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Urban space and power: part 2

Personal spaces


The main contributions that have highlighted the personal and social processes of territoriality can be traced to environmental psychology, anthropological research and urban sociology.

An effective definition to describe human territoriality is the one formulated by Sack according to which "territoriality is a spatial strategy to affect, influence or control resources and people through the control of an area. In geographical terms it is a form of spatial behavior".

For Sack, territoriality is based on two main forms of spatial relationship: action to access and territoriality as control of a space.

Territoriality can therefore be interpreted as an access or control strategy. It is therefore a power of spatial control, exercised on a personal and social group level through territorial behaviors and strategies.

Personal territoriality is the main tool available to an individual to regulate his or her privacy, where this concept can be defined as the central regulatory process through which a person becomes more or less accessible and open to others.

From a social point of view privacy can be understood as a subspecies of the 'private' category. If the notion of 'private' includes the idea of ​​privilege and private property is a property against which some individuals have privileged access, the distinctive trait of the notion of 'privacy' is that of limited or bounded or privileged cognitive access .

From a territorial point of view, privacy is understood as the process of controlling the interpersonal distance with which a person or a social group regulates interaction with others.

People always try to reach desired levels of privacy using behavioral mechanisms such as verbal strategies, non-verbal uses of the body, environmental behaviors and culturally defined rules and practices.

Ultimately the concept of privacy provides an explanatory key to explain above all the concepts of personal space and territorial behavior or territoriality.

Personal space is the invisible sphere that constantly surrounds the individual in the different activities and daily social relationships, and that widens and shrinks according to the different social situations in which the person is inserted.


The concept of personal space was developed by authors such as Sommer, Hall and Goffman to indicate the regulatory processes of distance between the self and the Other, in different situations and environmental and cultural contexts.

In the study of social psychologist Robert Sommer personal space can be defined as an area with invisible boundaries that surrounds the person's body, within which strangers cannot enter. Sommer mainly focused on studying personal space in small groups ("small group ecology") and in particular environments ("man-environment systems") such as psychiatric hospitals, school classes, colleges.

One of the main results of his work was to describe the ways in which the internal organization of spaces affects the social influence of people, ie the processes according to which our behaviors are more or less conditioned by the physical presence of others.

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