intimate distances plays a very minor part in the communication process, which is carried mainly by other channels. A whisper has the effect of expanding the distance. The moans, groans and grunts that escape involuntarily during fighting or sex are produced by the action. The two parties act as one as it were. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 146)
Yup, this is how an anthropologist talks about sex in the beginning of the 1960s.
At this distance [public, far] body stance and gestures are featured; facial expression becomes exaggerated as does the loudness of the voice. The tempo of the voice drops; words are enunciated more clearly. Joos' frozen style is characteristic: "Frozen style is for people who are to remain strangers." (Hall 2009 [1964]: 148)
This is the quote I found so useful from The Hidden Dimension. Apparently it originates from The Five Clocks (1962) by the German-American linguists Martin Joos. It is interesting that this book is not available in Estonia, because M. Joos might be one of the missing links in the picture of semiotics. Not only is Joos' intimate/casual/consultative/formal/frozen the basis for Hall's work, another part of Joos' work emanated to Ju. Lotman's cultural semiotics. This is something that should be studie further.
What significance do people attach to different distances? The very term "closeness" conjures up different images than "distance." "Getting next to" someone implies a number of things about your relationship. The expression, "I cna't get together with him on that," has a literal, in addition to a figurative, meaning. In the world of actions from which words take their meaning, a wife who sees another woman standing too close to her husband gets the message loud and clear. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 148-149)
The underlined sentence is extremely curious: it is in the first part meta-concursive and then concursive!
"Paracommunication" is the term suggested as an appropriate designation by Joos and George Trager to refer to communicative behavior which does not have its base in language but is often synchronized with linguistic and paralinguistic phenomena. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 150)
Damn, Joos, you even had something to do with paracommunication (of which Hall claims proxemics represents one of several systems).

Hall, Edward T. 1968. Proxemics. Current Anthropology 9(2/3): 83-95.

In the course of the development of proxemics, the work was spoken of as "social space as bio-communication," and "micro-space in interpersonal encounters." These were actually abbreviated technical descriptions in which the proper meanings of the terms of reference were known only to a few specialists. Further, the wide spread interest in activities connected with outer space provided an incentive to distinguish between my work and that of the outer-space scientists. I decided to invent a new term that would indicate, in general, what the field was about. Among the terms I considered were human topology, chaology, the study of empty space, oriology, the study of boundaries, chorology, the study of organized space. I finally chose "proxemics" as the most suitable for that audience most likely to encounter the topic in the near future. (Hall 1968: 83, footnote 3)
Awesome. I love technical jargon that known only to a few specialists. This will be my downfall, surely, but it is also fun. Chaology, oriology and chorology could actually suit for a "made up test" - as these terms are not used, they are presumably also unknown.
I first became aware of my own interest in man's use of space when I was training Americans for service overseas and discovered that the way in which both time and space were handled constituted a form of communication which was responded to as if it were built into people, and therefore, universally valid. (Hall 1968: 84)
Heh. Neat.
It is my thesis that the principles laid down by Whorf and his followers in relation to language apply to all culturally patterned behavior, but particularly to those aspects of culture which are most often taken for granted and operate as Sapir so aptly put it "...in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all." It is this elaborate and secret code that becomes confused with what is popularly conceived of as phenomenological experience. It has long been believed that experience is what men share and that it is possible to bypass language by referring back to experience in order to reach another human being. This implicit (and often explicit) belief concerning man's relation to experience is based on the assumption that when two human beings are subjected to the same "experience," virtually the same data is being fed to the two nervous systems and the two brains respond similarly. Proxemic research casts serious doubts on the validity of this assumption, particularly when the cultures are different. People from different cultures inhabit different sensory worlds (see Hall 1966: Chaps. 10, 11). They do not only structure spaces differently, but experience it differently, because the sensorioum is differently "programmed." There is a selective screening and filtering that admits some types of data while rejecting others. Sometimes this is accomplished by individuals "tuning out" one or more of the senses or a portion of perception. Otherwise, it is accomplished by screening, which is one of the many important functions performed by architecture. (Hall 1968: 84)
F*** is this good! Hall builds on Sapir's contention and argues against phenomenology. Because of his emphasis on intercultural differences, Hall disclaims shared experience between people and resorts to different sensoriums and filters, or what in this blog is often referred to as "sensory gating" e.g. selective attention.
If the spatial experience is different by virtue of different patterning of the senses and selective attention and inattention to specific aspects of the environment, it would follow what crowds one people does not necessarily crowd another. (Hall 1968: 84)
And this is of course backed by later empirical research.
