The linear conception of time – where we see time as unfolding in a straight and unbroken line, unidirectional and heading towards an

unlimited horizon – is the time that has preponderance today. On a concrete level, this time consciousness is mirrored in our time reckoning where atomically measured seconds flow into minutes and hours and days and ultimately years. Years that linearly follow each other into an unending future, leaving behind a once and for all past.

(Davies, 1990: 18)

The most common understanding of time is that of a linear continuum that begins, perhaps at birth and ends at death or begins when one gets up in the morning and finishes the moment one goes to sleep. Certainly it is common to design research so that data is collected, or indeed data collection is avoided, according to particular time periods. These would include, for example, key points in the school year, holidays, family events, religious festivals, and so forth. In some forms of qualitative research there appears to be a positive correlation between the length of time spent in the field and assumptions of validity. Thus, the longer one has spent researching a topic, the more valid the findings are presumed to be. In research into paid employment divisions of time lead to analyses that take account of full-time and part-time working. Perhaps the most common example of time is that of age. Age is a key face sheet variable that is regularly, and often unquestionably, included as a research question (Finch, 1986).

These conceptualizations view time as measured by the clock, the days of the week, the months of the year or year dates. Davies (1990) illustrates how the emergence of the mechanical clock served religious, state, economic and capitalist interests in the Western world. This is first seen through the horarium, that is the table of hours that sets out when Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline were to be held and was the most important determinant of life in Christian Benedictine monasteries. This meant that each activity could be held at the same fixed point in time every day. This can be compared with Judaism and Islam where prayers are associated with the changing times of sunrise, noon and sunset.

Although medieval monasteries were the first to use the clock in this way, their influence soon spread to other spheres of life. The emergence of towns and cities during the British industrial revolution meant that clock time could be used to ensure that shop opening and meeting times could be regulated. The time obedience that was a feature of Benedictine monasteries became time discipline as the development of watches indi­vidualized and internalized control (Davies, 1990). Thompson (1967) illustrates the linkage between clock time, the organization of labour in capitalism, the Puritan work ethic and discipline.

Schooling is a key site where time discipline is instilled. Timetables, bells, calendars and deadlines extend the Benedictine horarium and the Puritan work ethic into the everyday lives of children. The organization of schooling is fixed according to age and calendar. The days are divided into periods and lesson activities are also planned to linear time. The length of examinations is set to specific hours and minutes. Teaching time of lessons is set aside from play time and home time. Children learn that if they have not finished their work they are taking too long or if they finish early they have not done enough. Accurately gauging the appropriate level of input in relation to the time available is a key skill. Children also learn, as Adam (1995) points out, that some people’s time is thought to be more important than others.

Clock time is not only the main way through which we order and understand time in Western societies, it also provides the framework through which tasks are valued. For example, Marxist analyses of the commodification of time indicate its economic value. These analyses focus on the exchange relations of labour power and profit maximiza­tion. Monthly, weekly and hourly wages indicate how time is drawn on as a measure of labour value. Alongside labour, capital and machinery, time becomes an economic variable and allows us to speak of a time economy. ‘[W]e spend it, waste it, invest it, budget it and save it. We equate it, in other words, with money’ (Adam, 1995: 89).

The values given to time can also be seen in rational choice models of time allocation. Becker’s analysis of household economics that was introduced in Chapter 4 comprised both monetary and time aspects. Thus ‘With a Becker model, a household’s demand for a particular good is dependent on the market price of itself and other goods, the value of time of household members, and the household’s full income’ (Senauer, 1990: 152). The value that is put on women’s and men’s time within such an economic model of household divisions of labour relies on its estimated monetary value in the paid labour market. This has specific implications for women, given that they are mainly employed in low waged labour. Such economic analyses highlight how ‘The economic status of women in society and their role and position in the household are formally linked by the value of time’ (Sirianni and Negrey 2000: 64). For Sirianni and Negrey the key response to changing assumptions that it should be women who are mainly responsible for housework and family care must be to improve women’s economic opportunities and investment in human capital as this would increase the value of their time.

Davies (1990) refers to linear and clock time as ‘male time’. She does this because she wishes to draw attention to the ‘patriarchal character of the groups and classes that have been able to influence this concept and measurement of time’ (ibid.: 17). Davies argues for a greater appreci­ation of how ‘male time’ contributes to the subordination and oppres­sion of women and how particular ways of studying time obscures women’s lives. Similarly, Sirianni and Negrey (2000: 59) note that ‘One of the ways time is structured is through social relations of gender, and gender inequalities are reflected in the social organization of time.’ Certainly, there have been many feminist critiques of this linear model and its associated values. I highlight four of these here.

