- Proxemics, kinesics, and artifacts

Contact/low contact nonverbal communication

Proxemics can be one criteria for the classification of nonverbal communication: We talk about contact and low-contact communication. Proximity is communicated, for instance, through the use of space, distance, touching, and body position. The use of space, the physical distance between people, and the options for touch are closely related and culture specific. Hall distinguishes four types of informal distances: public, social-consultative, personal and intimate distance. Personal distance is common in communication between friends. Social-consultative distance is used in professional and unofficial social occasions. People from different cultural backgrounds can for example value personal space differently.

Gestures, facial expressions, body language, eye contact (kinesics)

Certain nonverbal means of communication indicate immediacy, expressiveness, warmth and willingness to contact. In addition to touching and physical proximity, such signals are, for instance, eye contact, smiling, and body position.

Eye contact is a powerful means of nonverbal communication. Its use is culturally regulated but in general people are not aware of the rules or their own eye contact behaviour. Eye contact can be a source of interpretations and attributions. Based on eye contact, someone can be perceived as aggressive, disrespectful, or flirtatious, depending on the culture.

Clothing, artifacts, living environments

The "material culture," that is, how we live, what we carry with us, and how we dress have been traditional focuses of anthropology and ethnology. Increasingly, however, attention has been paid to these issues also in intercultural communication, and related areas such as intercultural marketing. Cultural meaning of colours, and the change of meanings within a culture, for instance, have been studied from marketing point of view. Red has been traditionally one of the favourite colours in Chinese culture because the color represents happiness and wealth. While black in earlier years had not enjoyed popularity among Chinese, today that color, particularly glossy and brilliant black, has turned out to be a colour of luxury. White used to be the colour of sorrow in China; today,  brides dress in white for their weddings. Yet the traditional red might still be present in various shades in decorations, or even as an additional wedding dress to be changed into later during the festivities.

(original text by Liisa Salo-Lee, 2006)


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