narrative-794978_1920.jpg

Eduardo Mendieta observes an historical differentiation between natural time, historical time, and social time. These differences are said to be reducing, however, as the rate at which historical events develop is accelerated. Furthermore, despite an opposition between natural and social constitutions, social time is regulating shorter temporalities for naturally occurring rhythms.

The symbolic deconstruction of time, partly a result of the information revolution discussed above, has lead to a rethinking of the differences among natural, historical, and social time. Social time is the time in which and at which societies experience their lifeworld. Or rather, just as Henri Lefebvre spoke of the “social production of space,” we must also speak of the “social production of time.” This socially produced time is social time; it is the time that punctuates the rhythms of social existence. This is the time that ticks at the sounds of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months. This is the time that keeps track of workdays, academic calendars, and leisure time. This time, however, is timed by clocks and timetables that have been arranged in terms of assumptions, beliefs, and ideologies about how much time constitutes a workday, a work week, how long should persons work in their lifetime, and so on. Like maps, clocks clock only what they have been arranged to clock. The rhythms of social existence, however, intersect with historical and natural time. Historical time has to do with the time in which historical events, forces, processes, and transformations take place. Historical time is the time in which societies and civilizations live and mark their transformations. Historical time, one may say, is punctuated by political revolutions, wars, elections, and technological revolutions that may have accelerated the rhythms of social time. Finally, natural time is the time of nature, of tectonic plates, of seas, of weather patterns, of draughts and floods, of freezing or melting polar ice caps, and other such forces that are punctuated in millennia, in cycles whose regularity or patterns are not discernable because their time span is beyond human time.

What is distinctive about the global condition, at the phenomenological level, is that these three times have began to merge, or seem to have collapsed into each other. Social time has accelerated to such an extent that it has caught up with historical time. Revolutions are lived within decades. Major social transformations occur where entire societies are uprooted and restructured in the blink of the eye. What took centuries, now takes decades, and sometimes a score of years. History is being televised at any given moment, even as its revisionism is aired and posted that same evening. By the same token, historical time seems to have caught up to natural time: The El Niño weather pattern is now part of pedestrian speak. The greenhouse effect is melting the ice caps, and sea levels are rising, regions are turning into desserts, while desserts are turning into irrigated gardens. The cumulative effect is that time has to be symbolically reconstituted. The self-assurance of Cartesian and Newtonian thought that operated on the dependability and seeming immutability of natural and world historical time have to be traded for a type of thinking that will set out from the social productivity of temporality (Mendieta 2007, 21-22).

Mendieta, Eduardo. 2007. Global fragments: Latinamericans, globalizations, and critical theory. Albany: State University of New York Press.

wallpaper-1492818_1920.jpg

Friedel Weinert instructs that in order to comprehend why physical, natural time, is different from human, social time, it must be appreciated that natural units of time pre-exist conventional units of time. Furthermore, Weinert notes how socially convened units of time are based on natural temporalities.

In order to grasp the distinction between physical and human time, it is important to distinguish natural and conventional units of time. Natural units of time are based on periodic processes in nature, which recur after a certain interval. They may be quite imprecise, like the periodic flooding of the Nile, on which the ancient Egyptians based their calendar year; or more regular, like celestial phenomena. Some basic units of time, like the day and the year, are based on natural units of time. For instance, the equatorial rotational period of the Earth is 23 h 56 min and 4.1 s; that of Uranus is 17 h (Zeilik 1988, 508). The tropical year—the time that the Earth needs for one revolution around the sun—has a length of 365, 242,199… days or 365 days, 5 h, 48 min and 46 s (see Moyer 1982; Clemence 1966). But the calendar year has 365 days and 366 in leap years, which gives the calendar year an average length of 365.2425 days. As calendar years cannot have fractional lengths, there will always be a discrepancy between the tropical and the calendar year. This difference led to the replacement of the Julian calendar by the Gregorian calendar (1582). The Gregorian calendar will remain accurate to within one solar day for some 2,417 years. One difficulty with the day and the year, as just defined, is that these units of time are not constant, due to slight irregularities in the motion of the Earth. Historically, this discrepancy has led to calendar reforms and redefinitions of the ‘second’ from a fraction of the rotational period of the Earth around the sun to atomic oscillations.

