The Social Analysis of Time

Barbara Adam

Polity Press

Copyright © Barbara Adam 1995

The right of Barbara Adam to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 1995 by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers.

Editorial office:
Polity Press
65 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK

Marketing and production:
Blackwell Publishers
108 Cowley Road
Oxford OX4 1JF, UK

238 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142, USA

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shalll not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

ISBN 0 7456 1020 X
ISBN 0 7456 1461 2 (pbk)
ISBN 978 0 7456 6554 2 (eBook)

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.

Typeset in 10 on 12 pt Times by Best-set Typesetter Ltd., Hong Kong

This book is printed on acid-free paper.





1‘My’ Time, ‘Our’ Time, ‘Other’ Time

Just one moment of ‘my’ time

Cultural expressions of ‘our’ time: language and clocks

Social constructions of ‘other’ time

Key points

2Of Time and Health, Life and Death

Body time and well-being

Tracking the archetypal time of birthing

Clock time is finite

Cancer time and the prospect of death

Key points

3Education: Learning the Habits of Clock Time

Clocks, timetables and schedules

The Benedictine heritage

Norms, experiences and the joining of life-worlds

Research times beyond the clock-time measure

Theoretical traditions and challenges

Key points

4The Time Economy of Work Relations

Working with rationalized time: clock-time rhythms and their sources

Exchanging commodified time

Clock time mediates complexity

In the shadows of economic time

Efficiency and profit: speed and flexibility

Key points

5Global Times and the Electronic Embrace

Understanding globalization

Two definitions: alternative visions

Clock time standardized and globalized

Global futures

Enlightenment tradition and machine metaphors

Key points

6The Times of Global Environmental Change

Approaches to the environment

Of organic and artefactual time

Running out of time

Everyday life as source for environmental theory

The loss of ‘other’

Key points

7The ‘Temporal Turn’: Mapping the Challenge for Social Science

‘Implication’ displaces the ‘metaphysics of presence’

Relativity beyond discourse

In/visibility outside the materialist episteme

Responsibility in the context of objective science




To the people who have talked to me about time and specifically to Mary and Brian who have since died of cancer



Many people have contributed to the creation of this book, most notably the people who have talked to me about how time enters their lives and what time means to them. I would like to acknowledge here their invaluable contribution. I would further like to thank Stuart Allan, Jane Lones and Fiona Mackie for reading the entire script as well as Colin Hay and Alessandra Tanesini for comments on single chapters; their constructive criticisms were invaluable and very much appreciated. My special thanks, however, go to my husband and colleague Jan Adam whose critical comment and unflinching support underpin all I have written. Moreover, none of my work would be possible if he had not taken on more than his fair share of work in our labour-intensive household. Thanks also to my family as a whole for being so tolerant and to my daughter Miriam in particular not only for stepping in when I got home late on the days when it was my turn to cook or shop but also for checking my references to such a high degree of perfection.

