Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Your Time My Time? Deconstructing "Social" Time (2)

Time. Sometimes it can seem as though there isn't enough of it. Sometimes it can seem endless. I woke up thinking about my notion of temporal freedom because it seems to run contrary to social order, which is structured in such a way that encourages intersubjectivity (the shared social experience of individuals). We exist within networks that overlap—I am a wife, sister, daughter, writer, anthropologist, godmother, bibliophile, former student, etc. Each of these roles carries with it experiences and memories that overlap with those of others in these networks. What I have named as temporal freedom actually seems to tied to a great number of external factors and persons. These thoughts sent me back to my bookshelves and to my notes from grad school. Here is what I have managed to puzzle out today—perhaps you can help strip back the layers on this as well, Reader. Hold on tight. We're going to delve into some theory today.

Intersubjective Time is a concept that comes from anthropologist Johannes Fabian. It refers to a dimension of human activity; it is not just a measure but an aspect of the ways in which we interact with the world: “Once culture is conceived of as the specific way in which actors create and produce beliefs and values, and other means of social life, it has be to be recognized that Time is a constitutive dimension of social reality” (Fabian 1983: 24). It is rooted in the existence of the people, and whether it is described as diachronic or synchronic, it is linked to the ways people connect—temporally and spatially—it is still Time. Intersubjective time is in part what I have characterized as "social" time.

Time has the potential to be a rewarding tool in anthropology. It provides a concrete means of understanding how others measure the events in their lives. However, Fabian proposes that the use of Time in anthropological writing diverges from the use of Time in ethnographic research (21). He further proposes that anthropologists in the field utilize completely different concept of Time than that which instructs their writings (1983: 21). He refers to this as distancing, which is defined as the “persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of anthropological discourse” (1983: 31). Fabian suggests that the anthropologist's concept of time differs from that of their ethnographic subjects because anthropologists must necessarily impose a false equality that enables them to make comparisons. For example, iIndividuals who share the same Time are coeval; they can exchange ideas freely without political undertones of dominance because their experience is intersubjective. However, anthropologists do not necessary share the same Time as their ethnographic subjects—political and global standing affects their relationships with people outside of their temporal sphere. Anthropologist Marilyn Strathern envisions this result as manifesting via an ethnographic rupture—the dislocation of place and time as they happen to the traveler (2004: 15).

Okay, I'm going to hold on the theory at this point and bring us back to the original issue: How does all this relate to my temporal experiences in South Florida? It seems that I was faced with an Intersubjective Time that differed from my own. But it was particularly disorienting because Strathern's dislocation of place and time occurred in my own backyard, so to speak. My responses to meeting this transition are interesting to note as they represent processes of temporal acclimation and a shifting of the social order. Social relatedness is directly influenced by the dialogues between participants, so even as I experienced discomfort in trying to shift my schedule, so too did the hosts and hostesses who encountered me. I disrupted their intersubjective experience. If this is the case, then as I suspected, my notion of temporal freedom is actually just an extension of my Intersubjective Time. And the phrase "temporal freedom" is a misnomer albeit an important concept as it helps shape the social order.

What for Fabian is a potential point of critique may also provide an insight on how social relatedness—the means by which members of society are bound together—occurs, and how meaning and understanding may be extracted from these relationships. The key lies in finding the patterned ways—if there is a pattern—field Time manifests itself. Once this has been established, the Time in ethnographic research can be concretized and lend greater weight to analyses, which helps alleviate issues associated with distancing in ethnography. I have one more installment in this series to work through, and the question I want to ask is this: While Intersubjective Time is a context specific, if a pattern to Time exists, then is it possible that there are parallels in Intersubjective Time between places? Or are the patterns limited to specific situations. That is to say, Intersubjective Time differs between New York City and Port St. Lucie. But would there be similarities betweem New York City and Miami? Or Port St. Lucie and Rockville Centre, NY?

Stay tuned.

Fabian, Johannes.
1983 Time and the Other. New York: Columbia University Press.

Strathern, Marilyn.
2004 Partial Connections. New York: Altamira Press.


  1. nice read. am looking forward to more of the same. :)

  2. Thanks, Bonn! Good to see you around here. Hope things are well over at time traveling.