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Personal Space and Privacy: Critical Appraisal

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“An area with invisible boundaries surrounding a person’s body into which intruders may not come” – Robert Sommer.

When someone’s personal space have been invaded, loss of privacy happens. Alan Furman Westin define privacy as an individual rights on how, when and what information about them should be communicate to others. Solitude, intimacy, anonymity and reserve are the four states of privacy that Westin identified. When one subject to the solitude, they are seeking privacy to be alone and away from everyone. When in the Intimacy state, an individual interact/socialize in a small group in an relaxed atmosphere which brings out their self-confidence and self-identity. Anonymity state is when someone is physically present but does not wish to be known by not interacting/socializing and engaging with others. Finally when an individual limit their interaction with the others they are in the reserve state.

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Proxemic Zones

Research studies by Edward Twitchell Hall, Jr have shown how cultural, social, personality, environmental dimensions, behavior and illumination could influence an individual personal space which is used to regulate their privacy. Hall describes personal space as an invisible bubble that can be large or small. This invisible bubble have four different size and is defined by distance, which he called it proxemic zones varying across cultural, social, personality and environmental dimensions. Proxemic zones include intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance.

Intimate zones are between 15-45 centimeters which is the most important zones to everyone which is highly protected. It is only for those who they are emotionally attached to, which includes their Parents, siblings, lovers, spouse, children, relatives and close friends to enter. Personal zones (Friend zone) are between 46cm-1.22m, this is the distance were people stand between their acquaintance during friendly interactions during gatherings or social events/functions. Social zones are between 1.22-3.6m, this distance is for interaction with strangers or people whom you are not familiar with. Public zones distance are over 3.6m which is a comfortable distance people chose to stand when they are giving a speech to a large scale of crowd.

Hall also proposed that different cultures have different styles of personal space. Where in a research done by scientists across the world which intention is to find out how culture, wealth and even weather affect our personal space. This study includes 8,943 people from across 42 countries. According to the results, British people keep a meter away from a stranger (Social Zone), 80cm from their acquaintance (Personal Zone) and 50cm away from a close friend (Intimate Zone). Argentinians prefer to keep a distance of 76cm away from a stranger (Social Zone), 59cm away from their acquaintance (Personal Zone) and 40cm away for a close friend (Intimate zone). This shows the contrast between both countries practicing different cultural. The researchers conclude that the idea of personal space is universal, It is also important to get the distant right in order to not invade others personal space. Environment and behavior relationship.

To Irwin Altman central to understanding environment and behavior relationships; it provides the key link among the concepts of crowding, territorial behaviors and personal space. Altman define Personal space as a mechanism privacy regulation; those mechanism includes verbal mechanism, paraverbal mechanism, non-verbal mechanism, environmental mechanisms and cultural mechanism. Verbal mechanism incorporates the utilization of words to convey one’s personal thoughts, opinion and desire. Paraverbal mechanism refers to how people convey their words, which allude the way people feel such as the tone of one’s voice, their pitch and the speed they discourse. Non-verbal mechanism uses one’s body language to communicate for example, one’s facial expression, gestures, eye contact, posture. Gestures like glaring, leaning away, moving away are nonverbal behavior which can be used to protect one’s privacy and personal space to prevent it from being invaded.

Environmental mechanism privacy includes self-presentation, personal space and territory. Self-presentation with the use of clothing to express themselves can suggest one’s approachability, acceptance or dissatisfaction of a particular social situation. Personal space as a mechanism of privacy regulation allow one to decide if they want to interact with others or to avoid any interaction with anyone. Territorial mechanism uses physical space to control the level privacy and provide identity and security. Cultural mechanism of privacy includes psychological barriers and physical barriers. Some cultures practice psychological barriers by not expressing one’s feelings towards others, talking softly or allowing individual autonomy to protect their privacy. Other cultures may use physical barriers instead of psychological barriers like dividing up their interior spaces to ensure privacy within a group or family. Being isolated or being with others for a long period is not advisable as one needs to have their own privacy and also social interaction balanced. Physical environments can help or obstruct people in finding solitude and their territory. One have to go to a different place for the privacy they require, but instead of that why can’t we be in the same place that serve different function which changes according to our needs? Why not design a practical and responsive environment which allows the state of solitude and companionship, contact or absence of contact with others to be accessed easily in a space/place. The most common example used is Japanese homes where Sliding door, movable partition and portable partition are used to divide up the space for different function, occasion and events. Those are, Fusuma a sliding door made up with wooden frames covered with opaque paper, Shoji a translucent sliding door or partition made with wooden lattices and translucent paper and lastly Byobu or Tsuitate, Byobu are portable folding partition arranged in a zigzag manner to allow the panel to stand without any support, Tsuitate are stand-alone partition supported by legs and both comes in different sizes. These partitions, sliding door also allow them to control the level of privacy needed with its opacity and sizes. This portray the practical and responsive environment where the same place serve different function and have it change to our needs, rather than our changing needs require us to change our location.

While some of us could afford and have access to such luxury of space to fulfill our needs of privacy, Some couldn’t. In Hong Kong, families with average or low income stays in a “Coffin apartment” or “cage home”. Due to the limited amount of land they have to build housing on and the skyrocketed cost of property, Some families are forced to live in a small tiny cramped space. All function in a house for example, sleeping, cooking, eating, living room are cramped into a bedroom size apartment (which they called it coffin apartment) without and room for privacy and personal space.

The photos above show the “coffin apartment” which Li Suet-wen live in with her two children, her son, 6 and her daughter 8. This “coffin apartment” is only 120-square foot and inside it contains a bunk bed, small couch, fridge, washing machine and a small table along with their other possessions. The photos below also shows similar situation where families lives in a “coffin apartment” and have everything cramped inside it. Where any form of privacy or personal space are not allowed due to the limited space they have.

The other “cage home” are cages stack upon cages with only a piece of plywood dividing it in one small apartment. They are strangers resorting to this sort of living situation due to differing reasons. They are only provided with a cage for which they have to store their personal possessions and to sleep in it. All occupants are less than one metre apart which is in the intimate zone or social zone looking back at the proxemic zone which doesn’t allow privacy and personal space with all the different activity happening in that apartment could be heard loud and clear. With all the information above about Privacy, Personal space environment, Proxemic zones, etc. The intent is Restoring theirs individual privacy and personal space while improving their living condition in a practical and responsive environments with a change of location. Instead of it being on land, it will either be in mid-air, on the sea or under the sea. Each individual would have their own bubble enough to store their possessions, space to sleep and do their daily activity in while also having ample privacy and personal space to enjoy and do what they want without having to endure other loud noise and activity that is going on cramped around them.

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