Thursday, June 11, 2009

Proxemics & Low/High Context Culture

Most cultures have fundamental principles and ideas that set them apart. Some are considered to be high or low context cultures based on their system of expressive practices in which messages are conveyed, norms are displayed, and beliefs are set. For the most part, these utterances are extremely important. Misinterpretation or misrepresentation can be very obscene to some degree. High context cultures are more traditionally rigid to these practices. As in most low context cultures, typical Americans greeting are “Hi, how are you doing”, and may vary from time to time, but in some countries like Nigeria, a simple greeting can take a whole set of rituals such as bowing, kneeling, lying on the ground, asking about the person’s health, well-being, each family member by name to suffice. In both, messages are encoded with large amount of information that are contextually contained or indirectly stated primarily in high context cultures. Those of low context cultures are more directly spoken or explicit. People in high context culture settings are trained to let in implied meanings arising from the body language, relational cues, or shared understandings (Michelle Lebaron). Low context culturally oriented people pay attention more to the literal meanings of words. In addition, low context cultures that are more individualistic and focusing on the future instead of the past. Personally, I believe that both contexts can coexist. Generally, there are times direct communication is most appropriate and times when it is preferable to use layers of meanings to save face, spare feelings, or allow for diffuse interpretations (Mihelle Lebaron). Consequently, no cultures or contextual cultures are better than the others. Proxemics is the study of one’s perception and behavior in relation to spatial distance in interaction. When one is alone, space is limitless. But most cultures set boundaries for personal, business and public interactions. In the United states, as oppose to Japan or Saudi Arabia which have almost no bearing on individual space, the personal space ranges from 2 to 4 feet and reserved for family members and friends, the business space is 4 to 10 feet used for business associates and acquaintances, and public space ranges from 12 to 25 feet which is considered the distance between a public speaker and the audience. Any violation of such spatial distance may result malaise, defensive gestures, swift in posture, panic, and moving away. Cultural differences play a major role in proxemics because in Latin America and some other countries, people have no problem sharing close space. This perception is a good model of high and low context culture differences. This information is very important to someone who is looking to become a teacher. It instills knowledge that will empower and equip him/her for any multicultural settings or developments. The understanding and awareness of high and low context cultures and proxemics can serve as tools to identifying cultural differences in our social spectrum and the instructional impact they can have on a diverse classroom.

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