This book has arisen from research conducted over the past eight years and consequently draws to varying degrees on the following papers: (1988) ‘Social Versus Natural Time: A Traditional Distinction Re-examined’, pp. 198–226 in M. Young and T. Schuller (eds.), The Rhythms of Society, Routledge & Kegan Paul; (1989) ‘Feminist Social Theory Needs Time. Reflections on the Relation between Feminist Thought, Social Theory and Time as an Important Parameter in Social Analysis’, Sociological Review, 37: 458–73; (1992a) ‘Modern Times: The Technology Connection and its Implications for Social Theory’, Time and Society, 1:175–92; (1992b) ‘Time, Health Implicated: A Conceptual Critique’, pp. 153–64 in R. Frankenberg (ed.), Time and Health and Medicine, Sage; (1992c) ‘There is More to Time in Education than Calendars and Clocks’, pp. 18–34 in M. Morrison, (ed.), Managing Time for Education, University of Warwick; (1993a) ‘Within and Beyond the Time Economy of Employment Relations’, Social Science Information, 32: 163–84; (1993b) ‘Time and Environmental Crisis: An Exploration with Special Reference to Pollution’, Innovation in Social Science Research, 6: 399–413; (1994a) ‘Perceptions of Time’, pp. 503–26 in T. Ingold (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Humanity, Culture and Social Life, Routledge; (1994b) ‘Re-Vision: The Centrality of Time for an Ecological Social Science Perspective’, in S. Lash, R. Grove-White, and B. Wynn (eds.), Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology, Sage, in press; (1994c) ‘Running Out of Time: Environmental Crisis and the Need for Active Engagement’ in T. Benton and M. Redçlift (eds.), Social Theory and the Environment, Routledge, in press. I would like to thank the publishers for giving permission to use some of that material and to express my appreciation to the following colleagues, students and editors who have commented on drafts of the papers: Jan Adam, Stuart Allan, Paul Atkinson, Ted Benton, Dawn Clarke, Tia DeNora, Marco Diani, Ronald Frankenberg, J. T. Fraser, Judith Green, Tim Ingold, Tom Keenoy, Alwyn Jones, George Newell, Martin Read, Michael Redclift, Teresa Rees, Tom Schuller, Ginger Weade, Brian Wynn and Michael Young.

A passage from Penelope Lively’s (1991) City of the Mind has been reproduced by Permission of Penguin Books Ltd and Harper Collins, USA.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge a few very special books that have given me intense pleasure and provided invaluable food for thought, inspiration and, above all, a context within which to think, argue and develop: (in chronological order) Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Capra’s The Tao of Physics; Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life; Giddens’s Central Problems in Social Theory; Kern’s The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918; Stanley and Wise’s Breaking Out; Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity; Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom and Dream; Hayles’s Chaos Bound; Giddens’s Modernity and Self-Identity; Beck’s The Risk Society; and Ermath’s Sequel to History.

Barbara Adam



Conversations about time

‘When I think about time I think that it won’t be long before I am old and die. We have only so much time to live and that is not very long at all. Well, take my mum, for example, she is old now and she will die. (His mother is thirty-five, suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been tied to a wheelchair for the last five years.) When you think a lot about time it goes by that much quicker which means I grow older that much faster. On school days I just think whether it is nine o’clock yet because school starts then and I must not be late. Next I think about time at three o’clock when it is time to go home. My worst thing of thinking about time is on the days when I come home from school before my parents have returned from shopping or from the hospital which means that I have to go to a neighbour’s house. This is really an awful time because I don’t know how long I’ll be there and when my parents will come home.’

(David, ten years old, pupil in a village primary school)


‘How time enters my life? I was born and now I am fifteen years old. We use the word when we ask what time it is. We talk about closing time, lunch-time, getting-up time, and that time is up. What time is, that is more difficult to say. It is not a person, not a thing, not a vegetable. It’s a period and units, the day chopped up into hours, minutes and seconds. But it also divides the past from the future. We can see the past in pictures and writing but we can’t be there – that is a time. The time is now, this very second. But I do not know what it is we are chopping up into units. I think it’s an illusion since there isn’t anything to be chopped up.’

(Miriam, fifteen years old, pupil in a British comprehensive school)


‘Time is about those things that happen to you and around you, those things over which we have no control. People die, accidents happen. I have no control over when the sun or the moon come up, when the pub opens, or when my friend is going to turn up today. I could get to be 105 years old or die tomorrow. Time has to do with movement. If everything stood still there would be no time, only matter. It’s a mystery which we don’t think and talk about. Only in programmes like Dr Who does time become important with ‘time lords’, ‘time travel’ and the ‘time machine’. Today everything goes by the clock but, if this hadn’t been started, we might organize our lives only by the sun or something else. Time then would be something quite different.’

