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How to contact us

For further information please contact Dr Laura Bear (L.Bear@lse.ac.uk|) or Stephan Feuchtwang (S.Feuchtwang@lse.ac.uk|), network directors.


For access to papers presented please contact Dr Bear using email above.

Making Time Present


Conflicts in Time: Rethinking 'Contemporary' Globalisation seminar series

18th March 2011 (Department of Anthropology LSE) and 19th March 2011 (Hastings Art Forum)

Three years ago we began a counter-intuitive exploration of ‘globalization’ as composed of conflicts in time, displacing the spatial metaphors of scale, scape and distance usually used to understand it (Law 2004, Tsing 2004). By focusing on heritage, planning, global workplaces and social movements we examined how institutional practices attempted to mediate between disparate and sometimes disjunctive representations, technologies, disciplines and experiences of time. In these discussions we drew upon and contested a wide range of theories of global time that represented the present as a break from previous timescapes. Accounts of ‘real time’ or ‘timeless time’ or of an era in which the near and far future are ‘evacuated’ could not account for our situations (Riles 2006, Castells 1996, Guyer 2007, Adams and Groves 2007, see Hope 2006 for critiques of these). Instead our work showed that all representations of time produce mediating practices in the present, along with side shadows of futures and pasts not taken (Hodges 2009, Gary Saul Morson 1996). We also questioned similar older models of singular epochs of homogeneous nation-state, industrial capitalist or secular time. Instead we emphasized a variety of time practices that produced polychronies that were negotiated by people and institutions. Some of these are inherent to the production of capital or relations of power and others are disruptive of these processes (Miyazaki 2003, Ssorin-Chaikov 2006, Feuchtwang and Rowlands 2010, Bear 2008).

We have also moved beyond the insight of Thrift and May that “the picture that emerges is less that of a singular or uniform social time stretching over a uniform space, than of various (and uneven) networks of time stretching in different and divergent directions across an uneven social field” (2001). We have come to understand time not as a network but as a conflictual field of mediating acts and representations that seek to make time sensually present, manipulable and subject to various framing idioms. These acts could be understood as akin to forms of technicity in that they involve technologies and practices formed from ethical projects that knot human acts and society to recalcitrant uncontrollable processes (Mackenzie 2001, Hutchens 1995, Bear n.d.). Time is one of the most paradoxical of these processes since it is both inside us as human beings as we move through our life-course and outside of human action. It may be used to orchestrate the collective social discipline of repetitive action, yet for an individual or family it cannot be repeated and renewed. It can be manipulated in technological actions such as navigation or measurement, yet it also exists beyond such acts. To reflect on these paradoxes our workshops also drew on and altered older phenomenological and anthropological forms of analysis. But we used these approaches to trace conflicts in time at an experiential level, moving away from the usual theoretical argument that single forms of temporality encounter each other in distinct ontologies. These explorations leave us with some unresolved questions and searching for a theoretical language to encompass what we have found. In the final workshop we wish to use a wide range of ethnographic examinations of mediations, polychronies and technicities of time to develop a theoretical approach that can make time present in a new way within anthropology. We do not wish to prescribe an approach before the workshop, instead we would like you to make explicit the theoretical underpinnings to your own work. But to create a common field for debate we would like you to address some of the following issues:

Temporal Regimes of Truth and Side Shadows of Time

Much analysis has been carried out on dominant temporal representations and their exclusions. But our work on heritage and the creation of new futures in situations of conflict has raised key questions about the mechanisms of mediation that are central to these regimes of truth. In particular how could we use the act of peace-making that negotiates between incompatible pasts and futures as an example to understand other acts of mediation between conflicting experiences and representations of time? What are the forms of mediation between disjunctive and diverse times that support temporal regimes of truth? What are the side-shadows of time that are produced in relation to these practices? How are these lived and represented?

