Central to Walby’s (1997) research is the question ‘Is the condition of women in society improving or getting worse?’ Through a materialist feminist theoretical framework Walby analyses statistical data sets and the findings from survey research that gathered life history data. Her research is centrally concerned with issues of time and space in the
following ways. First, she views time as multiple and socially constructed. She comments in this respect:
Time is no longer seen as simply the same as that shown on a clock, but as something which is socially perceived, constructed, refracted and implicated in complex and various ways. It is no longer of interest merely as the medium through which social change takes place, but has become an active resource in the creation of this change. (ibid.: 8)
Walby’s focus on issues of space is to take account of the ‘Different patterns of gender relations [that] are found in different spatial locations.’ For this reason Walby considers the role of local labour markets and the inter-relations of the global and local in terms of the impact on women’s working lives.
Overall, Walby’s analysis illustrates the complex ways through which time and space interact in shaping women’s lives. This is demonstrated in four ways. Through:
1 The major macro-structural changes in the form of patriarchal and gender regimes. Here Walby extends her analysis of private and public patriarchy (see Walby, 1990).
2 The intersection of time and space as an analysis of the differential effects of change in local labour markets.
3 The significance of life-cycle events such as marriage and childcare on women’s commitments to specific occupational and industrial niches. Walby’s findings indicate that women remain committed over their lifetimes to the ‘first-choice’ occupations of their initial work placements. This is particularly the case if they are given the option of full or part-time working. This finding suggests that the personal effects of deindustrialization may not be as great as might be expected. New service sector jobs are largely filled by new entrants to the labour market.
4 The intersection of different forms of time and the different ways that past time impacts on the present. Walby argues that once certain decisions have been made, say, in terms of education and training and the timing and spacing of children, they are very difficult to undo. For example, women who have built their lives around an expectation that they will be primarily mothers and family carers, in terms of what Walby refers to as private patriarchy, are particularly disadvantaged in contemporary conditions. Young women are now planning to spend extensive periods of time in paid employment, within the public patriarchy regime.
150 KEY CONCEPTS IN FEMINIST THEORY AND RESEARCH Summary
In the introduction I commented that time is feminism’s latent concept. Feminist research has challenged the dominance of linear clock time through analyses that illustrate how this form of time shapes our material realities and our understanding of selfhood and development. In particular, feminist research has compared masculine clock time with feminine process time through which daily cyclical activities are experienced. Feminist research has also illustrated the myriad of times that exist (Adam, 1995) and how time is imbricated in authenticity. Analyses of feminist politics and the body have provided creative conceptualizations of time-space relations. Nevertheless, although resonant in a range of analyses, time theorization is relatively under-developed. Primarily feminist analyses of time have yet to go much beyond the binary of female-male.
Adam, B. (1995) Timewatch: The Social Analysis of Time. Cambridge: Polity Press. Written in a very accessible way, Adam explores the varied conceptualizations of time and relates this to health, education, work, globalization and environmental change.
Davies, K. (1990) Women, Time and Weaving the Strands of Everyday Life. Aldershot: Gower. Davies provides a classic empirical study of the meanings of time in women’s lives.