(Tobias, eighteen years old, car mechanic)


‘Time is a scarce resource. I associate it with pressure and with the desire to use it in a meaningful way. I try to keep a very strict separation between my private and my working time; but the association with pressure and a shortage of available time is equally relevant for my private life and my working life: there is always too much to do, more than is possible. Family, friends, the house and the garden, elderly parents and making music all require time, and far more of it than I have available during my private time.

‘For me time is a dimension within which everything moves and happens. In conjunction with space it is a universal framework. We can’t move through space without time and vice versa which means that we can’t pass, spend, or allocate time without occupying space. Nothing exists and happens without time and space.

‘I think that the chronic shortage of time is linked to a steady increase of options and to growth in the potential for choice and action. Cities in particular provide us with far more possibilities than we can ever realize. At the same time, however, this widening discrepancy between the potential and that which can be realized enforces greater concentration and more focused plans and actions. It is also connected to our attitude to speed: if something can be done more quickly, then something else can be fitted into that freed-up period of time. This positive evaluation of tempo and speed – the faster the better – which permeates our contemporary life, derives from a purely economic approach to time: the bigger the quantity and the shorter the production time the better for business. This artificial, economic creation of speed as a positive value has been unquestioningly incorporated into our everyday lives. It has become a taken-for-granted fact.’

(Christoph, fifty years old, Ph.D. in philosophy, publisher, father of three daughters)


‘Time enters my life in two significant ways. One has to do with ageing and the life-span and the other with time passing and coping with things to be done in a day. The decades seem important – like watersheds – important points in one’s life where one is so aware in terms of what one would like to be and be doing and that in turn to the social standards and to expectancy. For a mother, the daily pattern seems so predetermined and there is always this pressure to be productive and not to be wasteful. Routines are terribly important because then there is no need for thinking about it and weighing things off. This all takes time and brings with it the danger that one ends up achieving nothing. A routine is essential for security because it represents the possible. I can’t operate without an overall scheme because this represents the frame within which things are possible – the real potential. Plans which are far into the future or for which I can see no potential just get me frustrated. It is the little plans which are achievable that lead to satisfaction, not the thoughts about big major issues. At eighteen you think about solving the world’s problems but you don’t get beyond it. I need to see myself being effective in my actions rather than wasting time with great schemes and plans for the distant future.

‘On reflection I relate time to the day and night and the sense of the year. Whatever you do, time passes – goes on outside our control. We can’t stop that process. We can’t make more hours in a day. We could in terms of a convention but we would not be changing anything in terms of this ongoing process. Hours are only a particular division we have imposed on this ongoing change of night and day. It makes me think of people in places such as Iceland where they have such different daylight and darkness patterns. They must not just be living different lives but also have a different perception of themselves and differ in terms of what they expect of themselves.

‘Now, my husband likes to work at night because there is less pressure. It must have to do with the feeling that he could go on all night and because he is not distracted by what is awaiting him afterwards. All that is expected of him at night is sleep – not so if he wants to do an hour or two of work in the morning as part of a full programme of work and meetings during a day. Night-time seems to be a different sort of time from day-time even in a physical sort of way. The homoeopath has said in relation to my son’s asthma that it makes sense that he coughs most between 3 and 5 a.m. It seems research has revealed that the earth’s energy field is different then – even machines have a minute change in their motion and slow down.

‘Birth and death make up our life-span and yet, when people die they are not gone but leave behind a presence and so did the people before them and those before. It’s a spiritual experience of presence of persons and peoples past. Anything outside the time-span of our own experience is difficult to comprehend. An oak which we know to be 400 years old, a castle or events in history – we can’t really know what they experienced, what it was like then. We can only get rare insightful feelings. We value old things and try to preserve them for the future so that they may serve as records for our present and what then will be the past. We are deeply interested in finds which connect us to the distant past, be they archeological finds of preserved people or of things made by people. We value old buildings, paintings and antique furniture. It somehow connects us to past peoples and gives us an insight into their lives, their existence, which would otherwise be beyond our reach due to the passage of time.