Whilst physical time is based on such natural units, human time is based on conventional units of time. The 7-day week, introduced by the Romans, the subdivision of the day into 24 h, of the hour into 60 min and of minutes into 60 s, the division of the year into 12 months and the lengths of the months into 30 or 31 days (except February), again introduced by the Romans, are all conventional units of time. They are conventional because they respond to human social needs about time reckoning although there may be no physical processes, to which they correspond. To give an example, the beginning of the year (1st January) is purely conventional, since there is no natural event, which would single out this particular date. Equally the beginning of the day at midnight is a convention. Note, however, that not all such conventions are arbitrary. The equinoxes, the summer and winter solstices correspond to particular positions of the Earth with respect to the sun. Already the Babylonians introduced the 7-day week and named the days of the week, like the Egyptians, according to the sun and the known planets: moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn (Wendorff 1985, 118). The division of the year into 12 months (4000 B.C.) was inspired by the 12 orbits of the moon around the Earth in one tropical year. But this creates a problem of time reckoning because the time between lunar phases is only 29.5 Earth days (Zeilik 1988, 152; Wendorff 1985, 14), but the solar year has 12.368 lunar months. As a consequence, the length of the month is now purely conventional and no longer related to the lunar month. The division of the day into 2 9 12 h is explained by geometrical considerations. During the summer only 12 constellations can be seen in the night sky, which led to the 12 h division of day and night. According to the sexagesimal system, there are 10 h between sunrise and sunset, as indicated by a sundial, to which 2 h are added for morning and evening twilight (see Whitrow 1989, 28–29; Wendorff 1985, 14, 49). When the year and the day are set to start also depends on conventions and social needs. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the year began on July 19 (according to the Gregorian calendar), since this date marked the beginning of the flooding of the Nile (Wendorff 1985, 46). In the late Middle Ages there existed a wide variety of New Year’s days: Central Europe (December 25); France (March 21; changed to 1st January in 1567); British Isles, certain parts of Germany and France (March 25) (Wendorff 1985, 185; Elias 1988, 21f).

Despite these aspects of conventionality, it must be emphasized that the conventional units of time must keep track of natural units of time. For otherwise, conventional units of time will fall out of step with the periodicity of the natural units. The measurement of time is inseparably connected with the choice of certain inertial reference frames, like the ‘fixed’ stars, the solar system, and the expansion of galaxies or atomic vibrations (Clemence 1966, 406–409). It was one of the great discoveries of Greek philosophy to have realized that there exists a link between time and cosmology. The existence of conventional units of time thus presupposes the existence of natural units of time (Weinert 2013, 16-17).

Weinert, Friedel. 2013. The march of time: Evolving conceptions of time in the light of scientific discoveries. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

coins-1726618_1920

Jonathan Martineau describes capitalism’s commodification of time according to measures of commercial value as having alienated humans from the concrete time  that is associated with bodies, emotions, and the ecosystem. In reducing time to calculations of market based exchange value, capitalist, abstract, clock-time, is said to be separate from what is naturally individual about time.

Although I have focused on capitalist abstract clock-time, throughout this study I have kept alive notions of concrete times. I have highlighted the temporal aspect of dynamics of domination and resistance between capitalism’s tendency to commodify – and therefore alienate – time, and the concrete times of human lives and socio-natural processes that resist it. Capitalism’s drive to commodify and alienate time is relentless, and it is expressed in processes occurring all across the social field. Indeed, the drive toward the privatisation of natural resources can be read as an attempt by capital to abstract the concrete times of socio-natural cycles in order to ‘valorise’ them, i.e. to integrate these times in the logic of capital accumulation. In such processes of commodification, the complex cluster of useful labour, socio-natural cycles, human bodies and concrete temporal relationships become means to an end: capital accumulation…Examples such as these with regards to the relationship between humans and a socially mediated nature, between humans and humans, and between humans and their own bodies, illustrate a struggle between capitalism and human lives, of which the temporal dimension deserves more attention from critical scholarship.

Perhaps we can now propose a solution to the modern paradox of time with which we started this enquiry. Why, in a context where time is measured and organised to such an unprecedented degree, is it experienced by us as the most uncontrollable and alien force? The measuring and organising of time is a social need; it is a fundamental component of the organisation of society and also of the reproduction of the human species. However, under the compulsion of class relations, and today of capitalism, social time relations have been serving the interests of dominant powers, often at the expense of the concrete times of exploited or oppressed groups. The power of capital in modern societies has relied heavily on the development and refinement of the measurement and organisation of time to an unprecedented degree. The first purpose of this measurement and organisation, however, is to reproduce the power of capital and to increase the power held by the law of value over social relations, not to enhance the potential of humans as world-making and time-making beings. As such, measured and organised time faces us as an alien structure, coordinating value relations instead of facilitating human relations and contributing to human development.

