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Edward t. Hall

1. The Hidden Dimension (Anchor Press Doubleday, New York, 1969, 217 p.)

p. 1. Culture as Communication

The central theme of this book is social and personal space and man’s perception of it. Proxemics is the term I have coined for the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture.

The concepts developed here did not originate with me. Over fifty-three years ago, Franz Boas laid the foundation of the view which I hold that communication constitutes the core of culture and indeed of life itself. In the twenty years that followed, Boas and two other anthropologists, Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield, speakers of the Indo-European languages, were confronted with the radically different languages of the American Indians and the Eskimos. The conflict between these two different language systems produced a revolution concerning the nature of language itself.

2. Beyond Culture (Anchor Press/Doubleday, New York, 1977, 298 p.)


There are two related crises in today’s world. The first and most visible is the population/environment crisis. The second, more subtle but equally lethal, is humankind’s relationships to its extensions, institutions, ideas, as well as the relationships among the many individuals and groups that inhabit the globe.

If both crises are not resolved, neither will be. …even those technical solutions that can be applied to environmental problems can’t be applied rationally until mankind transcends the intellectual limitations imposed by our institutions, our philosophies, and our cultures. Compounding all of this is the reality of politics.

Politics is a major part of life. (…) Apart from power, culture still plays a prominent visible role in the relations between Russians and the West, for example. Culture has always been an issue, not only between Europe and Russia, (p. 2) but among the European states as well. The Germans, the French, the Italians, the Spanish, Portuguese, and English, as well as the Scandinavian and Balkan cultures, all have their own identity, language, systems of nonverbal communication, material culture, history, and ways of doing things. (…) In all these crises, the future depends on man’s being able to transcend the limits of individual cultures. To do so, however, he must first recognize and accept the multiple hidden dimensions of unconscious culture, because every culture has its own hidden, unique form of unconscious culture.

p. 5. Certainly, there are tremendous areas of conflict between Western man and his material, and nonmaterial extensions. By creating extensions that don’t fit or don’t work, humans have failed to develop some of the most important aspects of their own psychic and physical potential.

p. 7. We can grow, swell with pride, and breathe better for having so many remarkable talents. To do so, however, we must stop ranking both people and talents and accept the fact that there are many roads to truth and no culture has a corner on the path or is better equipped than others to search for it. Furthermore, no man can tell another how to conduct that search.

p. 8. 1. The Paradox of Culture

…the natural act of thinking is greatly modified by culture; Western man uses only a small fraction of his mental capabilities; there are many different and legitimate ways of thinking; we in the West value one of these ways above all others-the one we call “logic”, a linear system that has been with us since Socrates.

Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan, both in public utterances and in their writings, have distinguished between two different ways of thinking. McLuhan talks about linear and non-linear thinking. Fuller about comprehensive and non-comprehensive thinking. The distinction popularized by McLuhan and Fuller is also made by less widely known but highly respected academicians.

p. 12. Yet, paradoxically, few anthropologists are in agreement as to what to include under the general rubric of culture. While it will be denied by some, much depends on the anthropologist’s own culture, which exerts a deep and abiding influence not only over how anthropologists think but over where they draw the boundaries in such matters.

p. 13. Anthropologists use predominantly non-mathematical theoretical models that are rooted in culture. Since culture is itself a series of situational models for behavior and thought, the models anthropologists use are frequently highly abstract versions of models that make up the entire culture (kinship systems, for example).

By using models, we see and test how things work and can even predict how things will go in the future.

p. 14. All theoretical models are incomplete. By definition, they are abstractions and therefore leave things out. What they leave out is as important as… what they do not, because it is what is left out that gives structure and form to the system.

In constructing their models of culture, most anthropologists take into account that there are different levels of behavior: overt and covert, implicit and explicit, things you talk about and things you do not. Also, that there is such a thing as the unconscious, although few are in agreement as to the degree to which the unconscious is influenced by culture. The psychologist Jung, for example, hypothecated a “collective” unconscious that was shared by all mankind (a concept many anthropologists might have trouble accepting).

