ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Everyday negotiations of capitalist temporalities
Location Science Site/Maths CM221
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Alena Thiel (GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies) email
  • Michael Stasik (University of Bayreuth) email

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Short Abstract

This panel explores everyday social practice conducive to produce temporal difference within a time regime of capitalism converging towards 'global' simultaneity. It aims at combining ethnographic analyses of culturally variable co-temporalities with critiques of homochronism.

Long Abstract

If time is invested with power, then the capitalist system of production is currently the dominant force of temporal structuring. Characterized by insistent schedules of production, distribution, exchange and consumption, the homogenizing dictums of capitalist temporalities are both product of temporal synchronizations and source of increasingly synchronized life-times. By taking hold of clock time, capitalist relations impose their clock-controlled codes of sociability onto realms far beyond the iconic assembly line and infiltrate right into the temporal tapestries of everydayness, purportedly on a global scale. Yet as Harootunian (2000) asserts, it is the very realm of everyday life that permits us to negotiate relationships between 'the rhythms and routines reproduced everywhere that capitalism spreads and the lived or local and contingent experiences mediating them'.

In this panel, we attend to these resistances by foregrounding everyday social practices honed in on evading, repurposing, delaying, desynchronizing or accelerating the seemingly universalizing thrust of capitalist temporality. We invite contributors to explore emic perspectives on practices conducive to produce temporal difference within a time regime of capitalism converging towards 'global' simultaneity, while recognizing the conflicting nature of polychronic 'coevalness' (Fabian 2002). We particularly call for approaches that combine ethnographic analysis of culturally variable co-temporalities with critiques of homochronic representations of time and (historical) transformation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"In LA you can't just show up when you feel like it": Mongolians' encounters with capitalist temporalities in Los Angeles

Author: Chima Michael Anyadike-Danes (University of California, Irvine)  email

Short Abstract

Mongolian lives have long been shaped by non-capitalist temporalities: either because of Buddhist or animist beliefs, involvement in herding, or because of their state's communist history. My presentation examines their active resistance to capitalist temporalities whilst living in Los Angeles.

Long Abstract

In the 1890s Los Angeles' leaders created La Fiesta, a multi-day festival, to help economically reinvigorate the city (Deverell 2004). One element of the festival was an evolutionary parade; it involved Native Americans to represent the city's 'sleepy' past and culminated in Americans who symbolized the fated dominance of Anglo industrial capitalism. In contemporary LA cultural identity is often still linked to capitalist temporalities. This presentation examines the city's Mongolian community who ground their resistance in their identity as Mongolians. My presentation will center on how this resistance is visible in both their private and public lives.

As an example of Mongolian attempts to combat the imposition of industrial time I will first discuss the choice many Mongolian men have made to become long distance truckers. Trucking is fascinating because at first glance it seems such an unlikely site of resistance; one is subordinated to a schedule, must keep a log-book, and is GPS tracked. And yet Mongolians argue it offers them a freedom, unlike other labour. In my presentation I will explain how this can be.

Trucking is but one example of LA's Mongolians' withstanding the imposition of capitalist temporalities on their lives. Lacking the funds to purchase permanent spaces of their own Mongolians are heavily reliant on public spaces, like parks, to hold cultural celebrations. However, my research suggests that even these spaces permitting processes are shaped by capitalist logics. Despite this, I argue that the ways Mongolians use the space resists attempts at routinization and standardization.

Co-ordination between different temporal practices and daily manoeuvres of capitalist temporalities in Shenzhen, southern China

Author: Ximin Zhou (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnography of a road in the city of Shenzhen, southern China, the paper addresses how lives are organised by a dominant capitalist temporal regime and how individuals negotiate their daily lives accordingly.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper is based on a 12-month ethnographic research of a nearly-30km road going through the city centre of Shenzhen, a coastal city in southern China. Ethnographically, the paper pays attentions to different rhythms embodied by different people on the road. Some people travel on the road as part of their daily journeys, while some work on the road. The intention for attending to these differentially embodied rhythms is to demonstrate the varying dynamics of the road, which is nonetheless held as one. The paper borrows Massey's spatial idea of 'throwntogetherness' to demonstrate how the road is held as one by the co-existence of differences.

The paper studies ethnographic portraits of two people - a taxi driver and a white-collared office worker. The paper demonstrates the daily routines of the taxi driver, Lao Zhang, who frequents the road and the surrounding neighbourhoods almost every working day and Xiao Zheng who travels on the road as part of his daily journey from home to work. Although the capitalist temporal regime structures urbanites' lives, the paper argues that such temporal regime also propels the pace of life, as demonstrated by the taxi driver. However, the paper also brings attentions to the importance of co-ordinations between individuals within the capitalist temporal confinement. Equally importantly, there are also daily practices of maneuvers that allow individuals to 'steal' time for personal reasons. Thus the daily temporal maneuvers become a mechanism to deal with the togetherness given by the capitalist regime.

