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The Textures of Time

The Textures of Time: Agency and Temporal Experience

Michael G. Flaherty
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    The Textures of Time
    Book Description:

    What do we mean when we say, "I made the time pass more quickly," or, "I'm creating some 'me' time"? InThe Textures of Time, Michael Flaherty examines how we alter or customize our experience of time. His detailed analysis reveals different strategies we use to try to manipulate time, further describing and defining those strategies within six discrete time categories: Duration, Frequency, Sequence, Timing, Allocation, and Taking Time.

    Using in-depth interviews and analyzing responses through a sociological lens, Flaherty unearths folk theories and practices, which he calls "time work," that construct circumstances in order to provoke desired forms of temporal experience. As such, time is not justinflicted on us; rather, its various textures result from our intervention, and/or from our efforts to create different forms of temporal experience. These first-person accounts also highlight ongoing tensions between agency and determinism in social groups. Ultimately, in keeping with his central thesis, Flaherty's lucid prose make this book a quick read, and the strategies he describes reveal the profound and inventive ways we "manage the clock."

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0264-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Making Time
    (pp. 1-13)

    It is commonplace to observe that “time flies.” Paradoxically, it is no less familiar to find ourselves in circumstances where time passes slowly. Why do we experience variation in the perceived passage of time? This question concerns causality as well as the subjective side of temporality. Presumably, perceived duration is shaped by the interplay of self and situation, but how?

    Rarely have scholars in the social sciences addressed this question. For the most part, they have done so within a deterministic framework imported from the natural sciences. With this conceptual framework, we must assume that there is an antecedent cause...

  5. 2 Duration
    (pp. 14-35)

    In Shakespeare’s comedy,As You Like It, Rosalind gives Orlando an extensive lecture on our experience of duration. “And why not the swift foot of Time?” he asks.¹ She replies by itemizing several categories of variation in perceived duration: “Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. I’ll tell you who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.”² Then Orlando prompts Rosalind through the balance of her recitation:

    Orl. I prithee, who doth he trot withal?

    Ros. Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her...

  6. 3 Frequency
    (pp. 36-56)

    How often does something happen? This question is always posed against the backdrop of a system of time reckoning. The earth completes one rotation every twenty-four hours, and the clock on my mantle chimes every fifteen minutes. But human activities rarely exhibit the regularities we find in nature and machinery.¹ For example, Edward O. Laumann and his colleagues report that the frequency of sexual intercourse among married couples varies across the following scale: not at all (1.3 percent), a few times per year (12.8 percent), a few times per month (42.5 percent), two to three times a week (36.1 percent),...

  7. 4 Sequence
    (pp. 57-78)

    Our environment confronts us with natural sequences. The seasons follow one another without regard for our enthusiasm. The phases of the moon are not subject to our desires. The fruit is not ripe; then it is ripe; then it is overripe. To those of nature, society adds organizationally imposed sequences, such as the progression from third grade to fourth grade to fifth grade in elementary school. Stepwise promotions at work provide another example.

    Not surprisingly, one form of temporal agency involves our efforts to resist or circumvent the apparent inevitability of such sequences. Refrigeration postpones or prolongs the edible stage...

  8. 5 Timing
    (pp. 79-97)

    Multiple sources of ancient wisdom extol the virtues associated with appropriate timing. The most famous, of course, is Ecclesiastes 3:1: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” The Chinese sage, Lao-Tzu, offers narrow but related advice: “Work when it’s time.”¹ Astrology is well known for putting great store on the timing of one’s birth. In addition, Ben Franklin provides familiar instruction concerning the ascetic timing that makes for worldly success: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”²

    With all these venerable aphorisms, it is not...

  9. 6 Allocation
    (pp. 98-114)

    It is not unusual to hear a person talk about “making time” for something or someone, as if hours and minutes could be manufactured from raw materials. Nonetheless, this familiar phrase is quite evocative when we pause to consider it, because thereisa sense in which we “make time” by exercising control over its allocation. Hence, a modest but interesting segment of the data is devoted to this form of temporal agency.

    Nothing is more agentic than the deliberate allocation of time. The activity in question could not occur without such temporal intervention. Unless one allocates an interval of...

  10. 7 Taking Time
    (pp. 115-130)

    More retail theft is perpetrated by employees than by customers. And blue-collar workers pilfer tools, while white-collar workers steal office supplies. Estimates of the annual losses run into billions of dollars. In short, thievery of both products and matériel is widespread across all segments of industry, and research on this topic by social scientists is equally abundant.¹

    No less prevalent, but far less studied, is the theft of time. Its design (i.e., the way one carries it off) is often confidential or clandestine, and with good reason. Something like temporal alchemy is at work because, through agentic practices of one...

  11. 8 The Ironies of Temporal Agency
    (pp. 131-150)

    In everyday life, we are beset by temporal quandaries of one kind or another. For example, our circumstances can bring us to an experiential fork in the road where we must decide whether to be patient or impatient. This decision is consequential because “patience … opens us to a new experience of time.”¹ With the effort that makes for patience, I welcome an opportunity to gaze at interesting or beautiful scenery outside my car, barely aware of being stuck in traffic. These moments seem fleeting in retrospect. With impatience, I accede to being a victim of circumstances, obsessed by blocked...

  12. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 151-154)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-172)
  14. Index
    (pp. 173-180)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)