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Differences in temporal reasoning

Temporal complexity and generational clashes in an East German city

Felix Ringel

Hoyerswerda, Germany's fastest-shrinking city, faces problems with the future that seem initially unrelated to the past and yet excite manifold conflicting accounts of it. The multiple and conflicting temporal references employed by Hoyerswerdians indicate that the temporal regime of postsocialism is accompanied, if not overcome, by the temporal framework of shrinkage. By reintroducing the analytical domain of the future, I show that local temporal knowledge practices are not historically predetermined by a homogenous postsocialist culture or by particular generational experiences. Rather, they exhibit what I call temporal complexity and temporal flexibility-creative uses of a variety of coexisting temporal references. My ethnographic material illustrates how such expressions of different forms of temporal reasoning structure social relations within and between different generations. Corresponding social groups are not simply divided by age, but are united through shared and heavily disputed negotiations of the post-Cold War era's contemporary crisis.

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Introduction

Anthropologies of planning—Temporality, imagination, and ethnography

Simone Abram and Gisa Weszkalnys

Recent anthropological approaches to temporality and spatiality can offer particularly important insights into established planning theories. In this introductory essay, we consider planning as a manifestation of what people think is possible and desirable, and what the future promises for the better. We outline how plans can operate as a particular form of promissory note, and explore how plans may be seen to perform a particular kind of work, laying out diverse kinds of conceptual orders while containing a notion of the state as an unfulfilled idea. The task of the ethnographer is to chart the practices, discourses, technologies, and artifacts produced by planning, as well as the gaps that emerge between planning theory and practice. We consider the changing horizons of expectation and the shifting grounds of government in different phases and forms of neoliberalization that are characteristic of planning in the contemporary world.

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Unbuilt and Unfinished

The Temporalities of Infrastructure

Ashley Carse and David Kneas

Infrastructures have proven to be useful focal points for understanding social phenomena. The projects of concern in this literature are often considered complete or, if not, their materialization is assumed to be imminent. However, many—if not most—of the engineered artifacts and systems classified as infrastructure exist in states aptly characterized as unbuilt or unfinished. Bringing together scholarship on unbuilt and unfinished infrastructures from anthropology, architecture, geography, history, and science and technology studies, this article examines the ways in which temporalities articulate as planners, builders, politicians, potential users, and opponents negotiate with a project and each another. We develop a typology of heuristics for analyzing the temporalities of the unbuilt and unfinished: shadow histories, present absences, suspended presents, nostalgic futures, and zombies. Each heuristic makes different temporal configurations visible, suggesting novel research questions and methodological approaches.

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Daniel M. Knight

The consequences of prolonged fiscal austerity have left people in Trikala, central Greece, with feelings of intense temporal vertigo: confusion and anxiety about where and when they belong in overarching timelines of pasts and futures. Some people report feeling ‘thrown back in time’ to past eras of poverty and suffering, while others discuss their experiences of the current crisis situation as reliving multiple moments of the past assembled in the present. This article analyses how locals understand their complex experiences of time and temporality, and promotes the accommodation of messy narratives of time that can otherwise leave the researcher feeling sea-sick.

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Crafting Future Selves

Time-Tricking and the Limits of Temporal Play in Children’s Online Film-Making

Espen Helgesen

Children in Norway increasingly spend time online, where they play games, create and share videos and hang out with friends. Drawing on fieldwork among immigrant families in Norway, this article investigates the use of avatars to facilitate temporal play in children’s online film-making. By creating animated films starring their own and their friends’ avatars, children playfully engage with a wide range of imagined future selves. Avatars constitute on-screen extensions of selves, allowing inhabitants of online environments to explore and experiment with otherwise inaccessible viewpoints and perspectives. Addressing the limits of time-tricking in children’s temporal play, the article shows how offline conventions shape what avatars can do.

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The temporality of illegality

Experiences of undocumented Latin American migrants in London

Ana Gutiérrez Garza

Through an ethnography of undocumented migrants from Latin America to London, I explore the temporality of illegality as a piecemeal process in which migrants find themselves embodying new ways of being in the world. I investigate the power of illegality beyond its legal connotations and through the analysis of the everyday experiences of migrants in London, I show how it affects the external structure of migrants’ worlds, as well as their subjectivities. I show how the illegal status is imagined, embodied, and sustained over an indefinite and uncertain length of time. Undocumented migrants in London are required to slowly adapt, to wait through anxious engagements with other people, and to deal with a legal system that controls their fractured presents and their uncertain futures.

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Living an Uncertain Future

Temporality, Uncertainty, and Well-Being among Iraqi Refugees in Egypt

Nadia El-Shaarawi

While displacement has always involved the refiguring of space, scholars of forced migration have recently begun to consider how temporality might be crucial to an understanding of displacement. In this article, I consider the interplay of temporal and spatial uncertainty in the experience of exile for Iraqi refugees in metropolitan Cairo. By examining how Iraqis understand displacement as uncertain and how this uncertainty is a cause of significant distress, I show that an attunement to temporality can help us to understand refugees' experiences of displacement. Iraqi refugees spoke of exile in Cairo as 'living in transit'—a condition in which disjuncture between their expectations about exile and its realities contributed to an altered experience of time in which the future became particularly uncertain and life was experienced as unstable. One solution sought by refugees is resettlement, a process that often renders the future even more uncertain, at least in the short term.

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Times of the Other

The Temporalities of Ethnographic Fieldwork

Ton Otto

Anthropologists working in a culturally unfamiliar field site carry out an experiment in time by interacting with people who do not share a common cultural past with them. Their real time interaction will therefore engender miscommunications and interpretative breakdowns. The 'invisibility' of temporal patterns results from the tendency of human consciousness to focus on difference and forget repetition. This article argues that the methodological intervention of ethnographic fieldwork is to transform repetition into difference by participating in events over a period of time. Building on the premise that anthropologists and their collaborators often act from different temporal orientations or 'timescapes', the article suggests that similar differences develop within societies between actors in different life situations and representing different cultural interests and traditions. Only through the long-term study of a particular group of people can the complexity and dynamics of different timescapes be discerned.

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Freak Temporality

Female Adolescence in the Novels of Carson McCullers

Alison Sperling

In this article I will explore the repeated depiction of freak show performers and their relation to adolescent, tomboyish female protagonists in the novels of Carson McCullers. In a surprisingly recurrent trope across McCullers’s work, young girls believe that they will grow uncontrollably, as tall as the “nine foot tall” woman at the fair on the outskirts of town. Serving as a link between their rapidly developing bodies and their emergent sense of their own queerness, freakishness threatens to divert them from the normative futures of womanhood. I investigate this intersection of freak studies, a sub-discipline of disability studies, and queer theories of temporality, arguing for an extension of queer time through crip time, one which is necessitated by a consideration of freakishness in relation to youth and development. The figure of the freak across McCullers’s work calls for a reassessment of girlhood’s complex relationship to embodiment, place, sexuality, and temporality.

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Ksenia Gavrilova

In this article I will explore the correlation between the discourse of youths’ out-migration and their attitudes toward the infrastructure of Tilichiki, a small town in Kamchatka. I attempt to contest the perspective that out-migration (resulting in town depopulation) is caused by the perception of social infrastructure as insufficient. The analysis of local discourse shows that negative or positive descriptions of infrastructure, social services and life conditions in the town in general depend on whether the person has plans of leaving the town. This correlation is supported by temporal dimension of one’s life project: the duration of speakers’ residence in the town or the amount of time that they are planning to spend there.