What is common to all of them the assumption that it’s ok to ask someone to squeeze something more in. We ignore the illnesses, the anxiety, the overwork and ask for ‘just a little bit more.’ I have the feeling that this is something that many people will be familiar with. It’s something that happens to us and something many of us do to other people.
Perhaps one reason we do this is that we get so caught up in our own deadlines and worries that we can’t accept that what we had planned just isn’t going to happen. The report you really hoped to have in the newsletter won’t be getting written. The attendees at your event won’t be synchronised with each other. Once, when a speaker had to cancel their attendance at a meeting I’d organised, I didn’t get back to them for a week because I was too busy worrying about what I was going to do without them.
In my own work I’ve come to think about time as a form of relationality. Our stories about time tell us what is it to be with others, or to not be with them. They also tell us what kinds of forms this ‘withness’ can take. This means that time can also be seen as a form of ethical encounter. If that’s so, what are we doing when we ignore other people’s claims that they don’t have the time?
It seems that in order to treat the other ethically, you have to come to terms with your disappointment, let go of the anticipated future you had been working with, and then still have the generosity to be able to say to the person who has somehow let you down “Of course, no problems, hope things get better for you soon”.
I had a lovely lesson in this when I witnessed a colleague deal with a keynote having to drop out of an event only a couple of weeks before the start date. The speaker had obviously wrestled with the guilt of doing this and was extremely apologetic. Almost immediately the reply came back that they would be missed, but it is far more important for them to take care of themselves, everyone would manage, and there was no need to feel bad. Even though it wasn’t directed to me, the kindness and compassion of it brought me to tears.
I had this in mind when I was sitting in that network coordination meeting, listening to stressed people being asked to take on even more. I realised that sending them the email passwords ‘just in case’ would still add another thing to the pile of things they felt like they should be doing. So I objected and suggested that they should in fact be deliberately not sent the password so they wouldn’t have it at the backs of their minds.
It was only a tiny little gesture, but it’s an event that stays with me because it reminds me that there are these kinds of ethical decisions to be made, and I hope I can learn to be more like my colleague, who focused on care rather than guilt.
Two further interviews in the Temporal Belongings Series are available. In the first I talk with Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the new economics foundation. We focus particularly on her involvement in the 21 hours project and the accompanying edited collection Time on Our Side: Why we all need a shorter working week. In the second interview I talk with Katherine Gibson, an economic geographer and member of the Community Economies Collective about her most recent book Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming our Communities as J.K. Gibson-Graham and with Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy. Both are part of the Sustaining Time project, looking at the role of time in building more sustainable economies.
I'll be visiting Australia from mid-March to mid-April and will be presenting on two of my recent projects, In Conversation with... and Sustaining Time. Please do come along if you are in Melbourne, Sydney or Wollongong.
Multispecies Methods: Participatory Research and the more-than-human
Widespread interest in challenging the traditional divides between humans and non-humans has contributed to a growing push for methods that can work with the distributed knowledges, experiences and values of our multi-species worlds. In response, proposals for the development of etho-ethnology and ethno-ethology (Lestel et al. 2006), multi-species ethnography (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010) and zoömusicology (Taylor 2013), amongst others, have augmented, hybridised and remade methodological repertoires. Participatory research methods have a long history of grappling with problems around who is understood ‘to know’ within the research process. These methods challenge what kinds of knowledges are seen to be legitimate, while also attending to the problems of producing knowledge within contexts of stubborn inequality. As a result, an engagement with the various debates that have taken place within participatory research offer a rich opportunity for those working with non-human others to reflect on their methodologies in complex and sophisticated ways. This paper analyses the outcomes from a recent research project that explored the potential for developing more-than-human participatory approaches. Over the course of four workshops, the team drew on participatory design, participatory action research and ethical frameworks for community-based participatory research to frame their encounters with dogs, bees, trees and water. Discussing some of the affordances and frictions that we experienced in this process, I will draw out some of the consequences of trying to think the ‘more-than-human’ and ‘participatory research’ together. Throughout I pay particular attention to the ways our preconceptions around ‘who knows’ were tested, expanded and confounded by our immersive experiences in more-than-human worlds.