The problem of self-awareness has been a stumbling-block for psychologists for years. We really do not know by what means the brain interprets the data fed to it by the senses. Recently there has been some progress in solving this problem. The solution appears to hinge on contrasts built into the receptors rather than simple stimulation leading to a specific response (McCulloch 1964) (Hall 1968: 84; footnote 5)
And self-awareness is still problematic today.
In 1953, Trager and I postulated a theory of culture based on a linguistic model. We maintained that with the model we were using, it must be possible ultimately to link major cultural systems (of which there were several) to the physiology of the organism; i.e., that there should be not only a prelinguistic base (Trager 1949) but a precultural base as well. In 1959, I suggested the term "infra-culture" be used to designate those behavioral manifestations "that preceded culture but later became elaborated into culture." It followed from this that it might be helpful in the analysis of a primary cultural system, such as proxemics, to examine its infra-cultural base. A look at the various manifestations of territoriality (and these are many) should help provide both a foundation and a perspective to be used in considering more complex human elaborations of space. (Hall 1968: 85)
More yummi terms. Also, "primary cultural system" sounds very much like "primary modeling system" (of culture) in the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics.
Much can be learned in this regard from the ethologists. It is difficult to consider man with other animals, yet, in the light of what is known of ethology, it may be appropriate to consider man as an organism that has elaborated and specialized his extensions to the point where they are rapidly replacing nature. In other words, man has created a new dimension, the cultural dimension, in relation to which he maintains a state of dynamic equilibrium. This process is one in which both man and his environment participate in molding each other. Man is now in the position of creating his own biotope. He is, therefore, in the position of determining what kind of organism he will be. This is a frightening thought in view of how little we know about man and his needs. It also means that in a very deep sense, man is creating different types of people in his slums, his mental hospitals, his cities, and his suburbs. What is more, the problems man is facing in trying to create one world are much more complex than was formerly assumed. Within the United States we have discovered that one group's slum is another's sensorily enriched environment. (Hall 1968: 85)
My g** is this brilliant! There's a footnote (#11) that is required for interpretation of this paragraph: "The term "extension" summarizes a process in which evolution accelerates when it occurs outside the body."
The findings of ethologists and animal psychologists suggest that: (a) each organism inhabits its own subjective world [17], which is a function of its perceptual apparatus and the arbitrary separation of the organism from the world alters context and in so doing distorts meaning; and (b) the dividing line between the organism's internal and external environment cannot be pinpointed exactly. The organism-biotope relationship can only be understood if it is seen as a delicately balanced series of cybernetic mechanisms in which positive and negative feedback exert subtle but continuous control over life. That is, the organism and its biotope constitute a single, cohesive system (within a series of larger systems). To consider one without reference to the other is meaningless. (Hall 1968: 86)
This is like Uexküll's Umweltforschung 101. Also, it makes me wonder if Birdwhistell could have gotten inspiration for his holistic attitude towards communication from here. This surely is a very suspicious article - it is weird to see so many familiar names among the reference: Ruesch, Goffman, Lorenz, Hinde, Goodenough, Goffman, McLuhan, Levi-Strauss, Halliday, Joos, Chomsky, Bateson, Argyle, etc (the list could go on and on, there's really a supreme selecton in the references). And, indeed, Uexküll's Theoretical biology (1926) is among them.
Lissman (1963) has the following to say on this subject: "Study of the ingenious adaptions displayed in the anatomy, physiology, and behavior of animals leads to the familiar conclusion that each has evolved to suit life in its particular corner of the world. Each animal also inhabits a private subjective world that is not accessible to direct observation. This world is made up of information communicated to the creature from the outside in the form of messages picked up by its sense organs." (Hall 1968: 86; footnote 17)
This is the Kantian Uexküll speaking. But the reference is to H. W. Lissman's 1963. article "Electric location by fishes" which is extremely interesting in itself, but I lack the time to dwell on it now (link).
Calhoun's experiments and observations are also noteworthy for thier behavioral data. he allowed wild Norway rats, which were amply fed, to breed freely in a quarter-acre pen. Their number stabilized at 150 and never exceeded 200 (Calhoun 1950). With a population of 150, fighting became so disruptive to normal maternal care that only a few of the young survived. The rats did not distribute themselves evenly throughout the pen, but organized into a dozen colonies averaging 12 rats each (apparently the maximum number of rats that can live harmoniously in a natural group). (Hall 1968: 87)
I am instantly reminded of recent social-psychological quip that a normal human being also "knows" (in a social network) about 150 people - that this is an average of people we could actually name if we were to write down all the people we remember communicating with, or something to that effect (I could be wrong here). And also I am instantly reminded of the 12 tribes of Israel which themselves consisted of 12 thousand people, or something like that.
