Monday, May 10, 2010

"The Hidden Dimension" by Edward T. Hall -Alina Gertsenshteyn

Edward T. Hall is an anthropologist and author of the book “The Hidden Dimension.” He has coined the term “proxemics” to the field which studies how men across cultures make sense of their space. As he explains “people from different cultures not only speak different languages but, what is possibly more important, inhabit different sensory worlds” (3). Furthermore, since our urban setting are man made it has been created to appeal to our different senses but not every culture makes use of space the same way. A person and his/her environment are constantly modeling each other. Hall uses many anthropological concepts in his book by discussing evolution and the biology of senses. He points out that since a changing environment influences how a species evolves than when humans create an environment they are directly shaping who they will become in later generations (4).
Furthermore, in chapter two of his book Hall discusses how similar we are to animals in regards to space. Animals are territorial to protect themselves from danger and to acquire needed resources; however, some species prefer to live in communities to protect themselves from factors such as predators. Similarly, we are the same way…we build gated communities to mark a safe space yet it is a community nonetheless for nurturing reasons. Hall also explores how when we communicate there is a concept of keeping a “safe distance” and it varies upon the relationship between the individuals (15). In an experiment done with observing rats in a community he found that “An increase in population density leads to a proliferation of classes and subclasses” (28). This is another striking similarity with us because class systems influence how space is created to appeal to certain groups and exclude others by, for instance, making the place expensive and therefore only affordable to its desirable crowd.
In addition, Hall outlines our reception of space through our eyes, ears, and nose. These three are our distance receptors which examine distant objects and our skin, membranes, and muscles are immediate receptors which feel the world up close (40). With that being said, he gives cultural examples of how our senses are used differently. For instance, Germans use double doors and thick walls to drain out sound and they have a harder time than us to have to rely on physical concentration to not pay attention to noise. Also, in America using deodorant is the norm and public odors are suppressed- Americans have an underdeveloped and bland use of olfactory space (44). Hall gives examples in the later chapters of how the senses are used across groups.
I liked the chapter “The Language of Space” in which he uses great authors such as Mark Twain, Butler, and Thoreau to describe how people poetically perceive their dimensions. He points out that even though the text were written a long time ago they could have been written today since they are so applicable (95). Poetry and fiction rely on senses to appeal to readers.
In conclusion, since our world has become increasingly “man made” we are getting better at creating things which appeal to us best. This makes sense from an anthological perspective since space has primitive usage for survival. Besides that, our space is a reflect of other culturally designed concepts such as those dealing with prejudice and class status- we are in a sense picky of who we share our environment with. For instance, I know that when my parents were buying our house one of their main concerns was to find a safe neighborhood and they liked the fact that ours was very middle class suburban and had plenty of other Russian people around because those are the types of people they want to be next to. It made them feel that they are doing the right thing by picking a safe place to raise kids and they had the advantage of being around people of similar interests who can always help out when needed. Therefore, many of the factors in Hall’s book are applicable to my personal experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment