Organisation and Management:

Prof. Dr. Veronika Lipphardt, University College Freiburg, University Freiburg PD Dr. Dmitri Zakharine, University College Freiburg, University Freiburg

deutsche Fassung / german version

full length version (english)


The spread of Covid-19 has widely challenged deep-rooted notions of how close one can get. With more than a third of the world’s population in lockdown, mastering loneliness, learning physical distance, and interacting on the condition of reduced bodily contact become the today’s skills in demand. The right choice of interpersonal distance starts being viewed as a premise of survival.

Mathematical theories modeling the spread of infectious diseases (such as SIS/SIR) gene- rally do not take different kinds of bodily distance or spatial behavior into account, as their main focus is on the independent time variables. Modeling of infections, as in the case of Covid-19, proceeds under the assumption that the longer the exposure time, the higher the chances of getting infected, and that infection risks are lower for those who interact “from a distance”. But what this means is not sufficiently clarified by the numbers confusingly ranging between 1 meter (WHO) and 8,2 meters (Journal of the American Medical Association). Up to date, medical regulations associating bodily distance with the risk of contamination remain sweeping, generalized and devoid of any qualitative differentiation.

It is therefore indispensable to explore and to take into consideration different types of proxe- mic behavior in order to obtain the best predictions regarding the effects and side effects of medical regulations related to bodily contacts. It will become even more important for the fu- ture to effectively verify research approaches given the fact that proxemic behavior is subject to change in the time of epidemics, migration and global heating.

We hope to achieve results that can help experts to improve or contextualize the results of mathematical modeling, to support state authorities to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and to communicate appropriately to specific communities, and to better understand, anticipate and handle the distancing aspects in future epidemics.

Our Approach:

In comparison to the US, Germany lags behind regarding research in cultural differences of proxemics behavior. This is regrettable, given the fact that roughly a quarter of Germany’s in- habitants comes from a so-called “migrational background”. We aim at interviewing as many participants as possible on what they perceive as changes in proxemic behavior, on their side and on the side of others.  Under the current circumstances, we opt for a ‘mixed methodology’ as the main strategy. The project is going to combine 1) qualitative and 2) quantitative approaches, laying particular emphasis on 1a) interviews (expert, non-expert, semi-guided); 1b) participatory observation; 1c) discourse and document analysis of complementary sources (e.g. guidelines, signs, conduct books, websites, recommendations used for intercultural purposes); and 2a) survey taking; 2b) statistical data evaluation; 2c) testing the effect of proxemic variables on modeling and simulating epidemic spread.