David Hoy distinguishes between questions concerned with the nature of time itself, and inquiries into the phenomenology of human temporality. Time in this perspective is said to inform human lives, as a universal or objective source, that is then constructed with a human particularity.

These questions should indicate that this book is not primarily about the nature of time in general. The focus is instead on the history of the phenomenology of time as time shows up in human lives. To write about the nature of time in and of itself would require an exploration of a complex array of issues about the status of what could be called “scientific” or “objective” or “universal” time, that is to say, the “time of the universe.” Restricting the book to the phenomenology of human temporality—to “the time of our lives”—raises an equally formidable but different set of questions. In this book some of the questions raised by our authors are the following. Is the time of our lives a function of a life as a whole, a lifetime, or can it be condensed into a single moment of vision? Does a life have a unity that runs through it, or is the unity of time, and of a life, a narrative, a story, a fiction, or even an illusion? Can time be perceived? What is the time like that we encounter in our experience of our world and ourselves? Is the time of our lives the same as the time of nature or of history? (Hoy 1989, xii).

Hoy, David. 2009. The time of our lives: A critical history of temporality. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.


Barbara Adam illustrates that in social science perspectives, natural time is positioned as distinct from its social conceptualisation. This assumption is bred from general impressions that social scientists have about the separation of natural and social phenomena.

In contradistinction to social science analyses this research shows that most of what social scientists preserve exclusively for the human realm is generalised throughout nature. It demonstrates that the characteristics identified with natural time are in fact an exclusively human creation. Past, present, and future, historical time, the qualitative experience of time, the structuring of ‘undifferentiated change’ into episodes, all are established as integral time aspects of the subject matter of the natural sciences and clock time, the invariant measure, the closed circle, the perfect symmetry, and reversible time as our creations. This investigation thus establishes natural time as very different from its social science conceptualisation. Furthermore, it shows that it matters what assumptions social scientists hold about natural time and the subject matter of the natural sciences in general as these not only affect the definition of social time but also the understanding of the nature of ‘the social’. Since our traditional understanding of natural time emerged as inadequate and faulty we have to recognise that the analysis of social time is flawed by implication. However, the difficulty extends beyond the need to achieve a more appropriate understanding of natural time since the assumptions associated with this understanding are embedded in the more general theories that social scientists hold about nature (Adam 1990, 150-51).

Adam, Barbara. 1990. Time and social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.