30 September 2008


Questions of spatiality and the cognition of space--from the personal to the social to the global--are sites of considerable theorization and public discourse. A recent example is the attention given to the geographic imagination of Gov. Sarah Palin, in the way she imagines Russia as spatially close to Alaska (which then supposedly gives her some foreign policy expertise!). We can say that she cognitively imagines Russia as close, even though the core area of that country (in the European part) is actually about 12 time zones away from Alaska.

You might recall some of the hotly discussed topics (ca 1970) around the theories of Robert Ardrey (books: African Genesis, The Hunting Hypothesis, and The Territorial Imperative) about the origins and nature of humans. He popularized the ideas that humans descended from killer apes, supposedly making us "naturally" aggressive and territorial. Ardrey was controversial from the beginning (actually, he was reformulating earlier theories). Still, I think we can say that humans, to varying degrees, are, or can be, territorial.

Western society, already, in past centuries, had become individuated, even atomized, in its manifestation of individual use of space. This can be seen in how homes are now set up as individual, separate units. Previously, in medieval Europe, homes were much more public, more like pubs. Compare this to the Yanomami (the "fierce people" of the Venezuelan-Brazilian border area), who live as whole villages under single roofs--a toroid-shape structure (think of an auto tire or a hollowed-out doughnut) without partitions between family units. They have no privacy, as we think of it.

The interpersonal space that each of us maintains around us is called proxemics: the human use of space within the context of culture. (This is the term anthropologist Edward T. Hall developed in The Hidden Dimension [1966].) For example, Americans want to maintain a more distanced interpersonal, public (as distinguished from private, intimate) space. Have you had the experience of culturally-different others standing way too close for your (psychic) comfort?

Our need to control space can manifest at work and/or at home (or on highways: road rage!). Some people obviously have a high need to control their space and boundaries. There are social influences in society today for our need to control our space, but there is probably some personal, psychological etiology to abnormal territoriality.

But, I'm wondering whether today we are developing a greater psychic need for personal control of space and concern for personal borders at a time of increasing social and personal deterritorialization of our experience of space, brought about by"distant proximities" (far places experienced proximally) and "space-time compression" (annihilation of time and distance through technologies of communication and travel).

My idea is that as we experience increasing distanciation (social science term for personal connectivity to distant places, objects, people, events), we have a greater psychic need for--I'll have to coin a neologism here--proximatization, or the experience of maintaining a microspatial home territory with definite borders. In other words, as spatiality goes global, we are becoming more concerned with our personal microspace. Today, this is about the only thing we have any hope of controlling.

No comments: