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Adam – 1990 – Time for Social Theory: Points of Departure (Chapter 7)

Summary: Adam describes the study of time as transdisciplinary and challenges the notion that time is entirely socially constructed. She tends to consider natural- and physics-conceptions of time, alongside social theory. Adam proposes that if we break down the limitations/barriers between understanding social time as largely symbolic and natural time as largely objective, then we can borrow methods of sensemaking from natural time and apply them to social time. This new way of engaging with time contextually, broadens our ways of knowing/understanding human temporal experience.

Synthesis: I found this chapter to be much more challenging to understand than the Quest for Time Control (2004). Critique of flawed social science perception of natural science as driven by laws, order, and quantitative attributes (subject-object) that are observable. This is contrasted with perception about social science as driven by history, culture, habit, and meanings which are socially constructed qualitative attributes (subject-subject).

Adam concludes with a call to modernize social time theory by engaging with artifacts and technology: “The focus on time helps us to see the invisible.”

Foundational concepts in this study: Sociotemporality, social time, social theory

Agreement in related work: Adam contends that if time layers are viewed as bounded levels then “this prevents any understanding in terms of resonance and feedback loops.” She also talks about “discrete, unidirectional levels.” This congers up thoughts about Bluedorn‘s writing about “time’s directional arrow.” Is this the same thing?

Adam describes Mead’s conceptualization of past/present/future as fluid levels. Present experience constantly changes our understanding, meaning, and knowledge about the past and future.

Adam notes, however, that there are limits to Mead’s concept of levels, as they tend to be organized as nested hierarchies. The emergence of a new reality (present) changes not only past and future, but pushes the present into a constant state of flux and change, which further alters the past and future.

It’s a fun house mirror of theoretical madness.

Adam revisits the need to incorporate technology and artifacts into sociotemporal theory.

She cites Giddens’ time-space distanciation, a construct that describes how social systems stretch across time and space to “store” knowledge, material goods, and cultural traditions. However, she contests Gidden’s perspective on time-scale because he does not integrate biological or cosmic evolution into the influence that personal and social history can have on how people experience the present through the past.

Contested areas: Adam argues here that while the concept of “social time” has evolved, social scientists’ ideas around “natural time” have not kept pace with new scientific research, and incorrectly continue to be described as constant and quantitative (aka clock time).

Further, “natural time” incorrectly incorporates other temporal experiences and seems to be used as a convenient counter foil to “social time”. Adam states that “social time” theories should be contested since social science disciplinary understanding of “natural time” is incorrect.

In a long prior passage about how time is conceptualized in nature and in social coordination, Adam argues that “time” as a social construct should be thought of holistically and not broken into dichotomies to be compared/contrasted. Likewise, if “social time” can exist without symbols, then “natural time” can itself be symbolic. If this is true, then conceptualizing time can be more holistic and rely less on dichotomy.

Gaps/Limits in this study: Interesting perspective on how sociotemporality is also influenced by artifacts and technology. Adam argues this is a missing opportunity in social theory. I suspect STS theorists would vehemently disagree. But in 1990 (when this book was published) STS, ANT, etc., were still relatively new ideas.

This passage sets up the discussion on metaphor that is relevant to STS.

Connections to my work: Sociotemporality, social time, metaphor

Annotated paper:

Adam – 1990 – Time for Social Theory – Points of Departure

Published inannotationstemporality