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Proxemics: Territoriality

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We’ve all experienced violations to our personal space, whether it be that awkward situation when someone is standing a little too close to you, someone yelling across the library, or even someone taking our favorite seat in class. Consequently, we have all felt that sense of discomfort that results from our territorial encroachments. In this post I will be discussing proxemics in the sense of territoriality, territorial markers, and the reactions to the encroachments.

Territoriality is a specific form of proxemics that refers to how people use space to communicate ownership/occupancy of areas and possessions. The territoriality of an individual can be broken down into three basic geographic areas: primary, secondary, and public territory. Primary territory is an individual’s exclusive domain, which consists of his or her personal belongings including his or her laptop, backpack, house, or even bedroom. Secondary territory signals a person’s affiliation with a certain area or object, such as his or her favorite bar, restaurant, or a particular seat in class. Public territory refers to the territory that is not owned by the individual, but is open to all. An example of this would be a local dog park within a city (Proxemic Communication).

People take measures to protect their territory. Some measures are fairly small and subtle while others are more direct and intentional. The common ways people protect their perceived space can be classified as central markers, boundary markers, and ear markers. Central markers would include placing your book bag or jacket in the seat next to you so that no one will sit next there. Boundary markers would be the fence between your house and your neighbor. Earmarkers would include marking your belongings with your initials, such as on your clothes (Tylee).

The actions people take to ensure their space demonstrates that they care about their space, which means any encroachments or violations to their space usually result in defensive behaviors. The four customary reactions are withdrawal, insulation, turf defense, and linguistic collusion. An individual might withdraw and just simply move away. If the individual chooses insulation, they will build boundaries with the encroacher. Turf defense would encompass the owner expelling the encroacher. Linguistic collusion is the most extreme reaction. Linguistic collusion would include verbally assaulting the encroacher to make him or her feel unwanted and unwarranted (Hale). The video below is an advertisement for a European airline, but it clearly demonstrates territorial encroachment and the reactions to personal space violations.

As you can clearly see, people are territorial and want their personal space respected. After reading this blog, I hope you have been informed on proxemic encroachments. The next time someone violates your personal space, you’ll be able to assess the situation and have an appropriate reaction.


Works Cited

Hale, David. “Non-Verbal Communication: Withdrawal, Insulation, and Turf Defense.” Ezine Articles 24 Dec. 2010: n. pag. Ezine Web. 6 Dec. 2011 <­Verbal-­Communication:-­Withdrawal,-­Insulation,-­and-­Turf-­Defense&id=5610001&gt;.

“Proxemic Communication.” Changing Minds. Org. Changing Minds, 2011. Web. 6 Dec 2011. <;.

Tylee, Jennifer. “Non-Verbal Communication: Paralinguistics, Space and Touch.” Editorial. Education 4 Skills. Com. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec 2011. <;.


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