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Nowotny – 1992 – Time and Social Theory: Towards a Social Theory of Time

Summary: Extensive background piece on “social time” — the intersection of social theory and temporality (time representations, symbols, and perspectives). Nowotny raises concerns that social theory on time/temporality doesn’t bridge well with the concreteness needed to apply it to empirical research. She often refers to “pluritemporalism” over “multi-temporalism” or “transdisciplinary definitions of temporalism”, as other sociologists tend to do. 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.

Synthesis: Like Adam (1990), I had some difficulty with this chapter because I’m unfamiliar with foundational social theory. Nowotny points to early work that was focused on the social construction of time and symbolic/semiotic representations (see Zerubavel). Sociology and other disciplines see time as “embedded in things and artifacts” apart from what Adam refers to as natural time. Nowotny argues that social theory is too often 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”.

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

Agreement in related work: Nowotny’s chapter leans heavily on Mead, Fraser, Giddens, and Elias.

Contested areas: Nowotny argues that “the Other” (non-western, developing countries, Global South — my words, not hers) is presumed to be on a different time scale than industrial societies. Different “cultural variations and how societal experience shapes the construction of time and temporal reference…” This also evokes Adam’s critique of colonialization of time, commodification/post-industrial views, and need for post-colonial temporal studies. This has implications for ICT devices.

Gaps/Limits in this study: Need to review more contemporary work in this area since this chapter is nearly 30 years old.

Connections to my work: Sociotemporality, social time, social theory

Annotated paper:

Nowotny – 1992 – Time and Social Theory Towards a Social Theory of Time

Published inannotationstemporality