Faculty of Humanities

Theoretical Framework

The PhD programme will be studying the complex regimes of temporality in the Global South with respect to the social practices and cultural imaginaries that are constitutive for the production of time in concrete local contexts. We do not aim to establish another grand narrative about the effect on social life resulting from the dynamics of modernization and globalization. Instead, we seek to direct a micro-gaze upon the often conflicting and overlapping temporal regimes to be encountered by social actors in the Global South in the concrete and paradigmatic settings of our case studies, exploring the way these dynamics are reflected or modelled in cultural texts and media. As part of our transregional approach to Global South studies, we aim to bring the empirical results of these investigations into a broad comparative dialogue with fellow researchers and international scholars from our thematic network.

It is of crucial importance to this endeavour to not reduce “entangled temporalities” simply to reactions to a failed and fragmented imposition of Western dynamics of modernization, but to understand them in their own right as constitutive of “lived time” in the Global South. It is our conviction that such phenomena are by no ways a recent occurrence, but reach back into the times of colonialism and even before (cf. Anozie 1981: 50-61; Mbiti 1969; Mbembe 2000; Rettová 2016). Our theoretical approach is informed by postcolonial theory, Southern epistemology, social and cultural anthropology (where a focus on specific temporal regimes has existed for a long time [e.g. Geertz 1966, Turner 1969, 1982, Basso 1996], but where studies on temporal “entanglements” remain an exception [e.g. Birth 2017]).

It is, therefore, not the analytical category of the abstract, empty time of modernity that serves as the starting point for the PhD programme, but rather a grounded, subject-oriented notion, developed on the basis of Bergson's concept of “durée” (Bergson 1889), of “experienced time” with its focus on the subject (Mbembe 2000, Sharma 2014) or else of “performative” (as against “pedagogical”) concepts of temporality (Bhaba 1994). Above all, however, we understand time as the product of social practices (Elias 1984). Temporality can thus be grasped, following the concepts of a “labor of/on time” (Bear 2014), a “making time” (Anozie 1981: 60) or a “doing time” (Felski 2000), as the result of social production, according to which the levels of structure and agency intertwine and underpin the concept of subject as a socio-cultural entity (Mbembe 2000; Reckwitz 2006). In accordance with Giddens’ understanding of recursivity, temporal relations in the Global South (and elsewhere) thus appear, on the one hand, as the product of temporal politics that mould the subject and, on the other hand, as the result of societal and cultural practices at a collective level. Our analyses will accordingly focus on the temporal regimes that are relevant for subjectivity as well as their adaptions and transformations within a broader framework.

In order to tease out the various forms of production of temporality under conditions of “entanglement”, the PhD programme will operate with a heuristic system that differentiates between the levels of “temporal politics”, “temporal practices” and “temporal imaginaries”. On the basis of this schematic framework, thematic clusters—“subject and community”, “mediatisation and performativity” and “futurity and historicity”—will organize our investigations.

Temporal politics

From a societal perspective, time is always related to power relations and presupposes a radical asymmetry with respect to the actors involved in its production. In this sense, temporal politics deals with those forms of temporal practices that reveal a strategic formation and are based on structural longevity. This political dimension of time builds on Foucault’s (1975, 1991) understanding of disciplinary time, i.e. the power that is exercised on the individuals by temporal regimes, for example, the context of wage labour or of institutional techniques of subjectification in school and the military. Foucault’s primarily Eurocentric approach must, however, be expanded to include disciplinary techniques that emerged from the processes of colonization as its supporting pillars, in the context, for instance, of slave temporalities, plantation temporalities or “Kafir Time” (Atkins 1988; Johnson 2000). The concept of temporal politics will be broadly defined to include

both concrete groups of actors and systemic relationships as those, for example, that relate to the impact of media and technology on the production of time. Temporal politics incorporate the fundamental economic and political asymmetries in the north-south relationship as well as the power constellations that characterize the internal structures of the societies of the South.

Temporal Practices

In everyday life, social and cultural practices either reproduce temporality in ways which are affirmative of the structural and systemic patterns imposed on the subject by temporal politics or else offer the subject ways of managing time in a productive, autonomous and resistant manner. The everyday time of large sections of the population in the Global South is situated in the context of a “making time” (Anozie 1981: 60) or “making do”—those forms of improvisations and tactics constituent of everyday praxis (de Certeau 1980; Lefebvre 1975) as well as of social “bricolage” (Lévi-Strauss 1962). Although they are embedded in the dominant relations of production and power structures, these forms of praxis nevertheless offer space for self-construction and informal subsistence. At this level, we may address the ways in which the body is involved in the production of time by means of incorporating disciplinary time (Foucault 1975, 1991) or experiencing the durée (Bergson) in ways which, according to Mbembe (2000), relate to the notion of lived time (“temps vécu”).

Temporal Imaginaries

Complementary to the strategies of temporal politics and to the tactical level of everyday praxis we also look into temporal imaginaries that inform the ways in which time is being conceived and made sense of. This category is based on the notion of social imaginaries as cultural foundations of social structure (Castoriadis 1975, Anderson 1983, Taylor 2004) as well as on Appadurai's concept of the “work of imagination” (Appadurai 1996). The role of temporal imagination is of crucial importance to our context because the multi-temporal heterogeneity of temporal relations in the Global South creates a fundamental epistemological problem: the engagement with the contingency, fluidity, precarity and heterogeneity of social and political structures in everyday practices constantly challenges subjects to create a meaningful relationship to the dominant regimes of temporality. This happens through imaginaries that are not limited to the cultural elite and their capacity for reflection, but as Munn (1992: 116) postulates, can be understood symbolic categories initially based on experiential knowledge i.e. that emerge from everyday practices. Moreover, the circulation, mediatisation and archiving of embodied knowledge are to be situated on the level of temporal imaginaries as forms of symbolic and aesthetic modelling of time. The level of temporal imaginaries therefore requires the aggregation of different approaches: the cultural anthropological consideration of autochthonic practices of the imagination, especially in the sense of the ritualistic production or embodiment of temporality, textual analyses of symbolic modelling of temporality in literature and media production and, finally, the cultural theoretical analysis of abstract theories of time.