Humans pass on knowledge about time, not learn it from nature – Nowotny.


Helga Nowotny asserts that an historical perspective regarding social time is exhibited in work of Norbert Elias, for whom knowledge about time is not connected to an invariant part of nature. Instead, time-knowledge is passed down via generations of humans, in which time-standards are both created, and made durable. 

The formation of time concepts and the making of time measurements, i.e. the production of devices as well as their use and social function, become for him [Norbert Elias] a problem of social knowledge and its formation. It is couched in the long-term perspective of evolution of human societies. Knowledge about time is not knowledge about an invariant part or object of nature. Time is not a quality inherent in things, nor invariant across human societies. Nor is it solely the result of a specific human capacity for concept formation in the sense of creating ever more abstract synthetic concepts. It is also a capacity inherent in the societal evolutionary process, connected to the ability of learning and the passing on of knowledge to the next generation about how to order events both in sequence and in synchrony. But at the same time this remarkable capacity is also ‘creating’ and ‘setting time’ which then is felt as exerting a compelling influence upon actors (Nowotny 1992, 436-37).

Nowotny, Helga. 1992. “Time and social theory: Towards a social theory of time.” Time & society 1(3): 421-54.

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