Durkheim, Sociological Time, Scale, Care, Frequency

Durkheim contrasts the sociological time of festival, schedule, and human history with the biographical time of personal experience. Beyond our own time there is a time produced by “all men of the same civilisation”, a time which exists above and beyond the individual. When Durkheim refers to an “objective” time, he is not referring to a natural time so much as he is referring to a time which exists beyond our selves. The objectification of time in the form of clocks, calendars, schedules and programs is simultaneously a record of collective action and a means of coordinating it. It is the establishment of “points of reference” – recordings and signifiers pointing to “fixed and specified” moments in space-time: Histories, genealogies, schedules, opening hours. These “points of reference” are contingent on space as much as they are contingent on time – we can not dissociate train timetables from train stations

Beyond space-time there is the matter of ritual, action – who did what, who is to do what, where and when. These things are inseparable – what, where, when, how, who and why. The record of sociological time is a means by which we can perceive what has happened, will happen, is happening beyond ourselves. Our personal experience of time is not dominated by sociological time, but rubs up against it – whether or not I choose to celebrate Christmas, it remains a matter of social fact for people the world over. I can’t simply go to a shopping centre on Christmas Eve and expect it to be empty, nor could I go there on a public holiday and expect to be served.

All the things I’ve described can be found in the train station. When someone takes the train, when they make any attempt to move from one place to another by any means and someone else cares about the outcome, there is an expectation. Depending on when they left and their means of transport, we can expect that the journey will take a certain amount of time and that it will arrive in a certain place. From here to Woy Woy station, from there to Central, from there to UNSW. Each journey is composed of an infinite number of constituent journeys, but we only divide time so far as we can usefully allocate an action to a circumstance – “if/then”. I know some friends of mine catch the Wednesday 6:30pm train on the Sydey to Newcastle line, so I’ll have a look for them on the platform. I know the train runs through here at 8:37am, so I’ll stay off the tracks.

Sociological time arises when collective knowledge of circumstances results in collective action and vice-versa – there is a system of feedback. Workers coordinating themselves with the bus lines, which coordinate themselves with the train lines which coordinate themselves with business hours and so on. All these things coordinate themselves with every other thing to which they are exposed, depending on the degree to which they care about the outcome of that other thing’s action. The degree to which there is coordination between systems is the degree to which they can be treated as one in the same for the purpose of scheduling. We don’t really worry about the stops before our stop, nor do we worry about each of the moments between each wheel and each section of track. Scheduling, and in turn the train timetable, is a means by which people are made aware that a certain section of people is to do a certain thing at a certain time. Once that action has come to pass, the schedule is transmuted into a record of events. This “action” encompasses a record not only of moments but of regularity – the schedule may repeat itself the next day, or the next decade, or the next century. There will be another train at the same time every day of the week for the foreseeable future. There will be another eclipse every 70 years for the next 350 years. That it is ‘sociological’ time does not necessarily mean it has a human origin – it is simply collective care and knowledge resulting in collective action.

 Notes:

• A duration can not be rendered separate from a time of departure or a circumstance eg. Means of travel.

• Scheduling itself is determined by the discontinuities within wider processes. Scheduling is a process of minimising spatial and temporal discontinuities.

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