Waiting for petrol: manipulating time in Buipe, Ghana

Author: Monica Skaten (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at everyday practices of negotiating and manipulating time at a Petroleum Storage Depot. Privatisation of distribution has left state infrastructure dormant, and the economic productivity has been replaced by circulation of rumours and projecting the arrival of petroleum products.

Long Abstract

In a small town in Ghana's Northern Region, engineers, technicians and the people alike were waiting for petrol. The main driver for most businesses was the infrastructural entity of a Petroleum Storage Depot, which had increased trade and activity in the town since the 1990s. While the depot in theory was still functioning and fully staffed, it was left in limbo as privatisation of distribution was in tune with current economic reforms. In this paper, I examine how people deal with and explain how and why they have been disconnected from the main infrastructure of petroleum product distribution in Ghana. The paper looks at notions of time and waiting in a perplexing situation, in a growing downstream petroleum industry.

A number of reasons are identified as to why pipelines and tank farms remain dormant in Ghana. The paper argues that local negotiations and resistance to the current system is coped with through manipulating time. Every month, rumours, instead of products, arrived at the Petroleum Storage Depot. Technicians and engineers distributed information to keep people and businesses alert and ready to re-connect. This provided an environment in which an otherwise stagnating town and local economy challenged new structures created by privatisation.

This paper is based on data collected in the town of Buipe, as part of a wider project on Ghana's petroleum product distribution system. It looks at everyday social practices in regards to petroleum product and infrastructure. It is analysed in the environment of economic reform, austerity, and expectation from oil and gas discoveries.

Time for myself: ethical self-formation and fragmented time in the global city

Author: Farhan Samanani (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Projects of ethical self-fashioning are dependent on their ability to unfold throughout time. Pushing against this are the fragmentary pressures of globalization. I examine how modern Londoners strive to ‘trap’, ‘grab’ and ‘keep’ time in order to enable such projects of self-fashioning to develop

Long Abstract

Within the recent anthropological focus on ethics, there has been a vital - if underdeveloped recognition - of how ethical projects are grounded in a mode of unfolding time that allows for understandings of self and of others to be developed and articulated. Ethical subjects become so through striving to act more-or-less consistently through changing circumstances, and this requires a mode of time that is neither too closed and controlled, nor too open-ended and uncertain. Against this, globalization has generated pressures both towards the carefully accounted control of time, through the spread of capitalist modes of exchange on one hand, and towards the over-fragmentation of time on the other, as people, ideas and images from across the globe all converge on 'local' space to infuse it with a host of competing temporalities.

In this context, I look at how citizens of London imagine ideas of the good, in tenuous and often cynical ways, but also at how they then deploy particular practices of time management to 'trap' 'make' and 'keep' in order to keep these fragile projects of self-fashioning unfolding over time. I focus in particular on an exercise group meant to deter youth from gang involvement. Commitments to body-building, in this context, become commitments to a particularly disciplined self with wider horizons of capabilities and aspirations. However, in the wider world, these disciplines slip or contend with other pressures. I argue that, in this context, youth and trainers both focus on developing ways to manage time to allow space for ethics to unfold.

Looking out: space, place and temporality in the Karoo

Author: Davide Chinigo' (Stellenbosch University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines how multiple and overlapping temporalities reproduced by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project in the Karoo region of South Africa structure very different ideas about social transformation, development and the future of humanity.

Long Abstract

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is a global network development initiative aimed at building the world's largest radio telescope in the Karoo region of South Africa. The SKA is expected to bring about major scientific discoveries, while at the same time promising major social and economic benefits for both the Karoo and South Africa. By looking at how the project reproduces several overlapping temporalities (e.g. cosmological; geological; ecological; agricultural), the paper contextualizes the SKA in the trajectory(ies) of transformation of the Karoo region. Moving beyond an idea of chronological time, the papers attempts to show how different temporalities are constructed and reproduce specificities of the local, national and global context. These are empirically depicted in terms of specific understandings of the past, reflections about the present, as well as aspirations and expectations about the future. Exploring trajectories of social transformation entails acknowledging temporal heterogeneity - and hence causal heterogeneity - as a standpoint for the conceptualization of the multiple interactions between the global, the national and the local. An important methodological consequence is that developmental implications depend on the specificities of the social world within which they take place. Ultimately, the paper attempts to look at how different views around the SKA construct and reproduce ideas about social transformation, development and the future of humanity.

Translating the time of capital: the case of Accra's Makola market associations

Author: Alena Thiel (GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at traders associations in Accra’s main marketplace, Makola market. I analyse how Makola market traders creatively adapt travelling ideas that seek to condition their claims for entitlements vis-à-vis state authorities in line with capital’s logic of (taxpayer) citizenship.