Anthropologists have studied only those things people could or would talk to them about, with the result that many of the important things – culture patterns that make life meaningful and really differentiate one group from another – have gone unnoticed or been unreported and brushed aside as trivial. … It is not enough to say that the French believe this and the Spanish believe that. (p. 15) Beliefs can change. Beneath the clearly perceived, highly explicit surface culture, there lies a whole other world, which when understood well ultimately radically change our view of human nature. Writing forty years ago, the linguist Sapir started the ball rolling by demonstrating that in language (an important part of culture) man created an instrument that is quite different from what is commonly supposed. He states:

The relation between language and experience is often misunderstood … it actually defines experience for us by reason of its formal completeness and because of our unconscious projection of its implicit expectations into the field of experience. … Language is much like a mathematical system, which … becomes elaborated into a self-contained conceptual system which previsages all possible experience in accordance with certain accepted formal limitations. …Categories such as number, gender, case, tense, mode, voice, “aspect” and a host of others … are not so much discovered in experience as imposed upon it. … (italics added) Sapir, 1931.

Sapir’s work, which predates McLuhan by thirty-five years, not only makes a stronger, more detailed case than McLuhan that “the media is the message”, but can be extended to include other cultural systems as well.

The usefulness of Sapir’s model was demonstrated in a practical way by Kluckhohn and Leighton in their pioneering book The Navajo, which illustrates the difficulties the verb-oriented Navajo children experienced when they attended white schools and were confronted by English – a loosely structured, adjective language.

p. 16. Having lived and dealt with Navajos for a number of years, I have no doubt not only that they think very differently from the white man, but that much of this difference is at least initially traceable to their language. Working with other cultural systems, I have found evidence that it is not just in language that one finds such constraints, but elsewhere as well…

My emphasis is on the nonverbal, unstated realm of culture.

Nevertheless, and in spite of many differences in detail, anthropologists do agree on three characteristics of culture: it is not innate, but learned; the various facets of culture are interrelated – you touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected; it is shared and in effect defines the boundaries of different groups.

Culture is man’s medium; there is not one aspect of human life that is not touched and altered by culture. This means personality, how people express themselves (including shows of emotions), the way they think, how they move, how problems are solved, how their cities are planned and laid out, how transportation systems function and are organized, as well as how economic and government systems are put together and function. (p. 17) However, like the purloined letter, it is frequently the most obvious and taken-for-granted and therefore the least studied aspects of culture that influence behavior in the deepest and most subtle ways.

As a case in point, let us examine how white Americans are captives of their own time and space systems – beginning with time. American time is what I have termed “monochronic”; that is, Americans, when they are serious, usually prefer to do one thing at a time, and this requires some kind of scheduling, either implicit or explicit. Not all of us conform to monochronic norms. Nevertheless, there are social and other pressures that keep most Americans within the monochromic frame. However, when Americans interact with people of foreign cultures, the different time systems cause great difficulty.

Monochronic time (M-time) and polychromic time (P-time) represent two variant solutions to the use of both time and space as organizing frames for activities. Space is included because the two systems (time and space) are functionally interrelated. M-time emphasizes schedules, segmentation, and promptness. P-time systems are characterized by several things happening at once. They stress involvement of people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to preset schedules. P-time is treated as much less tangible than M-time. P-time is apt to be considered a point rather than a ribbon or a road, and that point is sacred (Hall, 1959).

