Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005


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Edward T. Hall

(by Eva Milanovic)

Edward T. Hall and the Science of Proxemics

Born in Missouri in 1914, Edward T. Hall develops an interest in anthropology and obtains a PhD in that field. While conducting his research, he notices that the way man uses his space can have far-reaching consequences on personal and business relations, cross-cultural relations, and architecture. He believes that very often, people fail to communicate because of their cultural background. These learnings are part of a wide theory called the science of proxemics. From this general theory, which has contributed greatly to the field of intercultural studies, Hall has come up with other ideas that he develops in his books such as The Silent Language (1959) and The Hidden Dimension (1966).

In his first book, Hall suggests that there are three levels of communication: informal, formal, and technical. The informal level relates to the lowest level of consciousness of a person. As a matter of fact, it is everything someone does automatically without having to think about it. The second involves cultural patterns that are reinforced by norms and values throughout the learnings in one’s life. And finally, the technical level demands the highest level of consciousness. When two people communicate, all the information that is passed is clear and concise, and therefore, can not be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Of all of these levels, Hall believes that the informal level is most problematic because it encompasses not only printed and spoken communications, but also non-verbal ones. The idea of the space used by man in non-verbal communication derives from the science of proxemics developed in greater detail in The Silent Language.


It is in The Hidden Dimension that Hall brings his theory to a new level. As people are communicating, the levels of consciousness occur all at once. At this stage, people use their senses to detect changes in the outward behaviour of the other person which determines if he or she will be annoyed or not. In the “human culture”, there are sub-cultures that differ from one another. These sub-cultures perceive things in their own way. Some of them need more space to not feel crowded, as opposed to other cultures that are accustomed to living in restrained spaces. Taking someone out of his or her cultural context is generating a psychological and physical stress. This type of stress can escalate into major problems for countries such as the United States where there is a great number of immigrants that find themselves out of their cultural settings. According to Hall, we must start by understanding ourselves which will enable us to read the silent communications of others. By comprehending the silent language of others, it will be easier to meet the proxemic needs of each individual, and therefore, be able to communicate without creating stress.

Hall continued his research and published numerous books such as Beyond Culture (1976) where he studies the affects that culture may have on people. He also published an article entitled A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behaviour (1963) in which he examines the eight dimensions of proxemic behaviour. His research is so extensive that it can not be limited to anthropology. His theory regarding the use of space has also influenced other fields like intercultural studies, geography, and architecture. That is why people who talk about Edward T. Hall refer to him as the father of intercultural studies for the outstanding contribution he has made to this field.



BROWN, Nina. “Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science.” 2000. 9 Oct. 2005.



HALL, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. New York: Doubleday, 1966.


HALL, Edward T. The Silent Language. New York: Doubleday, 1959.


The Edge. “The E-Journal of Intercultural Relations.” 11 Nov. 1998. 9 Oct. 2005.