Measured and organised time therefore goes hand in hand with its alienation in our modern temporal order for the simple reason that time is measured and organised not by us, but by capital, not for us, but for capital. Our times are therefore subject to the imperatives of the law of value. Reclaiming human concrete times of emotions, work, social relationships, human bodies, friendships, love, parenting, childhood, laughter, sleep, childbirth, childrearing, food production, art, the concrete time of our ecosystems, and so on, thus forms an integral part of the reclaiming of our lives and our world. The struggle for ‘decommodification’, to employ a somewhat rebarbative term, also entails a struggle for the decommodification of human and socio-natural concrete times, the end of temporal alienation and of the subjection of human and social lives to the dictates of the capitalist market, capitalist abstract clocktime compulsions and capital accumulation (Martineau 2015, 167-68).

Martineau, Jonathan. 2015. Time, capitalism and alienation: A socio-historical inquiry into the making of modern time. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

child-1073638_1920.jpg

Rita Felski notes that rather than women being restricted to the natural temporality exemplified by maternal cycles, they are actually more preoccupied with a non-natural, cultural time, than men are. This is said to be identifiable in the onus put on women to juggle child-care and work responsibilities.

For example, those who believe that linear time is masculine and cyclical time feminine usually point to the dramatic contrast between the grand narratives of male historical time and the repetitive everyday time of women. This difference then serves as evidence of a vast gendered gulf in temporal experience. Here is an instance of the problem noted by Maurice Bloch: one facet of cultural experience is taken to be exemplary and representative of an entire (gendered) way of life. The part is taken for the whole.

If, however, the daily lives of women are compared to the daily lives of men, the contrast is much more muted. The realm of everyday life simply is repetitive, being largely defined by monotony, routine, and habit. It is the realm of the eternal daily round, of what the French call “métro, boulot, dodo” (metro, work, sleep). The grey-suited commuter waiting for the 6:30 train or the male sports fan glued to the television every Saturday is as much a creature of routine as is any woman. As I argue in chapter 3, the perception that cyclical time is a uniquely female province is highly misleading.

Such a perception arises from the fact that cyclical time is often seen as natural time, and hence the sphere of women. Yet there is nothing particularly natural about the routines through which most people in the West organize their lives: Burger King at 6 p.m., Friends at 8, a weekly trip to Walmart, the church, or the mall. Of course, the idea that cyclical time is natural does contain an important grain of truth. We know that human bodies are programmed to eat, sleep, and get rid of waste at regular intervals and do not cope well with major alterations to these rhythms (think, for example, of the well-documented disorientation of workers required to work irregular shifts). There are clear limits to the adaptability of human bodily rhythms. Yet the organization of such physical needs within everyday life is always an affair of culture, not nature.

Rather than being elemental creatures attuned to natural rhythms, many women nowadays are, if anything, even more preoccupied with time measurement than men. Caught between the conflicting demands of home and work, often juggling child care and frantic about their lack of time, it is women who are clock watchers, who obsess about appointments and deadlines, who view time as a precious commodity to hoard or to spend. Because women’s work at home is unpaid and hence is not translatable into exchange value, scholars have sometimes assumed that it remains outside the modern time economy. Yet the regulation of time pervades all aspects of everyday life and is no longer limited to those engaged in paid work. The housewife who places her cake in the oven for exactly thirty-five minutes, writes down her appointments in her daily planner, and makes sure that she gives her children several hours of quality time each day is as much a creature of modern time measurement as is any male worker (Felski 2000, 20-21).

Felski, Rita. 2000. Doing time: Feminist theory and postmodern culture. New York and London: New York University Press.

action-1850887_1920

Martin Aronson describes baseball as the sport which is the most closely associated with natural time. This is because unlike a sport like football which divides its playing time into equal periods of humanly measured time, baseball’s playing time is open in a manner which reflects nature’s rhythm.

My basic premise is that in many rich and subtle facets of the game, baseball is a metaphor of life, mirroring its tempo, rhythm, and essential character. The most basic illustration of this is probably baseball’s association with the season of spring – indeed it may certainly be considered the prime rite of spring in our culture. Spring is, of course, the season of rebirth, and baseball renews itself each year in the popular consciousness just when the crocuses are poking their tips out of the earth in the first stirrings of the revival of nature after winter’s end.