Long Abstract

The paper looks at traders associations in Accra's main marketplace, Makola market. As a site of intense sociality and connection (Braudel 1984), marketplaces closely connect traders to global flows of capital, goods and ideas. In view of their connectedness and marked by their entrepreneurial innovation and creativity, traders represent perfect facilitators of translations between competing significations of order. Drawing on Benjamin's notions of heterotemporality and the evasion of capitalist modernity in the moment of everydayness, I analyse how Makola market traders creatively adapt travelling ideas that seek to condition their claims for entitlements vis-à-vis state authorities in line with capital's logic of (taxpayer) citizenship. Transported into the market by transnational NGOs, among other vectors of capital time, these ideas about the person, (political) community and the relationship between the two are not assimilated one-sidedly, but traders evade the only superficially universalizing thrusts of capital time through continuous translations in the recurring moments of convergence between coeval temporalities.

'When is time wasted?': entrepreneurs' conceptions of time in the North of Italy

Author: Elena Sischarenco (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

In my fieldwork with the entrepreneurs from the construction business in the North of Italy, I have not only discovered so called 'capitalist' views of time but also seemingly contradictory views. Time and productivity cannot be easily measured and controlled.

Long Abstract

Time is important for my informants. But why is time so important for them? When do they think time is well spent? And how they put up with a time which seems to be employed differently during the period of economic crisis? My informants negotiate time in different ways and they seem to have two different conceptions of it.

On one side, they pay great attention to not wasting time, both theirs and mine. They are always moving from one place to another, and they sometimes seem not to have any time at all. They often start to work quite early in the morning and continue until late at night. Despite working for so long, they often describe their days as empty because they are apparently not productive and they feel frustrated because their time has been wasted.

On the other side, and in a seemingly contradictory way, they teach me that there is no time wasted. In fact, productivity cannot be rationally calculated, you never know when you will find the right information and the right contacts, you should always be around and time is only apparently wasted. Furthermore, they teach me that meetings often last more than the time necessary for the practical arrangements and this is because trusted relationships should be kept and cultivated slowly.

Businessmen constantly try to have control of their present, and sometimes future, time which they constantly organise and negotiate. However, their lives are punctuated by time in apparently contradictory ways.

"Wasting time the Veratan way": conspicuous leisure and the value of waiting in Fiji

Author: Matti Erasaari (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks into the value of time in Fiji, with a particular emphasis on waiting.

Long Abstract

My paper looks into the value of time in Fiji, with a particular emphasis on the value placed on waiting. In Naloto village in the chiefdom of Verata, waiting, relaxing or doing things slowly may even be regarded as a vessel of communal values in a way that is closer to Veblen's conspicuous leisure than Marx' labour theory of value. The particular value that Veratans place on this absence of time discipline is a proverbial fact in Fiji, just like Fiji as a nation is famous for "Fiji time", a general attitude to time and labour that "appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency" (Thompson 1967: 60).

In a village situated just outside of Fiji's main metropolitan area, resting, relaxing and dignified pace thus act as a counterpoint to the rewards of wage labour and urban middle-class prestige, making it possible for village-based Nalotans to render their values comparable with those of the urban employed. It is, however, only through the experience of those seeking to make the transition that one understands the great degree to which time can also be used for levelling and the proprieties of conspicuous leisure get to be internalised. That is when relaxing and acting in a dignified manner can turn into "wasting time".

Harnessing the liminal time of Bangladesh's young women: everyday negotiations of capitalist temporalities

Author: Juli Huang (LSE)  email

Short Abstract

I examine young women’s everyday attempts to thwart the time regimes of capitalism, revealed through the experiences of Bangladesh’s iconic “iAgents.” iAgents must mediate village timescapes with capitalist and nationalist timescapes, harnessing the one for the other, yet exploited by both.

Long Abstract

A woman hurriedly enters a garments factory, afraid of being late. A second woman accepts a microcredit loan to pay for her own dowry. A third woman helps a village auntie to conduct a Skype call with her migrant-worker son in Muscat, enabling her to bridge space and time, as she ignores disparaging remarks about women who work.

Bangladesh undergoes monumental change in its economy and society, and young women walk the forefront of transformation. They epitomize the liminality, uncertainty, and ambiguity that characterize the nation's experience with the conflicting times of speculative growth, development "success," and political chaos.

This paper examines the everyday ways in which young women confront and attempt to thwart the time regimes of capitalism, revealed through the experiences of Bangladesh's iconic "iAgents." Women acting as iAgents must mediate village timescapes with capitalist and nationalist timescapes, harnessing the one for the other, yet exploited by both. Whereas historically commercial transactions within kinship relations (such as dowry) were about women, now women have moved to the forefront as actors in such processes. By assuming an agentive role, women experience new room to maneuver, but they also remain bound by the time rhythms and expectations of their role held by men as fathers, uncles, loan officers, social-enterprise managers, and foreign investors. I reveal ways that women reclaim a sense of agency, for instance by exploiting the time stretch of bureaucratic regimes as subtle acts of protest and by invoking long-cycle ethical registers through acting virtuously in the present.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.