Vessels of Time: An Essay on Temporal Change and Social Transformation

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Oxford University Press, 1993 - History - 103 pages
This extended, penetrating, and elegantly structured and written essay is an exploration of time, conceptually, comparatively, and in different historical and social contexts. It opens with an exploration of time in different societies. Is time among the Salteaux, Balinese, Nuer, or Pitanjara similar or different? What of ancient India and China? What if we add medieval Europe and industrializing America? Immediately 'time' becomes problematic: is it a concept, a series of concepts, or just a set of measurements? How does one compare: are we sure we are dealing with comparable things. Most studies assume time to be axiomatically given, in terms of which other notions of time become different or non-existent; and are dissolved in other domains (social structure, economy, kinship, ritual). What becomes of the question of time (put in terms of an indigenous equivalent of a western concept, or-vice versa) when we ask who is doing the category construction, for whom, when, where? What is the purpose underlying the comparison? Is it an innocent study of temporality or a marker of progress, modernization, dependence? Half the essay is thus concerned with questions (theoretical, methodological, interpretative) of what is involved when we talk about time in different societies, Western and non-Western, in contemporary and historical contexts. The other half is thematically even broader with the addition of changes that have occurred over the past two centuries, leaving no society untouched. The author concludes, inter alia, that time in an anthropological sense is not a universal condition with a constant meaning throughout histories and societies, and that the anthropologist's task is to findways of comparing the differences, thereby opening cultures and traditions to each other in a more egalitarian way than was possible in the past.


The Problem of Time in Societies
Time in NonWestern Societies
The Pasts of the West

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