Memory, Time and Habitus

On Google+, M. Laura Moazedi shared a post on the connection between memory and movement. She discusses chronesthesia, the process by which we ‘travel through time mentally.’ Aging and mental illness have an impact on our sensory perception and memories associated with the past and present. In a healthy state, remembering the past affects our bodily movements and sense of space. How might this link with the sociological concept of habitus?

Continue reading Memory, Time and Habitus

Social Jet Lag

In this video, Till Roenneberg discusses the concept of social time (which I have previously written about from a cultural perspective). Roenneberg also discusses “social jet lag”, as a way to debunk the stigma attached to people who sleep in later than the norm. He argues that people in different social groups benefit from keeping to their distinctive sleep routines. Societies force people to observe particular sleep-wake patterns, but compliance can be socially harmful for some people and it can be detrimental to their health:

This myth that early risers are good people and that late risers are lazy has its reasons and merits in rural societies but becomes questionable in a modern 24/7 society. The old moral is so prevalent, however, that it still dominates our beliefs, even in modern times. The postman doesn’t think for a second that the young man might have worked until the early morning hours because he is a night-shift worker or for other reasons. He labels healthy young people who sleep into the day as lazy — as long sleepers. This attitude is reflected in the frequent use of the word-pair early birds and long sleepers [in the media]. Yet this pair is nothing but apples and oranges, because the opposite of early is late and the opposite of long is short….

I am often asked whether we cannot get used to given working hours merely through discipline and by confining our sleep habits to certain times. The assumption inherent in this question is that the human body clock can synchronize to social cues. I tend to find that any such questioner, who usually also displays a somewhat disdainful tone towards the weakness of late chronotypes, is an early type — someone who has never experienced the problems associated with the [desynchronized] sleep-wake behavior of late chronotypes.

Via Brain Pickings.

The sociology of time: cultural variations of social time

Temporal time is the passing of time as measured by clocks and calendars. Social time refers to the cultural meaning that societies place on time and the social norms that shape how people imagine their relationship to time. Social time also determines how societies organise the past, present and future. (Read more.)

Werner Bergmann discusses several sociological studies that demonstrate the historical and cultural variation of social time. In the past, societies were organised around the rhythms of sun rise and sun set. Industrialisation led to a stronger emphasis on ‘the clock’ as a primary way of organising society. Cultures reformulate the demands of modern life against cultural ideas of social time.

Bergmann discusses how Australian Aboriginal family and community relationships (kinship systems) are not simply a way of classifying social responsibilities. Rather, family relations also reflect a perspective that life is timeless. Indigenous Australians do not mention the names of the dead. The term for grandparent and grandchild relationship is the same. Such aspects of Aboriginal cultures denote a relationship between the ancestral past and the present. While some people might interpret from this that Indigenous Australians are past orientated, this is untrue. Instead, Aboriginal Australians are firmly present-orientated, but with a view that the present is timeless. I would also argue that Indigenous spirituality, stories of ancestral beings and creation (the ‘Dreamtime’), as well as cultural rituals similarly reflect the timelessness of the here and now. Aboriginal cultures reflect that nature, ancestors, and the present are interconnected.

Berman further shows that studies of American society emphasise how different sub-groups are motivated by different conceptions of time. Some sub-groups that are close-knit are more driven to work together to improve the material and wellbeing of group members in the present. The immediate need to take care of family and kin take precedence over individual achievements. Other sub-groups that are highly individualist are driven by ideas of the future. In this case people are taught to delay immediate leisure, invest in education, and work towards long-term goals that will pay off many years down the track.

Class, ethnicity, religion, gender and other social markers will influence how different groups understand social time.

Institutional forces will also shape this process. When an economy is prosperous, future-orientated perspectives are easier to maintain, but this can manifest in different ways. A current example I would offer is that in a strong economy, people might save all their resources towards future goals, or people might alternatively get into a habit of lending and rely on credit cards because the future seems a long way away. When there is economic stagnation or downturn, delayed gratification becomes a necessity. People’s ideas about the present and future therefore shift in relation to changing material realities and social norms.