- Aug 2018
The formation of time con epts and the making of time I measurements, i.e. the production of devices as well as their use and social function, become for him 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.
Combine this with the notes on Norbert Elias above.
It may well be, as Edmond Wright has pointed out (personal communi-cation) that by leaving sui generis time to the physicists, i.e. by leaving it out of social theory altogether, there is the risk of losing sight of the 'real' temporal continuum which serves as standard reference for all other forms of times. It also impedes coming to terms with 'time embedded' in natural objects and technical artifacts, as Hagerstrand (1974, 1975, 1988) repeatedly emphasized.
Nowotny argues that social theory is reduced to a narrow, dualistic society vs nature perspective by focusing on symbolism in social time and failing to consider other (sui generis) types of time.
This is especially problematic when exploring how time is embedded in "natural objects and technical artifacts".
he third strategy is the unen-cumbered embracing of pluritemporalism. With or without awareness that the concept of an absolute (Newtonian) physical time broke down irrevocably at the turn of this century and that a different kind of plurit-emporalism has also been spreading in the physical sciences (Prigogine and Stengers, 1988; Hawking, 1988; Adam, 1990), social theory is free to posit the existence of a plurality of times, including a plurality of social times. In most cases this amounts to a kind of 'theoretical agnosti-cism' with regard to physical time. Pluritemporalism allows for asserting the existence of social time next to physical ( or biological) time without going into differences of emergence, constitution or epistemological
Pluritemporalism (multiple types of time representations/symbols) recognizes that there is no hierarchy/order between different "modes" or "shapes" of time be they described as physical, social, etc.
Another strategy in dealing with sui generis time consists in juxtaposing clock time to the various forms of 'social time' and considers the latter as the more 'natural' ones, i.e. closer to subjective perceptions of time, or to the temporality that results from adaptations to seasons or other kinds of natural (biological, environmental) rhythm. This strategy, often couched also in terms of an opposition between 'linear' clock time and 'cyclical' time of natural and social rhythms devalues, or at least ques-tions, the temporality of formal organizations which rely heavily on clock time in fulfilling their coordinative and integrative and controlling functions (Young, 1988; Elchardus, 1988).
by contrasting social time (as a natural phenomenon) against clock time, allows for a more explicit perspective on linear time (clock) and social rhythms when examining social coordination.
Searching to reconcile Darwinian evolutionary theory with Einsteinian relativity theory and, especially, its reconceptualization of simultaneity, Mead followed Whitehead's lead in locating the origins of all structuration of time in the notion of the 'event': without the interruption of the flow of time by events, no temporal experience would be possible (Joas, 1980, 1989)
Mead used events as a unit of analysis in contrasting social time with sui generis time (all other unique times, natural, physical, etc.). This way, time can be still be viewed as a relationship between history/evolution (past) and events (past/present/future) and other temporal types.
"Time therefore structures itself through interaction and common temporal perspectives are rooted in a world constituted through practice."
Related to this encounter of the first kind, in which social theory meets the concept of time, is the question of the relationship between time in social systems with other forms of (physical, biological, 'natural') time or, as Elchardus calls it, 'sui generis time' (Elchardus, 1988).
According to Elchardus, the idea of a relationship between social time and other forms ("sui generis time") is also studied by Giddens and Luhmann.
Later in this passage, Nowotny writes: "Elchardus suggests defining the culturally induced temporality of systems when certain conditions (i.e. relative invariance and sequential order) are met. Time then becomes the concept used to interpret that temporality."
By clarifying the concept of time as a conceptual symbol of evolving complex relationships between continua of changes of various kinds, Elias opens the way for grounding the concept of time again in social terms. The power of choosing the symbols, of selecting which continua are to be used, be it by priests or scientists, also beconies amenable to social analysis. The social matrix becomes ready once more to house the natural world or our conception of it in terms of its own, symbol-creating and continuously evolving capacity. The question of human agency is solved in Norbert Elias's case by referring to the process of human evolution through which men and women are enabled to devise symbols of increasing power of abstraction which are 'more adequate to reality'.
Per Nowotny on Elias: thinking about time as a conceptual symbol it can more readily be described in social terms, it holds natural and social time together, and it accounts for human agency in creating symbols to understand time in practice and in the abstract.
Unless one learns to perceive human societies, living in a world of symbols of their own making, as emerging and developing within the larger non-human universe, one is unable to attack one of the most crucial aspects of the problem of time. For Elias it consists, stated very briefly, in how to reconcile the highly abstract nature of the concept of time with the strong compulsion its social use as a regulatory device exerts upon us in daily life. His answer: time is not a thing, but a relationship. For him the word time is a symbol for a relationship which a group of beings endowed with the capacity for memory and synthesis establishes between two or more continua of changes, one of which is used by them as a frame of reference or standard of measurement for the other.
Nowotny descrobes Norbert Elias' conception of social time not as a thing but a relationship between people and two more more continua of changes.
continua = multiple ways to sequentially evaluate something that changes over past, present and future states.
Requested the Elias book cited here.
- social coordination
- social theory
- time as relationship
- social time
- linear time
- clock time