‘That passage can be so variable. I once had my car parked on a slope outside a hotel and my baby was in a cot in the back. As I turned, standing in front of the hotel, I saw my car rolling down gathering speed and aiming for another car. I knew what I had to do. I had to run to the car, open the door, get inside and pull the handbrake. Between my seeing the car rolling and my achieving to stop it not more than a second could have passed and yet, time was suddenly stretched out to become eternal – everything seemed possible.’

[After that we entered an interesting dialogue about the many devices we have to stop, slow down, or speed up time, in other words, how we try to gain control over, or cheat, that which seems so firmly located outside our influence: time. We talked about trying to stay young, about preventing decay and making plans for the future, about insurance, LSD, hypnosis, meditation, religion, art, architecture, writing, printing, language, technology, tradition…]

(Mary, forty-two years, Joint Honours student of psychology and sociology, ex-teacher and art administrator, mother of three boys. Four years after this interview Mary died of cancer.)


Time forms such an integral part of our lives that it is rarely thought about. There is no need, it seems, to reflect on the matter since daily life, the chores, routines and decisions, the coordination of actions, the deadlines and schedules, the learning, plans and hopes for the future can be achieved without worrying about what time might be. It is, in fact, extraordinarily difficult to think and talk about time. Only very special circumstances such as these long, interactive, conversation-interviews seem to allow for the necessary reflective attitude to probe beyond the most superficial single associations – clocks and calendars, opening times, timetables, seasons – and for bringing to the surface what we normally take for granted. Such conversations invariably evoke total surprise at the degree of difficulty encountered in attempts to talk about the role and nature of time. It was something none of my interlocutors had ever been asked to think or talk about. When they did engage with the topic, death emerged as an unexpected feature of their reflections. This tended to be the case irrespective of the respondents’ age and personal situation. While they were taken aback by the complexity of the task, I was amazed at the variation and uniqueness of the answers. Everyone, it seems, holds a very exclusive, personal meaning-cluster of time, a distinct but not fixed composition, one open to changes and linked to shifts in personal circumstances, emotional states, health, age and context. That which is rarely thought about thus constitutes a central component in our tacit knowledge-base. Multiple, composite, simultaneous, open-ended and changing, those personal meanings are at variance with the majority of social studies of time and their respective theoretical bases. This book is an attempt to take seriously the complexity of social time as it arises from personal accounts, academic research, and to a very limited extent from fiction, and to explore its implications for social science theory and practice.

If one-to-one conversations about time show us the multiplicity and breadth of conceptualizations of time in sequence, workshops on the role and nature of time in everyday life allow us to observe that complexity all at once: the network of meanings becomes visible as it is assembled from the variety of brief and rather restricted reflections of individual group members. It takes on form as one thought triggers off others in the various members of a workshop. In such collective thinking situations, the association of time with clocks and calendars combines with that of deadlines, chores, routines, milestones, stress and ageing. Feelings that time presents constraint, discipline, control and structure are shared with the experience of time in terms of opportunity, points of reference and order or of celestial motion, the rhythms of the body and social organization. A sense of pressure and shortage or the need to prioritize and wait are complemented by an appreciation of time as a process of learning and healing or as luxury and relativity. The past, present and future get joined up with life-stages, activity and the commodity. Weekends, working days and the educational calendar are linked to time as organization, coordination, experience, memories and fears. Thus, once we bring the taken-for-granted to the forefront of our attention, the spell of clock time is broken. The invisible is given form.