One need not belabor the point that spring is also associated with youth and innocence, conjuring up a whole magical world of childhood memories, of which baseball is a great part for many of us. There is a natural connection among spring, youth, and baseball, recapturing that carefree time of simple heroes, boyhood cheerfulness, and the capacity for pure joy before all the worldly woes of adult life dulled our sensibilities…

The basic association of baseball with spring and youth has further implications in terms of life and, indeed, cosmic cycles, so I should like to consider baseball as related to the phenomenon of time. Baseball, it could be argued, is the sport that reflects the truest expression of natural time in its tempo and texture. Unlike football and basketball, for example, it is divided into innings and half-innings (not fixed, measured quarters), retaining natural breaks and shifts from offence to defence. In its actual pace, it accelerates at points of action and excitement, then reverts back to a relaxed, casual undertone, very much like the great game of life itself. Some may criticize it as boring, and perhaps at times it is, but that is the balance and rhythm of nature…

In keeping with this theme of the essential naturalness of baseball, I’d like to direct your attention to the basic open-ended structure of the game. Baseball transpires in a timeless world; you can throw out the time clocks, scorning them as reality does. There are no set periods for the duration of action, no artificial time constraints. Like nature, a baseball game takes the amount of time it needs to run its course and complete itself. It will not be hurried, circumscribed, or aborted (hence the extra-inning game). It is interesting to note that the course of action during an afternoon game will often follow the rhythms of the day, reflecting the phenomenon of time passing from the bright cheer of the late morning, to the sharp focus of midday, to the shadowy light of late afternoon. And even after the last out of the game has been recorded, the ghost of time lingers, for win or lose, good day or bad day, there is always tomorrow – and the next day, and the day after that – always the promise of a new beginning, a new time to redeem and develop. That is Life, friend, if you learn how to master the mystery of time (Aronson 2006, 12-14).

Aronson, Martin. 2006. Cogito: A collection of essays. New York, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse.

mammal-3305320_1920.jpg

Edward Thompson observes the transition in the relation between labour and time. According to Thompson, labour goes from being connected to the tasks associated with natural rhythms, to the apparently more efficient use of labour time as it is measured by the clock.

It is commonplace that the years between 1300 and 1650 saw within the intellectual culture of Western Europe important changes in the apprehension of time…I do not wish to argue how far the change was due to the spread of clocks from the fourteenth century onwards, how far this was itself a symptom of a new Puritan discipline and bourgeois exactitude. However we see it, the change is certainly there. The clock steps on to the Elizabethan stage, turning Faustus’s last soliloquy into a dialogue with time: “the stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike.” Sidereal time, which has been present since literature began, has now moved at one step form the heavens into the home. Mortality and love are both felt to be more poignant as the “Snayly motion of the mooving hand” crosses the dial. When the watch is worn about the neck it lies in proximity to the less regular beating of the heart. The conventional Elizabethan images of time as a devourer, a defacer, a bloody tyrant, a scytheman, are old enough, but there is a new immediacy and insistence…

However, this gross impressionism is unlikely to advance the present enquiry: how far, and in what ways, did this shift in time- sense affect labour discipline, and how far did it influence the inward apprehension of time of working people? If the transition to mature industrial society entailed a severe restructuring of working habits – new disciplines, new incentives, and a new human nature upon which these incentives could bite effectively – how far is this related to changes in the inward notation of time?

In a similar way labour from dawn to dusk can appear to be “natural” in a farming community, especially in the harvest months: nature demands that the grain be harvested before the thunderstorms set in. And we may note similar “natural” work-rhythms which attend other rural or industrial occupations: sheep must be attended at lambing time and guarded from predators; cows must be milked; the charcoal fire must be attended and not burn away through the turfs (and the charcoal burners must sleep beside it); once iron is in the making, the furnaces must not be allowed to fail.

The notation of time which arises in such contexts has been described as task-orientation. It is perhaps the most effective orientation in peasant societies, and it remains important in village and domestic industries It has by no means lost all relevance in rural parts of Britain today. Three points may be proposed about task-orientation. First, there is a sense in which it is more humanly comprehensible than timed labour. The peasant or labourer appears to attend upon what is an observed necessity. Second, a community in which task-orientation is common appears to show least demarcation between “work” and “life”. Social intercourse and labour are intermingled – the working-day lengthens or contracts according to the task – and there is no great sense of conflict between labour and “passing the time of day”. Third, to men accustomed to labour timed by the clock, this attitude to labour appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency (Thompson 1967, 56-57, 60).

Thompson, Edward. 1967. “Time, work-discipline, and industrial capitalism.” Past & present 38: 56-97.