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The interpersonal zones people maintain while they interact are laden with connotations of a social and emotional nature. The transgression of an imaginary boundary line around the body can only be traversed by those with whom a person is on friendly, family, or intimate terms. Zones, touching patterns, and the like are part of proxemic semiotics, which attempts to understand how the body is as much a sign system as it is an organic one. This chapter looks at various aspects of proxemics semiotics, defined as the study of how people perceive and semiotically organize the zones they maintain between each other in culturally specific situations. The founder of proxemics was the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1914–2009), whose research on interpersonal zones showed how the body, space, and situation produce meanings that are grounded in cultural codes. So critical are these codes in maintaining social harmony that if we decide to act in some “uncoded” way people would misinterpret our actions, becoming potentially angry, because they would see our behavior as being either conflictual or disturbed. The inclusion of proxemics as a branch of nonverbal semiotics started with Umberto Eco in 1968, who defined each zone as a particular kind of spatial sign system. Today, the notion of space is changing drastically, since the Internet has made proxemic structure a virtual one. Moreover, social media now allow us to gain access to all kinds of people, without ever having to interact proxemically. This is changing the nature of human interaction.
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- At Arm’s Length: The Meanings of Spaces
- Palgrave Macmillan US
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