Social distance

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In sociological proxemics, social distance describes the differentiated behavior between two actors .


Social distance can be based on distinguishing features in belonging to castes , classes , strata , power elites or social milieus . This can result in different behaviors: One behavior can e.g. B. to be respectful , disparaging, cool and regulated. In contrast, there are intimate , informal and consensual behaviors. This contrast is used analytically in structuralism , for example in family sociology .

If a person does not pay attention to social distance, one also speaks of lack of distance .

Normally, normal and established members of a society maintain a social distance from the marginalized such as the mentally ill, the disabled, beggars and the homeless. This includes avoiding direct contact, communication restricted to formal situations (assistance, authority) and ignoring and overlooking in everyday life. A way of distancing yourself in the linguistic (e.g. towards strangers) is the Siezen .

In postmodern society, the formerly sharp dividing lines between classes and strata are becoming blurred. It develop individualized living environments , some of the use of local, regional or ethnic affiliations new, distinct against outsiders, distanced identity specials ( " parallel societies provide"). Through a vertical culture transfer , individual cultural techniques are exchanged . New boundaries of social distance between different professional groups, towards strangers or new marginalized groups are also emerging.

Spatial distance in psychology / social psychology

The short spatial distance plays a central role in some classic psychological examinations.

  • So was Stanley Milgram out (see: Milgram experiment ) that the proximity of subject and supervisor (played in the attempt) meant that the obedience was more pronounced than in non-presence of the supervisor. Spatial proximity in this sense promotes the (required) social subordination.
  • The research by René Spitz (see Hospitalism ) clearly shows that the presence of adult caregivers is beneficial for the socialization of the child. Frequent absence of adults gives rise to various diseases (deficits) that are serious for the development of the child. (See also: Attachment Theory )
  • In Harry Harlow's studies it became clear that young monkeys specifically seek out the soft body of adult monkeys (or alternatively the so-called “cloth mother”; the mother substitute). According to Harlow, young monkeys need this closeness in order to become animals with normal social behavior.

Spatial distancing in medicine / virology

Spatial as opposed to social distance: Maintaining a spatial distance from other people plays a role , especially in medical virology, as a measure to prevent or slow down the spread of infectious diseases. The physical distance between people generally prevents the transmission of viruses and bacteria.

See: spatial distancing


Especially in psychological studies on prejudice and discrimination research, so-called social distance measures are used to measure the willingness to contact other people or members of different social groups - and thus also indirectly prejudices.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Andreas Ackermann: The own and the foreign: hybridity, diversity and cultural transfers. In: Friedrich Jaeger, Jörn Rüsen (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften. Volume 3, Stuttgart / Weimar 2004, ISBN 3-476-01959-4 , pp. 138-154.
  2. K. Paulsen, P. Balch: A note on the assessment of ethnic attitudes in preschool children. In: Journal of Community Psychology. 12, 1984, pp. 288-290.