Some of the research techniques, briefly described below, are: observation, experiment, interviews (structured and unstructured), analysis of the English lexicon, and the study of space as it is recreated in literature and in art. (Hall 1968: 87)
This is why a term like "concursive" is useful: Hall has to state "as it is recreated in literature and art" instead of naming it among other techniques. In my mind, this sentence could have been shorter: "...observation, experiment, interviews, lexical, and concursive."
By observing people over a long period of time as they use and react to space, one can begin to discern definite patterns of proxemics behavior. While photography is only a supplement to other forms of observation - an extension of visual memory, as it were - it is an absolutely indispensable aid in recording proxemic behavior. (Hall 1968: 88)
I have thought about acquiring a smartphone for exactly this purpose - to capture proxemic behavior in people in the city. Like this picture I took a while ago with my old phone (notice the equal spacing):
It freezes actions and allows the investigator to examine sequences over and over again. The difficulty is to photograph people without intruding or alterting their behavior. Practice in using a very small camera (Minox), which I carry with me at all times, has taught me how to photograph unobtrusively, and this has made it possible to use larger cameras as well. Several thousand photographs have thus far been taken of people interacting under natural conditions... (Hall 1968: 88)
Smartphones are quite unobtrusive; you can pretend to be calling. The bit about Minox is funny, because it is a notorious spy camera produced in Latvia. In this sense Hall was a nonverbal spy.
The artist is both a sensitive observer and a communicator. How well he succeeds depends in part on the degree to which he has been able to analyze and organize perceptual data in ways that are meaningful to his audience. The manner in which sense impressions are employed by the artist reveals data about both the artist and his audience. (Hall 1968: 90)
Well said.
An examination of the writer's sense impressions reveals much about his perceptual world. If a writer refers to vision to build his images it is possible to examine these images to determine what kind of vision he uses. Is it foveal, macular, or peripheral vision? Which of Gibson's numerous ways of seeing perspective does he employ? What is the role of olfaction and touch? (Hall 1968: 90)
I imagine the type of vision and perspective to be very difficult to study in a text.
Writers express what readers already know and would have expressed if they had possessed the requisitite analytic capability, training and skill. When the writer succeeds, there is a close register between his descriptions and his reader's own sensory pattern, since writers evoke spatial images in the reader. The question I asked myself was: "What clues does the writer provide the reader that enable him to construct a spatial image?" It seemed to me that an analysis of passages that are spatially evcative would be revealing. I asked subjects to mark such passages in a sample of over a hundred representative novels. The first text used were those which contained spatial images that subjects vividly recalled from past reading. This group of passages, elicited from those who had spontaneously commented on them, ultimately proved to be of the most value. (Hall 1968: 90)
In the first instance (the issue of "close register") is related to the question of adequate communication. In the second instance Hall devised "concursive interpretation" already in the 60s. I came very close to this, as I, too, marked and retyped such passages and the ones that remember most vividly are indeed the ones I will be analyzing in greater lenght.

Reviewer's Name 1968. Comments and Replies to Edward T. Hall's Proxemics. Current Anthropology 9(2/3): 95-108.

Part of the difficulty in circumscribing or criticizing the postulates, the methodology, or, even the subject matter of Hall's discussions lies in his concept of "infra-cultural." On the one hand, he uses the term in a diachronic sense, to refer to "those behavioral manifestations that preceded culture but later became elaborated into culture." ("Culture," incidentally, is seen by Hall as "basically a communicative process.") On the other hand, he seems to use "infraculture" in a synchronic sense, to refer to an underlying biological or physiological or psychological need system or raw-material (in Linton's sense) sub-stratum to cultural behavior. It is in this area of his theory that his dismissal or, perhaps, heuristic avoidance of the sociological implications of his subject or object matter becomes most critical. (Birdwhistell 1968: 96)
Ray L. Birdwhistel. The notion of infra-cultural is, in my mind, just as problematic as the notion of infra-communication.
Of equal import is Hall's statement that he uses a "communicational" emphasis. His report that he has been influenced by the writings of Whorf and Sapir and by at least certain aspects of those of Bateson does not make it clear what he means by "communication." Larger acquaintance with Hall's writings leaves the reader with the feeling that Hall's view of communication lies somewhere within a field demarcated by Harry Stack Sullivan's transactionalism, certain aspects of information theory, and George L. Trager's global incorporation of all culture as commuication. These are all perfectly valid positions, but an amalgam of these varisized assumption systems required a definitive and delineating lexicon for the reader who would follow Hall's discussion. (Birdwhistell 1968: 96)
This "global incorporation" is also what Ju. Lotman is known for. Especially in relation with auto-communication which he borrowed from V.V. Ivanov.
Halls's survey of proxemics calls attention to a number of problems of great importance for the sciences of man. Additional proxematic points of view might be:
1) "rhythms" of density (rush hours, night bours) incity life.
2) varying wishes (of Western individuals) for solitude, company, crowds.
