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Tag: social theory

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.”

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”.

Zerubavel – 1987 – The Language of Time: Toward a Semiotics of Temporality

Summary: The paper explores how people use symbolic language to communicate about sociotemporality (the social contexts of how time is perceived, experienced and contextualized). Temporal semiotics are used to convey sociocultural meaning in either interpersonal (microsocial) and large social structural/systemic (marcosocial) relationships. Semiotic codes that represent symbolic, non-literal social communication about time/temporality is not an explicit skill to be learned but something seemingly intuitive to both speaker and listener. This is likely a factor in why it’s so hard to for people to talk in explicit terms about temporality. Semiotic signs, metaphors, metonyms and other figures of speech do a lot of heavy lifting to convey meaning beyond the literal definition of the words. Such that, to describe such an innate metacognitive process can be very challenging.

Synthesis: Lots to unpack here. How does semiotic communication get reflected in Reddy’s TRH or Mazmanian’s porous time concepts? How can you manage online social coordination of rhythms/horizons when there are no ready cues/signals to convey intent/commitment? Is there something unique in the way SBTF volunteers symbolically talk online via an asynchronous platform about Zerubavel’s time codes: duration, waiting, lead time, speed, frequency, timing, ever-available, firmness/finality, rigidity, sequence, and the manipulation of these temporal experiences?

Example: Could the multiple temporalities that symbolize importance account for a source of tension between always online volunteers and those who show up for random periods of time? Deployments have fixed time periods for data collection but no scheduling mechanisms for volunteers. Does this create a source of friction when there is no mechanism to signal social intent or meaning?