Technologies of Time and their Instabilities

Forms of planning, management and manipulation of time rely on a range of models and devices that seek to predict and command the future. Our work on planning and global workplaces can allow us to rethink debates about real time, market devices and utopias. In both of these workshops we moved our attention to the ways in which predictive models make different claims of relevance to the present and how they are embedded in daily uses of technological objects. Some predictive devices are floated as speculative plans and produce social action behind the back of the explicit model. Others are built into a tight relationship with practice through intervening devices such as software and navigation tools. Still others are more like utopias that specify a distant goal and mark a disjunction between what is present and what is possible in the future that demand vigorous acts of reform. But what all of these predictive devices have in common are that they produce forms of social action in the present, new uncertainties and instabilities. What then are the characteristic forms of predictive devices in the present and in various institutions? What happens when a plan exists as a utopia and as a technology? Does this create particular conflicts in time? How do uncertainties multiply as technological forms attempt to intervene in the recalcitrant dimension of time?

Long Term Time and the Problem of Impermanence

Anthropologists have long argued that ritual exists in part to create an impression of permanence in an impermanent social world. Others have adopted this argument to characterize the emergence of a presence of a nation state. Yet our discussions of social movements such as those of environmentalism and reproductive rights has shown that the problem of projecting a sense of long term time as a past or a future is part of a much wider range of political and ethical projects. In fact it seems that the contemporary world is much more marked by the difficulty of projecting permanence and long term stability than such previous accounts of ritual and national-ritual would suggest. We are interested in exploring this difficulty further. In particular we would like to examine the various forms of evidence that are marshaled in the present to construct a sense of long term time from environmental data, to signs in the landscape or human body to transcendent metaphors of sacrifice with Christian roots applied to scientific projects.

Social Discipline and Disjunctures of Rhythm

Our workshops showed that from the demonstration to the factory all social action involves a routinisation of as well as conflicts over the pacing and speed of rhythm. Most of social theory has emphasized the regulating process of social discipline, yet there seems to be much potential in the complex mini temporalities of workplaces and social movements to move beyond such models. We would like to use this workshop to develop an analytical language that focuses on the disjunctures of rhythm that are part of social experience. As part of this we would also like to explore the experience of transcience that is produced by the short-termism of current management strategies and forms of capital investment that work against older practices of social discipline and routinisation. We also wish to explore another theme that emerged from our analysis of global workplaces, the technological apparatuses through which longer term temporalities are made apprehensible to human experience. What are the various forms of predictive devices at work in the contemporary world, how are they constructed and what dissonances of experience do they produce?

Finally we wish to explore how we could combine all of these diverse forms and uses of time in the analysis of a single timescape? How are these various practices and material forms that seek to harness time and make it tangible articulated with each other? What specific actions, technologies and mediations characterize current experiences of and politics of time?

The workshop at Hastings Arts Forum included eleven artists who are exhibiting in an accompanying exhibition, Conflicts in Time.

Laura Bear and Stephan Feuchtwang


Press release |and invitation|


Barbara Adams and Richard Groves 2007 Future Matters

Laura Bear 2008 Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy and the Intimate Historical Self
n.d. “Mrinal’s Accident: Exploring the Contradictions of Predictive
Technologies, Timescapes of Labour and the Ethics of Work on the Hooghly River”

Manuel Castells 1996 The Rise of Network Society

J. Guyer 2007 Prophecy and the near future: thoughts on macroeconomic, evangelical, and punctuated time. American Ethnologist 34, 3

M.Hodges 2009 Rethinking Time’s Arrow: Bergson, Deleuze and the Anthropology of Time Anthropological Theory Vol. 8, No. 4

Wayne Hope 2006 “Global Capitalism and the Critique of Real Time” Time and Society, Vol 15, no. 2/3

Edwin Hutchins 1995 Cognition in the Wild

J.Law 2004, “And if the Global Were Small and Noncoherent? Method, Complexity and the Baroque” in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 22

A. Mackenzie 2001 “The Technicity of Time: from 1.00 oscillations/sex to 9192631770 Hz” Time and Society Vol 10, 2-3

H. Miyazaki 2003 “The Temporalities of the Market” in American Anthropologist, Vol 105, Issue 2, 255-265.

Gary Saul Morson 1996 Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time

Annaliese Riles 2006 “Real Time,” Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy eds. M.Fisher and G.Downey

Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov 2006 “On Hetereochrony: birthday gifts to Stalin 1949”, JRAI, 12, 2

Nigel Thrift and J. May 2001 Timespace: geographies of temporality


Anna Tsing 2004 Friction: an Ethnography of Global Connection 

Economic and Social Research Council