First, the linear model appears to be an ‘objective’ measure. Time is understood to exist as fixed units both independent of, and external to, the individual. This appearance of objectivity and measurability aligns such analyses with positivistic methodologies. Positivist methodologies argue that social science should mirror, as near as possible, the pro­cedures of the natural sciences. The researcher should be objective and detached from the objects of research. Thus, Adam (1995) notes how a decontextualized, commodified time is the central model in social science analyses of time. She comments that:

This socially created, artefactual resource has become so all-embracing that it is now related to as if it were time per se, as if there were no other times. This has the effect that even the embedded, lived times of work and non-work are understood through the mediating filter of our own creation of non-temporal time. (ibid.: 91, emphasis in original)

Second, and relatedly, as a predominant model, linear time distracts our attention from the multitude of times that exist. Thus, an event in our lives may bring back memories from the past or in the contemporary moment we might make plans for the future. At these times the past and/or future are co-existent with the present. The writing of our will extends our lives beyond death. There are also good and bad times and good and bad timing.

Third, this linear model is a gendered model that fits with men’s lives. The organization of paid work into strict linear time accords with an assumption that there are no other forms of time that impact on an individual’s life. In consequence, some feminists have argued that cycli­cal time is more reflective of women’s lives. Within models of cyclical time consciousness:

It is assumed that people pace the events of their lives according to local and natural rhythms and that the future is a perpetual recapitulation of the present. A precise time measurement is superfluous. On a day-to-day level, people are not subject then to clock time but rather to a time that is task or process oriented. (Davies, 1990: 19)

In particular, it is women’s responsibilities and role as primary carers that are drawn upon to argue that women’s experiences of time are qualitatively different from those of men. Thus, Davies allocates domestic and care tasks to the sphere of cyclical time and refers to this as process time. She argues that women’s care responsibilities produce a needs-oriented response whereby they have to be more flexible in relation to time. Waiting with one’s child at the doctors or feeding a baby would be examples of such necessary time flexibility. Thus care:

is based on a different relation to time (although… it can be forced into the dominant temporal consciousness, especially when organised as wage labour). In reproductive work the clock is less important; rather it is the task at hand that is definitive. . . Care work (whether it is carried out in the home or not) is characterised by short cycles that are frequently repeated and by the fact that it is with difficulty subsumed under strict clock time. (Davies, 1990: 36-7, emphasis in original)

In the same way, Knights and Odih (1995) describe feminine time as relational, continuous, processual and cyclical. Feminine time exists in relation to the time demands of others and because of this women’s lives are characterized by the overlapping temporalities of simultaneous actions. As this time is mediated through the needs of others, Knights and Odih argue that it is quite unlike the decontextualized, commodified and controlled linear time. And because feminine time is relational, Knights and Odih (1995: 211) also argue that ‘we cannot focus solely on individual time’.

Fourth, the gendered model of linear time gives rise to gendered theories of time. Marxist analysis of the commodification of time assume that time away from work is ‘free’ time (Sirianni and Negrey, 2000). Feminists took up this issue in what is termed the Wages for Housework debate. Feminists arguing for Wages for Housework illus­trated how domestic work was necessary reproductive work for capital and produces value/surplus value. Although within feminism there were serious divisions on this issue (see Freedman, 2001, for an accessible summary), the Wages for Housework debate made visible the unpaid work that women do. Notwithstanding, Davies (1990: 41) notes that the issue of time was never directly discussed in these debates and ‘from a perspective that problematizes time, it was a debate that from the very beginning could not be solved since housework is quite simply not answerable to male time’.

Male Time and Female Time

Case Study 12: Time and the Weaving of the Strands of Everyday Life

Davies’s (1990) study provides a phenomenological account of how ‘gender relations of time were instrumental in shaping the lives and actions’ (ibid.: 10) of a group of forty Swedish women who constantly moved in and out of the labour market. In this, Davies explores women’s everyday lives in terms of employment, unemployment, home and community. These women were studied for a period of two and a half to three years and in-depth interviews were carried out during this period.

Davies’s analysis illustrates how women’s everyday lives are bound up with, and directed by, both clock and process time consciousness. For example, women’s experiences of time when working in the home are bound up with the times of family members and others through which ‘clock and process time weave complicated patterns’ (ibid.: 131). Women of course juggled the demands of employment and family care. Wives and husbands worked different shifts to ensure that one is always available for childcare. And when women were not in paid employment, their time was given up to the time demands of others.

Davies also explores women’s active and passive resistance to ‘male’ clock time. Here she illustrates how women’s rejection of wage labour can be seen as a rejection of the ‘temporal strait-jacket; as an attempt to allow more space for other forms of temporal consciousness and action’ (ibid.: 204). Thus women would give priority to time rather than money by taking part-time work or becoming self-employed. Women’s choice of occupation also portrayed a rejection of linear time. For example, some women chose artistic occupations because ‘a central feature of artistic work is that it is structured by process time’ (ibid.: 211).


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