Transforming economies, transforming time?
Economic crisis, austerity politics, energy supply uncertainty, climate change – these are just a few of the issues igniting interest in alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist model. Focusing on the potential of collaborative relationships, rather than ones based on competition, proponents of more sustainable economies are exploring gift economies, peer-to-peer, shared consumption, crowd-funding and co-operative models. Broadly speaking, it has often been assumed that shifts in the dominant economic model have brought with them shifts in dominant understandings and experiences of time. Industrial capitalism is often linked with new uses of clock time, for example, while late capitalism is been associated with a speeded up, 24/7, networked time. Such narratives provoke the question of what kind of time(s) might a sustainable economy be characterised by? Drawing on case study material, interviews and archive research, this paper looks at three of the most easily recognisable candidates (slow rather than fast, circular rather than linear and balanced rather than overworked). In each case, narratives of epochal shifts are challenged and a more complicated, impure account of the politics of sustaining time is developed.
A new post about my recent attendance at the Slow University II Seminar at the University of Durham:
The Slow Movement often comes up when I talk to people about the Sustaining Time project. It’s a nice clear way of explaining why you might want to think about time as part of developing more sustainable forms of economics. Slow Food, for example, suggests that a sustainable food system would need to use a very different time to the one guiding industrial agriculture. And of course the slow movement hasn’t stopped there but has been moving into a whole range of different areas, including into research with ‘slow science’ and ‘slow scholarship’ gaining more attention.
Keep reading over at the Sustaining Time blog
With various projects that were due around the new year now being finished up, I've had time to return to my work on the Sustaining Time project. I'll be blogging there about a range of issues that came up in the case study research from last year. Here's an extract from a recent post that looked back at the inspiration for the project:
All around us, the dominant stories of how people interact with each other and the kinds of incentives and rewards they respond to are shifting. Instead of competitive self-interested units, we are more generous, more co-operative and more complex than main-stream economists give us credit for. The structure and characteristics of the web woven between the human and non-human, between the biological, the mineral and the elemental are being questioned and described in new ways. Gift-based economies, the new commons, cooperation, abundance instead of scarcity and distributed networks are just a few examples.
Keep reading over at the Sustaining Time blog
As part of the Sustaining Time project, Alex Buchanan is organising a public event in Liverpool on the 30th of October that looks at Time in the Archives. What archive resources might be available to research historical understandings and approaches to time? There is a fascinating line-up of presentations including:
The write up from the recent Festival of Methods for Studying Perceptions of Time is now available on-line. Get an overview of what we got up to, listen to the presentations and have a look at the resources created on the day.
Organised by Jen Southern as part of the Sustaining Time project.
Speakers include: Rachel Thomson (Sussex), Martin Green (Lancaster), Alex Buchanan (Liverpool), Helen Holmes (Sheffield), Jennifer Whillans (Manchester), Eric Laurier (Edinburgh), James Ash (Northumbria), Jen Southern (Lancaster) and Chris Speed (Edinburgh).
Originally published on the Sustaining Time blog, part of an AHRC funded project which asks the question: What would be the time of a sustainable economy?London Permaculture (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Another organisation I’ve visited recently is Lammas, a planned low-impact eco-village in North Pembrokeshire. I attended the recent Low Impact Experience week run by Hoppi Wimbush and also interviewed some of the villagers and volunteers. There are lots of notes and interview transcripts to go through, but I wanted to share some initial observations about possible links between permaculture and developing a more critical relationship to time. As Chris Warburton-Brown from the Permaculture Association has pointed out, “unlike other finite resources that are in short supply in post-industrial society, most of us in the environmental movement have not yet formulated much response to the shortage of time we often experience”. So one of the questions we wanted to look at in this research project is, if permaculture is a design system for working with finite resources in a sustainable way, how might it help us with our widespread feelings of time pressure?