In this book I want to continue this process, to move beyond the time of clocks and calendars and to make explicit what constitutes a largely unreflected aspect of contemporary social science: time embedded in social interactions, structures, practices and knowledge, in artefacts, in the mindful body, and in the environment. I do not aim to familiarize the reader with existing studies and theories of social time. I have written about these extensively in other work (Adam 1988, and 1990 especially Chapter 1) and, moreover, since then excellent reviews (Bergmann 1992, Nowotny 1992) and a journal (Time and Society) have been published which can provide that information. Instead, I want to bring time in its multiple expressions to the forefront of our social-science understanding and introduce its central role in and for our subject matter, methods and theories. In all of these domains it is the multiplicity, simultaneity and mutual implication that pose the biggest challenge to established traditions: the rational approach of abstraction, reduction and objective observation falsifies temporal experience and misses the central characteristics of the phenomena under investigation. The chapters that follow set out some of those constantly shifting, transient complexities and explore ways of keeping together what social science traditions have taken apart, namely, time with reference to the personal–public, local–global, natural–cultural dimensions of social life and in relation to the subjective–objective, synchronic–diachronic, linear–cyclical and contextual–general parameters of social theory.

In ‘ “My” Time, “Our” Time, “Other” Time’ I focus on one personal moment and from there I let the social times unfold. I move from the ‘I’ to the ‘We’ to the ‘Other’, from the personal via the collective to the distant stranger, and establish simultaneously both a stronger collective temporal base and sharper differentiating features than are generally allowed for in traditional anthropological and historical studies. I demonstrate the coexistence of multiple times, reveal how language provides us with clues about this multiplicity and show how the resultant complexity cannot be contained within the classical dualisms of social science analyses. I thus pay serious attention to everyday experience and make the personal central to my work. I give a detailed account of clock time and offer a first analysis that serves as broad basis for all the other themes to which clock time is central. This allows me to home in on specific aspects of clock time in later chapters and avoid unnecessary repetition. Finally, I argue for the importance of getting to know the unreflected backcloth of ‘own’ time upon which ‘other’ times are constructed. Concern with the disattended temporalities of the social sciences’ subject matters as well as the researchers’ own methods and theories is central to this work and guides the approach to each of the subjects that follow.

Focus on the taken-for-granted and emphasis on the everyday and personal experience are continued in Chapter 2, ‘Of Time and Health, Life and Death’. Here I stress the mutual implication of time and health, life and death and demonstrate how the times of ‘nature’ and the mindful body are inseparable from human being, well-being and processes of everyday life. I then address once more a theme opened up in the previous chapter: the complex relationship between clock time which foregrounds chronology, finitude and death and the life-generating times of the procreative body embedded in the rhythms of its ‘natural’ environment. Through the example of birthing I explicate how encounters with life and death take those involved beyond the realm of everyday time and how they bring to the fore times that are normally disattended, even submerged in subconscious being. Most importantly, I argue that the times of the mindful body and the physical environment cannot be excluded from social science analysis and that we need to bring together mutual implications and contextual–personal differences of times in analyses of specific events. Finally, I show how the way time is conceptualized makes a difference, how it affects not merely social science practice but our daily lives, our health and our relationship to birth and death.

The dominant approach to time, the way time is conceptualized, related to and used, tends to be established during childhood. Thus, in Chapter 3, ‘Education: Learning the Habits of Clock-time’ I show how the institutional structures and practices of Western-style education work to socialize, habituate and train young people into the clock-time approach to time which, in turn, has the effect of pushing into oblivion the myriad of times that make up the temporal complexity of everyday life. I provide some historical background to the tightly choreographed routines of school life and reveal the roots of the prevalent time discipline in the triad of the monastic rules of St Benedict, the rise of science and the development of clock time for the mediation of natural and cultural processes. I suggest that social scientists in general and educational researchers in particular have to penetrate beyond the dominant times of clocks and calendars, timetables and schedules to the complexity of times – lived, experienced, generated, known, reckoned, allocated, controlled and used as an abstract exchange value – if they are fully to grasp time in educational practice and if such research is to bring about change not only in contemporary education but also in the children’s later lives. I explain how existing approaches to social time mirror perspectives in education and educational research and suggest that the tradition is inadequate for the comprehensive mapping of educational time. I argue the need to take account of time-based invisibles such as aspects of the multiple life–worlds and the past–future extension; and, on the basis of my analysis, I caution against generalizations across time and the belief in an objectively observable reality uncontaminated by observation and unaffected by time. Finally, I analyse the relevance of Marx’s, Durkheim’s, Mead’s and Schutz’s writings on time for contemporary analyses of social life in general and educational practice in particular, before I consider some of the implications for social science of taking the complexity of times seriously.

