Natural time, historical time, and social time, are historically distinct, but presently merging – Mendieta.


Eduardo Mendieta observes an historical differentiation between natural time, historical time, and social time. These differences are said to be reducing, however, as the rate at which historical events develop is accelerated. Furthermore, despite an opposition between natural and social constitutions, social time is regulating shorter temporalities for naturally occurring rhythms.

The symbolic deconstruction of time, partly a result of the information revolution discussed above, has lead to a rethinking of the differences among natural, historical, and social time. Social time is the time in which and at which societies experience their lifeworld. Or rather, just as Henri Lefebvre spoke of the “social production of space,” we must also speak of the “social production of time.” This socially produced time is social time; it is the time that punctuates the rhythms of social existence. This is the time that ticks at the sounds of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months. This is the time that keeps track of workdays, academic calendars, and leisure time. This time, however, is timed by clocks and timetables that have been arranged in terms of assumptions, beliefs, and ideologies about how much time constitutes a workday, a work week, how long should persons work in their lifetime, and so on. Like maps, clocks clock only what they have been arranged to clock. The rhythms of social existence, however, intersect with historical and natural time. Historical time has to do with the time in which historical events, forces, processes, and transformations take place. Historical time is the time in which societies and civilizations live and mark their transformations. Historical time, one may say, is punctuated by political revolutions, wars, elections, and technological revolutions that may have accelerated the rhythms of social time. Finally, natural time is the time of nature, of tectonic plates, of seas, of weather patterns, of draughts and floods, of freezing or melting polar ice caps, and other such forces that are punctuated in millennia, in cycles whose regularity or patterns are not discernable because their time span is beyond human time.

What is distinctive about the global condition, at the phenomenological level, is that these three times have began to merge, or seem to have collapsed into each other. Social time has accelerated to such an extent that it has caught up with historical time. Revolutions are lived within decades. Major social transformations occur where entire societies are uprooted and restructured in the blink of the eye. What took centuries, now takes decades, and sometimes a score of years. History is being televised at any given moment, even as its revisionism is aired and posted that same evening. By the same token, historical time seems to have caught up to natural time: The El Niño weather pattern is now part of pedestrian speak. The greenhouse effect is melting the ice caps, and sea levels are rising, regions are turning into desserts, while desserts are turning into irrigated gardens. The cumulative effect is that time has to be symbolically reconstituted. The self-assurance of Cartesian and Newtonian thought that operated on the dependability and seeming immutability of natural and world historical time have to be traded for a type of thinking that will set out from the social productivity of temporality (Mendieta 2007, 21-22).

Mendieta, Eduardo. 2007. Global fragments: Latinamericans, globalizations, and critical theory. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Categories: History

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