‘Time Is Like a Soup’

Boat Time and the Temporal Experience of London’s Liveaboard Boaters

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

Itinerant boat-dwellers (‘boaters’) on the waterways of London speak about their lives as occurring in a time zone that is separate from the sedentary world around them. ‘Boat time’, as boaters call it, is simultaneously slow and unpredictable. The slow aspect of boat time is said to provide a much-needed contrast to the fast and highly choreographed movements of the city surrounding the towpaths. It becomes part of the boaters’ rhetoric of difference from, and resistance to, the state and other sedentary elements surrounding them. This article suggests that temporal experiences are a constitutive part of identity, a strategic component of resistance to the sedentary order, and a thread that links the disparate aspects of boaters’ own lives aboard.

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