In Chapter 4, ‘The Time Economy of Work Relations’ I examine contemporary work rhythms, their sources and their implications for participants. I demonstrate the connection between clock time, money, speed and efficiency and indicate how the market economy depends on a standardized, decontextualized, commodified time. Closely associated are both my exploration of ‘free time’ and a discussion of the high value of speed and flexibility. I show ‘free time’ to be not free but produced time which renders it inapplicable to all those outside paid employment, and I propose that the valorization of speed and flexibility has to be appreciated in relation to the economic principles of profit, efficiency and competition. In the context of work I consider women’s ambiguous relationship to time and argue that a time that is generated and given cannot be encompassed within the time economy of employment relations. I demonstrate, in other words, that many women’s times as well as the times of all those outside the time of markets and paid employment are not translatable into an abstract exchange value, that such time, therefore, is constituted in the shadow of the market economy. In addition, I suggest that the important feminist deconstructions of social time are in danger of being reabsorbed into the very framework of analysis they make problematic as long as women’s time is conceptualized dualistically, that is, in contradistinction to men’s time and the commodified time of the market. This means that neither contemporary Marxian, Weberian and Functionalist analyses of work time nor feminist deconstructions are adequate to embrace the temporal complexity of contemporary work relations. I insist, instead, on the need to take account of personal experience and a wide range of other sources of information, sources which are normally not admissible as social science evidence, and on the value of establishing these as bases for more appropriate conceptualizations of the complexity of contemporary working times.

In Chapter 5, ‘Global Times and the Electronic Embrace’, I focus on phenomena and practices that entail or bring about globalized times and I speculate on some global futures. I explore the influence of technology on the global present, global time zones, standard time and world time, all of which constitute the framework for a global perspective. I examine the technologies of clocks, heat-engines and electronic communication for their suitability as metaphors for the social times of contemporary social life and argue the need for social scientists to reconceptualize some of their basic premises such as the exclusion of technological principles, the evasion of ontological questions and the dependence on nation states as a primary unit of analysis. The traditional conceptual tools need to be supplemented and to some extent displaced by simultaneity, instantaneity, uncertainty and implication, all key features of global time, if social science is to become adequate to its contemporary subject matter.

In Chapter 6, ‘The Times of Global Environmental Change’ I explore substantive issues of pollution and identify their temporal character before investigating some of the conceptual issues relevant for effective action. I show how the time characteristics of pollution – out-of-sync time-frames, time-lags, vastly expanded time-horizons, uncertainty and longevity of materials – are handled with political ‘short-termism’, economic production for obsolescence, and positivist science. I demonstrate further how in the face of global environmental hazards the construction of nature as ‘other’ is losing its meaning and natural status. The focus on environmental time thus aids the re-vision of social science, its assumptions about the nature–culture relation and the role of nature for and in the social sciences. Like Chapter 2, this chapter on environmental time highlights the fundamental implication and interpenetration of nature and culture. Beyond this corrective, it stresses the need for active engagement and concern with the uncertainty of a science-based im/material future. The circle then closes with a demonstration of the importance of everyday life as a source for theoretical inspiration: we are back at ‘“My” Time, “Our” Time “Other” Time’ with a densely woven net of inseparable connections and nodal points, each one implicating the rest and vice versa.

