Territoriality (nonverbal communication)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Territory (disambiguation).

Territoriality is a term associated with nonverbal communication that refers to how people use space to communicate ownership/occupancy of areas and possessions (Beebe, Beebe & Redmond 2008, p. 209). The anthropological concept branches from the observations of animal ownership behaviors. We can consider that this personal space is like a bubble that one doesn't want invaded.

An example of demonstrating territoriality might be the car size. Driving a large truck like the Ford F350 might be communicating that a value of owning a lot of space on the highway. However, driving a small car like the Smart, then might be communicating no need to occupy so much space. Another example is students as they sit in class. Some students like to spread their backpack and books out in a way to let other students know that they don't want others to sit next to them. These students obviously value having a lot of space that they don't have to share. On the other hand, some students keep their books and bags close to them, making others aware that they don't have a problem sharing the space around them with other students.

Territoriality can also be associated with states or nations. Government and social ideas are also associated with Territoriality. A nation state can establish common ideals amongst its citizens which lead to territoriality. Nationalism is an example of this. National pride, common religious practices, and politics all play a role in a state's territoriality.

An example of this would be the conflict in Northern Ireland. Ireland is a Catholic nation and England is a Protestant one. Many Irishman don't want Northern Ireland to be a part of a non-catholic nation. Territory disputes in this area have been justified by religion. This is an example of how religion can play a strong role in territoriality.

According to author Julia T. Wood, "men go into women's spaces more than women enter men's spaces" (Wood 2007, p. 144). With this in mind, we can understand that men typically have a stronger sense of ownership and are more likely to challenge others' boundaries. People respond to invasion of territory in different ways depending on what their comfort norms are. Wood (2007) presents three common responses:

  1. When someone moves too close for comfort, you might step away, giving up your territory. This reaction is typical of feminine people.
  2. When people have to fit into close spaces, they often look down as a submissive way of showing that they are not trying to invade others' territories.
  3. When someone moves too close, you might refuse to give up your territory. This reaction is typical of masculine people.

The term stimulated Edward T. Hall to create the word proxemics, which refers to how people use space, but not necessarily how people communicate ownership (Beebe, Beebe & Redmond 2008, p. 209).

See also[edit]


  • Beebe, S.A.; Beebe, S.J.; Redmond, M.V. (2008). Interpersonal Communication: 5th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education. 
  • Wood, J.T. (2007). Gendered Lives: 7th Edition. Belmont, CA: Holly J. Allen.