Thesis subject

Distancing practices and the Covid-19 regime; proxemics and the redefinition of social space

One of the universal measures during the Covid-19 pandemic is distancing, a recommended or obligatory space between individuals of 1, 1.5 or 2 metres. As the pandemic progressed, it became increasingly clear that distancing was problematic in many situations and by some even considered impossible. Although the measure is formulated in clear and simple physical units, the common term for it, social distancing, refers to social spaces and patterns of social interaction within such spaces.

A remarkable feature of the social distancing measures is that scientific justification and research primarily focuses on the epidemiological grounds, measuring distances covered by droplets and small particles, potentially containing viral loads, when breathing, coughing or singing. There is much less research on the social component, when and in what conditions do people maintain what kind of distance, what social norms guide such distances, how are these norms maintained and communicated? And what is the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on our ‘normal’ understanding and practice of social distance?

The topic of social distancing is studied since the 1950s. Anthropologist Edward Hall coined the term proxemics for it. He used public distance, social distance, personal distance and intimate distance as distinct categories common to all cultures but with varying  ways in which these categories worked out within and between cultures. In the current Covid-19 crisis there is a dearth of proper sociological studies of distancing. Your master thesis can provide a significant contribution to this unexplored terrain!

A social study of distancing can be taken up in the immediate environment of the Wageningen campus or other settings accessible to you as a researcher. The study aims to combine a literature study of proxemics and related social science approaches to distancing. The topic is relevant for students in International Development (MID), Development and Rural Innovation (MDR), Communication, Health and Life Sciences (MCH) and students from other programmes with sufficient social science background.