In the last chapter I draw out the consequences for social science of both the findings and the approach. This involves drawing on contemporary theories of the complexity of life and identifying common bases, points of departure, and potential directions for a time-sensitive social science. That is to say, in ‘The “Temporal Turn”: Mapping the Challenge’ I step back from the material presented in Chapters 1–6 and locate the implications of my time-based approach with reference to issues raised in postmodernist thought and chaos theory. I discuss the importance of the re-visionary concept of implication and show its relevance for as well as its relation to postmodernist critiques of a ‘metaphysics of presence’, ‘logocentrism’, objectivity and truth. I make visible the in/visibilities and im/materialities of contemporary existence and explore the tensions that arise from taking seriously what remains disattended in traditional approaches. Finally, I demonstrate the inescapability of responsibility. I argue the need for engagement once we appreciate that not only is the personal political but the political personal, not only the scientific subjective but the subjective scientific, not only the local global but the global local. Recognition of this changes personal responsibility from an option to a moral imperative and from a scientific taboo to a necessity.

This book is not conceived as a story with a beginning and end. With the exception of the first and last chapters, which ought to be read first and last respectively, readers may enter anywhere, start from any point, and begin to weave the web until the point is reached where the connections of each to all are established. Each chapter tells a different part of the story, focuses on different aspects of the complexity of time, and brings to the fore different theoretical and methodological considerations. Thus, the first chapter provides a very detailed account of clock time which is then presupposed in the other chapters which, in turn, highlight different aspects and implications of the dominant clock-time view of time. Chapter 2 uses focus on the body to give a detailed account of ‘natural time’ which is then taken as given in other chapters, particularly in Chapter 6 on environmental time. Chapter 3 on education is utilized to show the importance and relevance for contemporary social science of the classical approaches to time of theorists such as Heidegger, Mead and Schutz and to draw out methodological considerations that apply equally to all the other chapters. Chapter 4 elaborates the link between Weber’s writings on the protestant ethic and economic approaches to time, taking as given the discussion in Chapter 1 on clock time and Marx’s theory of the commodification of time. This chapter also details feminist responses to theories of time, as do the accounts of body and environmental time. Finally, the chapters on globalization and the environment focus on the impact of technology on everyday life and theory. Thus, while able to stand on their own, the chapters tell a networked story. Each single chapter implicates the others, presupposes them for an adequate grasp of the complexities of times at the level of everyday life, social theory and social science practice. With this book I put into practice Derrida’s (1982: 6) insight that ‘there is nowhere to begin the sheaf or the graphics of différance. For what is put into question is precisely the quest for a rightful beginning, an absolute point of departure.’

Insofar as there has to be a sequence and a rationale for the order of the issues raised, I move from the personal to the global and from the substantive to the theoretical. These divisions and ‘progressions’, however, are merely ones of emphasis in a book where focus on any one sphere implicates the others and where attempts at linear, cumulative exposition are continuously foiled by multiple connections, relations and permeations. Multiplicity, simultaneity and implication are therefore key features of this work, while the struggle to ‘tell a story’ that can have no beginning and no end determines its particular style. For inspiration and for ‘evidence’ I draw on a multitude of sources ranging from personal experiences and fiction to research findings and media coverage. I am particularly committed to giving an authoritative voice to the many people who have talked to me about time and to foregrounding the everyday and the personal. This embodying and contextualizing of understanding is to be achieved, however, without losing sight of the equally important universal and global features of social life. With respect to style, I have resorted to using a more literary mode of expression wherever the linear, rational method of social science discourse failed me in my endeavour to convey the complexity, simultaneity and mutual implication of social times.

Finally, it is important to note that the explicit focus on time forces us to question established traditions, deprives us of old certainties and presents us instead with potential. It puts us under pressure to make theory rather than reinterpret existing thought, to become theorists rather than historians of classical and contemporary ideas. Even more importantly, it suggests ways not merely to deconstruct but to reconstruct both common-sense and social science understanding. It offers openings for important reconceptualizations which will be necessary if we as social scientists, as citizens, as educators and as parents are to be active participants in the creation of a viable twenty-first century.