One really interesting issue that came up in conversations about time and permaculture while I was at Lammas related to the idea of zoning. In fact this issue arose as part of a discussion about how permaculture was more obviously about space than about time. That is, seeing permaculture as a way of designing space seemed most obvious and intuitive. Zoning, of course, provides a perfect example of this. This is the technique of locating plants, animals and other features based on how often you interact with them. So trees for coppicing would be planted further away than herbs which might be used daily in cooking. On the other hand, you could also argue that zoning is also a way of designing time. It minimises wasted time, for example, by ensuring that you don’t have to walk right to the back of your garden every time you want a sprig of mint. But more than that, zoning seems to involve judgements about which rhythms you need to be most aware of and which you can pay less attention to.
I couldn't help thinking it would be really interesting to explore how these kinds of decisions are made. What kinds of conflicts arise in the process? What happens when a rhythm or cycle that you thought you didn’t need to be so aware of (and so placed further away) actually starts becoming more important? Does explicitly considering the differing cycles involved in your work processes (e.g. once a day for compost or once a decade for coppicing) create a more sophisticated and multi-layered sense of time? How might this kind of decision making process be used in daily life to manage the differing rhythms of work, family, volunteering, friends, leisure etc? I think it’s really intriguing to try to think of clocks as devices for zoning time. That is, they bring some rhythms closer to our daily attention while backgrounding others (see my paper on this [PDF]. My favourite example of this is the way that a clock can generally tell me whether I’m late for the bus, but not whether we are too late to mitigate climate change. One might say that in this case the bus seems to be included in Zone 1 (nearest to 'the house'), while the climate is in Zone 5 (in the ‘wilderness’). This is of course a real problem, so how might we zone time differently if we paid closer attention to permaculture ethics and principles when we designed our clocks?
Another issue that we discussed was stacking, where a permaculture designer aims for multiple outputs from a single process or space. So rather than planting an area with only one crop, you layer it with useful ground-cover, shrubs and trees. Again, in a way this seems to be about a more complex approach to space, rather than industrial agriculture where one field = one crop. But might this also work as a method of more sustainable time management? I thought initially that this might mean trying to do multiple things at the same time, although this can often lead to the dreaded stress-inducing need to ‘multitask’. So perhaps it can be more about designing your work so that a single process provides multiple benefits at the same time? Here the more general aim of reducing the amount of labour required to grow food through attentive design (e.g. Fukuoka’s Do-Nothing Farming) is also important.
Finally, in the organisations I’ve visited so far, the issue of how to negotiate the way time, money and value have been inter-weaved within capitalist systems is coming up as a central issue (see this previous post). Many people are reducing the time they spent in waged jobs in order to use this ‘free’ time to develop businesses based on non-capitalist models. The impact of opportunity costs, particularly loss of monetary income, are weighed up against increased meaningfulness of their work and knowing that they are contributing to developing more sustainable ways of life. Those making these decisions still have to deal with the weight of others’ expectations and sometimes their own conflicting feelings about their choices. It seemed that the permaculture approach to accepting reductions in outputs from a single source in order to have a net increase in benefits might be an interesting way of thinking through this dilemma. For example rather than maximising wheat production over all else as we see in monoculture farming, a permaculture farm might produce smaller amounts so that other useful crops can be enjoyed as well. In the case of those moving away from maximising income, there seems to be an effort to move towards a more diversified understanding of value creation, where time might sometimes ‘produce’ money, but might also be used to grow free local food, to build community, to enhance one’s skills or just to enjoy life more. Thus reducing the production of one 'crop' in order to enjoy others more.
So these are just a few thoughts from the work so far. I’m sure some of them have already been explored in permaculture literatures and practises and so I'd be really grateful comments or recommendations.