3) the differences in atmosphere between a crowded and a poorly attended theatrical performance and the different proxematic attitudes of audiences at the cinema, the opera, a football game.
4) the effects of the geographical and the social environment on proxematic phenomena; changes of attitude on moving to a new place; changes of human adaptability.
5) alterations in proxematic patterns due to childhood neglect, puberty difficulties, on personal misfortune; the possibility that children, regardless of culture patterns, are more ready for social contacts or are in general better able to bear population density, than adults.
6) further problems of sociality: possible differences in proxematic development between only children and children with siblings; social class differences; rural-urban differences; the demand for company in cases of danger and distress; saluting habits from close up and from afar.
7) the contrast between formal patterns of attitude and the real feelings and possibly deviant behaviour of individuals and groups.
8) the "I-You" relation at various stages (acquaintance, friendship, love, kinship).
9) the quick and easy spread of culture, news, and propaganda in densely populated areas and, on the other hand, the far-reaching influence of radio and television, even in thinly populated areas.
10) proxematic differences among the senses:
  • near distance: touch and taste;
  • near or middle distances: smell; (cf. the German saying "I can't smell [ = stand] him.");
  • far distances: hearing and sight.
Mostly we shall find a combination and cross-checking of the senses, possiblity directed by reason, will, or cultural pattern.
11) proxematic aspects of games, dancing, parties, youth clubs, schools, sports.
12) proxematic problems of the group: the network of communications between members of a group, varying with degree of intimacy, and the possible solidarity of the group against strangers.
13) proxematic problems of acculturation.
14) symbolism of contact and fellowship: gestures, miming, pre-linguistic sounds, handshakes, kisses, embraces, partly combined with utterances.
15) deviations from the usual proxematic patterns of a group due to adaption to an altered environment. (Bock 1968: 96-97)
Bernard Bock has listed a very interesting glossary of things, to my knowledge, proxemics got around to study.
An abundant source of proxematic data will be educational and didactic literature of mankind, works and passages in poetry and prose, proverbs and parables, rules of conduct, and textbooks on interpersonal relations. (Bock 1968: 97)
Indeed so. Both Goffman and Ju. Lotman are known for looking into these types of sources.
For those who have an interest in (especially non-verbal) communicative behavior, one of the more striking obstacles to research in this area is itself one of communication, in this case with other specialists. Hopefully this paper by Hall will reach some of the scattered audience that is so engaged and help establish the interdisciplinary contacts which are vitally needed. (Diebold 1968: 97)
A. Richard Diebold, Jr. is correct here - it seems that this article truly did spark interdisciplinary cooperation (or at least acknowledgement).
If it is true that proxemic behavior (or kinesic, or paralinguistic, or however you divide up the pie) is just one of many categories of interactional behavior, what do we know of its functional independence of other communicative subsystems? I take it as foregone conclusion that the physical distance between an interacting dyad can "mean" quite different things depending, among other variables, upon (1) the wider temporal and spatial context in which the confrontation takes place and (2) the co-occurrence or non-occurrence of signal transmission in one or several of the channels which link the dyad (e.g., visual-gestural, audio-visual). Regrettably we know only too little about how these various signals might be mutually corroborative and summating in the information they transmit; when they conflict in the information which they convey; and how context-sensitive they are to the proxemic settings which most itnerest hall. (Diebold 1968: 98)
Issues to consider if interaction be viewed as a semiosphere.
The young man's looking behavior? It could well depend on how the girl is dressed; conceivably eyes are mutually averted if the girl is wearing a miniskirt which climbs gravity-defiant during the dance movements. If gaze he does, do the young man's simultaneous facial displays convey bemused camaraderie or lascivious scrutiny? Suppose now that the music permits slow movement and bodily contact. (Diebold 1968: 98)
Oh, behave! (says Austin powers)
And if it pleases both to do so and they dance with maximal body contact, why is it (let us concentrate on chest to breast) that this erogenous invasion is permitted or encouraged by the girl on the dance-floor and later rebuffed by her on the back-porch when reestablished by the young man manually - when, we note, although the girl's attraction to the young man has not diminished, there is a change of context for their physical distance, and eye-engagement has been restored? The questions are not so rhetorical as they might seem. (Diebold 1968: 98)
It is as if he is recounting a personal experience.
I sense a caretain vagueness of grasp throughout, which I believe follows from failure to differentiate appropriately between the factors in human similarity and the factors in cultural difference: between ethology and ethnology. This is related to the tactical eclecticism which has assembled for us a great deal of information on biosocial spacing but seems to me deficient in incisive conclusions - even preliminary or descriptive ones. (Edmonson 1968: 99)
Munro S. Edmonson points at a common problem in nvc studies.


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