Americans overseas are psychologically stressed in many ways when confronted by P-time systems such as those in Latin America and the Middle East. In the markets and stores of Mediterranean countries, one is surrounded by other customers vying for the attention of a clerk. There is no order as to who is served next, and to the northern European or American, confusion and clamor abound (P-time is nonlinear. Everything happens at once. Some jobs and occupations are more polychromic than monochromic. Whole cultures, such as those encountered in the Middle East and Latin America, are polychromic. Hall, 1959). (p. 18) In a different context, the same patterns apply within the governmental bureaucracies of Mediterranean countries: a cabinet officer, for instance, may have a large reception area outside his private office. There are almost always small groups waiting in this area, and these groups are visited by government officials, who move around the room conferring with each. Much of their business is transacted in public instead of having a series of private meetings in an inner office. Particularly distressing to Americans is the way in which appointments are handled by polychronic people. Appointments just don’t carry the same weight as they do in the United States. Things are constantly shifted around. Nothing seems solid or firm, particularly plans for the future, and there are always changes in the most important plans right up to the very last minute.

p. 30. Descriptive linguists in the tradition of Sapir and Whorf were the first to hint at some of the newer variants on the close relationships between language and thought. Whorf, who was also a chemist and insurance investigator, became initially interested in language because of the frequently disastrous consequences that misuse of words had on people. “Empty” gasoline drums caused fires and explosions; instead of being empty, the drums were “full” of gasoline fumes! Whorf’s greatest contribution to Western thinking lay in his meticulous descriptions of the relationship of language to events in a cross-cultural context. He demonstrated that cultures have unique ways of relating language to reality of all sorts, which can be one of man’s principal sources of information concerning cultural differences. (p. 31) Nothing happens in the world of human beings that is not deeply influenced by linguistic forms. The Hopi, for example, who are rather pragmatic, exacting people, had difficulty understanding the mythical world of Christianity because they had no abstract, empty spaces without reference to other sensory experience. Heaven as a concept just didn’t fit Hopi thought.

While few discoveries are ever really lost, Whorf, a hundred years ahead of his time, carved out an entire field, which has, sadly, been abandoned. His work, as well as that of his mentor, Edward Sapir, while not currently fashionable, was truly brilliant and opened up entire new vistas concerning the incredible diversity of mankind. However, in spite of their brilliance, both Whorf and Sapir apparently fell into the ET (extension transference is the term I have given to this common intellectual maneuver in which the extension is confused with or takes the place of the process extended) trap. That is, they believed that language was thought. In a sense, they were correct if one looks only at the incredible influence that language exerts on thought. To escape this particular trap, we must take into consideration people such as Einstein, who did not think with words, but in visual and even muscular terms…

p. 37. The exciting thing about mathematics and science and music and literature is what they can tell us about the workings of the human mind.

p. 38. The study of man is a study of his extensions.

p. 39. The danger is that real-life problems are dismissed while philosophical and theoretical systems are treated as real. I see this every day in my students. It has been my experience that after students have spent sixteen or more years in our education system they have been so brainwashed that it is impossible to get them to go out and simply observe and report back what they heard, what they felt, or what went on before their eyes.

If people are to live wisely on this planet, they must be more aware of how different kinds extensions work and the influence they exert upon us. For instance, the way in which information is stored in a given social system and how it flows influences how mechanical extensions are integrated. In cultures in which people are deeply involved with each other, and cultures such as the American Indian, in which information is widely shared – what we will term high-context cultures – simple messages with deep meaning flow freely. Such cultures are likely to be overwhelmed by mechanical systems and lose their integrity. The low-context cultures, those highly individualized, somewhat alienated, fragmented cultures such as the Swiss and the German, in which there is relatively little involvement with people, can apparently absorb and use man’s mechanical extensions without losing their cultural integrity. In these cultures people become more and more like their machines.

p. 40. There was a time (two to four million years ago) when man’s extensions were limited to a few crude tools and the rudiments of language. Man’s basic nature has changed very little since then. All of culture is a complex system of extensions. Therefore, culture is subject to the ET syndrome and all that it implies. That is, culture is experienced as man, and vice versa. What is more, man is frequently seen as a pale reflection of his culture or as a shoddy version that never quite measures up, and man’s basic humanness is frequently overlooked or repressed in the process.

From now on, how one arrives at a definition of the relationship of man’s basic nature to his culturally conditioned control systems is of crucial importance. For in our shrinking globe man can ill afford cultural illiteracy.

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