Social Time

It was interesting to read Durkheim’s formulation of social facts as that which exist as distinct from, outside of, and beyond the individual. I also found Durkheim’s take on the individual as subjected to, constrained by, and tacitly coerced to act in accordance with social institutions to be an engaging and significant theoretical addition to the texts we were introduced to last week. Furthermore, I found intriguing Durkheim’s notion that “up to the present, sociology has dealt more or less with concepts and not with things” (18). To illustrate this, Durhkeim draws on Spencer’s (amongst others) notion that societies are constituted through the presence of co-operation. Durkheim demonstrates how Spencer’s assertion that co-operation articulates the presence of a society is methodologically invalid, is a form of mysticism not a branch of science, because it derives from Spencer’s preconceived idea of society. Hence, Spencer’s anthropology is essentially flawed and potentially epistemologically dangerous because social phenomena is modified to embody his ideas rather than the other way around. As Durkheim argues, this kind of anthropology welcomes bad science and ethnographic ethnocentrism.

Though Durkheim was the core reading for this week, I have been preoccupied by thoughts that are not centered around his text. My prime inquiry instead belongs to anthropology and time. Thus, I ask: What are the various significations of time within anthropology? How have the anthropologists we have read conceived of time? Perry states that structure “is about relationships” (95). How have the anthropologists in this week’s readings structured the relationships been between time, order and identity? Do they structure time as an entity that moves by seconds and hours to the rhythmic ticking of a metronome? Or do they perceive time as topographic force, an entity that disperses unevenly and maps geography onto space?

It would seem that in his piece “Ethnical Periods” Morgan considers time to be a steady upward progression, a movement that has lead to a gradual evolution of “mankind”. However I think an additional structuring of time is simultaneously at play. In Footnote 11, the commentator explains how Morgan considered “primitive societies to be living fossils and assumed that they resembled earlier stages in the development of Western society” (44). This line of thinking is further reinforced when Morgan goes on to state that Africa “was and is an ethical chaos of savagery and barbarism” (49). Hence, Africa, likely (in Morgan’s mind) an originary place of human development, is frozen in time. While in the western world, humans have progressed through time into “civilized” species; in the nonwestern world, time is a broken record, forever stuck in the same moment of “savagery and barbarism”. (This structuring of time was also present in Tylor’s text and his “child/savage equation” (18)). Thus, in the nonwestern world there is forever a pause button on time. While western societies fast-forward through time as the present “future” of civilization, nonwestern societies are framed as a virtual rewind into our archaic past. As articulated by Sadiah Qureshi in her text about the life, appropriation, death and display of Sara Bartmaan, inhabitants of these places have been turned into relics of a long forgotten and exotic past; into collective specimens of our primitive beginnings; into excavations of living fossils. As Morgan would have it, anthropologists are able to travel through these wormholes and unearth specimens to display in the present western time/space equilibrium (perhaps there is some version of Latour’s immutable mobiles at play here too?).

But what relationships are at the root of Morgan’s geographically based structuring of time? As stated in Footnote 21, Morgan believed that different “races evolved at different speeds” (49). In his article “Between the Valley and the Field” Jay Dolmage explores the notion of the “speed of thought” by examining the word “retarded” as metaphorical (2009, 113) of the notion that thought should occur at a certain speed. Hence, Dolmage states, “this word comes from the metaphors of thoughts as objects and thoughts as movement of these objects through space” (2009, 113). As it goes, “normal” is the accomplishment of thoughts moving quickly through space, while “retarded” is the accomplishment of thought moving slowly. Hence, intelligence becomes a pace, it becomes the time it takes to move through space. For instance in “The Problem of Race” Boaz makes pace of thought the definitive characteristic of human division. Boaz aims to prove equality between races not only by complicating the ontology of racial categories but by debunking the notion that racial difference means a difference in intelligence (although he ends up reinforcing the superiority of Caucasian intelligence in the end). In so doing, Boaz sets up a dynamic in which differences in intelligence justify inequality, while sameness of intelligence justifies not only equality but racial irrelevance. Thus, in the disavowal of race the primitive figure is reenacted. Pace of thought becomes the ultimate structuring boundary that demarcates the stratification between humans.

As my closing thoughts I would like to examine the relationship between anthropologists, time, specimens and exhibitions. As we have been reading in the past few weeks, anthropologists exhibit specimens, specimens that might exist in present time but are perceived as representing a long ago past. These exhibitions showcase and chronicle the way that particular anthropologists have structured narratives of time. Perry formulates models as “a configuration expressing the relationships that characterize some entity” (115). Have museums been deployed as models of particular anthropologists topographies of time? Have anthropologists historically endeavored to be the curators of time itself?

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4 Responses to Social Time

  1. tashlet says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Great reflection!
    There’s a fascinating literature on Anthropology of Time, including Fabian’s _Time and the Other_. There are journals devoted to this, and a number of reviews. I have some materials I can share with you, as I’m trying to work on an ethnography of nonhuman temporalities and sensoria.
    More soon,

    • tashlet says:

      oops! i just realized that that you are julia not kelly!! apologies!

      • juliagw says:

        Hi Natasha! Thank you so much for your comments and your recommendations for further research on this subject. It is great to know that there is so much on this subject. I am excited to read more about it. Perhaps we can talk about some of the materials that you have as well as your own research when we meet next Friday?

      • juliagw says:

        Oops! I just realized maybe your comments were meant for Kelly!

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