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An ethics of time

June 1, 2013

I’m still reading (and enjoying) Slow Living.

In their chapter on ‘Time and Speed’, Parkins and Craig introduce the concept of ‘an ethics of time’ (ooh interesting). At the beginning of this chapter, they announce: “While examining the significance of time in practices of slow living, we will give particular attention to the understandings of time found in Slow Food. In these understandings, slowness can become a deliberate subversion and form a basis from which alternative practices of work, leisure, family and relationships may be generated.” (p.39)

“As Simon Gottschalk argued in analyzing representations of speed in television commercials: Under the speed regime, a [-p.39] new binarism positions fast as a signifier of desire, resource, superiority, efficiency, libidinal energy, performance and intelligence. Slow, in contrast, becomes a signifier of frustration, lack, inferiority, deficiency, impotence, weakness’ / The assumed correlation between speed and productivity, however, is often belied by the experience of many who increasingly feel that they are actually accomplishing less and deriving less satisfaction from what they do. Even leisure, supposedly ‘time out’ from paid or unpaid labour and responsibilities, is also subject to ‘time intensification’….” (pp.38-39)

An experience with Italian bureaucracy leads Parkins and Craig to state: “This experience was a salutary reminder that slowness is not always a virtue and that ‘slow time’ is a culturally variable experience. Bureaucratic inertia aside, however, a temporality based on slowness can potentially lead to a reinterrogation of everyday practices and a fostering of a more contemplative approach to life….” (p.40)

The authors point us to the Society for the Deceleration of Time, whose goal could be said broadly to be: “to ‘think less of what speed makes possible and think more about what it makes impossible‘.” (p.40)

In order to think about the ethical and other possibilities of slow time, it is first useful to briefly consider some recent theories of time from within the field of the sociology of time before considering the complexities of modern temporalities and some of the debates surrounding them. Since at least Durkheim, social scientists have contrasted social time with natural time and described social time under industrial capitalism as machine time or clock time. The dualism of natural/social time, however, fails to capture the complexities of lived time, or the varying temporalities people inhabit or experience. Instead of a binary between social and natural time, Barbara Adam argues for a distinction between ‘temporal’ and ‘non-temporal’ time. Non-temporal time is based on measurement: time is measured and repeatable but also quantifiable and hence may run out. Temporal time, by contrast, is a mode of experience rather than a form of measurement; it is not a sense of time as invariant repetition but as constitutive, a becoming of what has not been before, which can be experienced rather than measured.
This is a useful way of thinking about time in order to stress that attempts to ‘slow down’ time are not based on an implied ‘natural’ temporality against an inauthentic social one. Rather, a sense of ‘slow time’ may interrogate the instrumental forms of social time that dominate the global everyday and seek to offer an alternative to speed as the only available temporality. An awareness of seasonality through gardening, for instance, may heighten an understanding of being situated within different temporalities which cannot simply be seen as ‘natural’ as opposed to social. Gardening is marked by multiple, simultaneous time-horizons (e.g. different times for planting and harvesting; differential growth rates) in which nature and culture are mutually imbricated (e.g. through climate, diet and season) but if gardening is consciously adopted as a practice of slow living it can become a different way of marking and inhabiting time, in which the temporality of the garden offers either respite or contradiction to the dominant temporality we experience.” (p.40)

What temporalities do we find in YA lit? What temporalities dominate adolescence as represented in lit? … hmmmm

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Wendy Parkins and Geoffrey Craig (2006) Slow Living.  Berg: Oxford, New York.


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