The Concept of Time

Topics: Sociology, Culture, Anthropology Pages: 8 (2364 words) Published: February 7, 2014
How significant is the concept of time as a way that we classify society? Explain some different cultural notions of time.

The concept of time is not universally defined; it is a socially constructed entity, as different cultures in the world interpret time in different ways. So, do we share time? We all live in the present, but do all cultures in the world view the past and the future as holding the same level of importance? In a globalised world it is easy to synchronize clocks, but is synchronizing cultures as easy? Around the world, some cultures don’t see time as something that should control their lives, some cultures believe that time is everything, whilst others have no concept of time whatsoever. We now live in a globalised world that provides us with new technologies and the ability to undertake anthropological research highlighting the diversities of human culture. Despite the intercultural contact due to these advancements, perceptions have remained unchanged in societies resistant to adopting what are now globalised ideologies of time. This essay is going to provide examples and explain some different cultural notions of time between pre-industrial and industrial societies. It will then look at how significant the concept of time is in regards to how we classify society, and then relate these concepts to key Sociological and Anthropological theories.

Before the industrial revolution and the impending urbanisation, societies were small and for the most part depended on local resources for their survival. Hunter-gatherer society’s subsistence comes primarily from hunting animals, fishing and gathering plants. All humans lived in this way just 12,000 years ago and whilst facing extinction, some of these societies still function in the world today despite the process of modernity (Lee and Daly, 1999). The Pirahã Tribe are a culture without any concept of time. The Pirahã people are a small indigenous tribe of around 350 people located in the Amazon rainforest and have both a limited concept of language, with only around 11 phonemes (Everett, 2009: p8), and time. Linguists like Daniel Everett have attempted to teach the Pirahã people language but these attempts have been largely futile. The tribe’s culture has no concept of numbers or quantity, to give to time. In fact, the only word they have for quantity is “hoi” which depending on tone describes whether a quantity is small or large in amount (Liberman, 2004). Their culture has no religious underpinnings or creation myths. They live in the present and have no concept of past tense thus making their history, to some degree, non-existent (Davies, 2006). Time is beyond this tribes grasp as their linguistic, spiritual and numerical limitations prevent them from ever learning this concept.

Pastoral civilizations date back to around 7,500 years ago, when human societies began to pastor animals and cultivate their own plants as their means of subsistence (Open-Stax College). Nomadic Pastoral culture has a unique view on time, especially in comparison to Western society, as it based largely around seasonal time rather than clock time. The Bedouin tribes are Nomadic Pastoral societies located in various Arabic nations including Syria, Israel, Yemen and Tunisia (Losleben, 2002: p4). The people in these tribes are not controlled by the idea of a clock, as it has no relevance to their daily lives. Strict adherence to time is not the main priority of the culture and the precision of a clock is worthless as they tend to their flock as and when needed, and move depending on seasonal influences. Punctuality is not a key trait for these people; they are a relaxed culture that doesn’t let time run their lives. Their own Arabic saying “Insha’Allah”, meaning “Allah Willing”, is an important saying in the Qur’an that Muslims must say after every statement detailing something they plan to do in the future (Tafseer, 2012). If they are late, then it is the will of their God....

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