An Erotics of Time

Toward the Cross-Cultural Study of Temporal Experience


  • Michael G. Flaherty



time, temporal experience, agency, ethnography, cultural diversity


Research in anthropology and sociology has focused on the social organization of time and time reckoning. There is, consequently, an emphasis on cross-cultural differences in the meaning of time. This line of inquiry neglects variation in the perceived passage of time as well as temporal agency. Following a review of extant research in anthropology, I call for cross-cultural research on the perception of time or subjective temporal experience. Using a theoretical framework for the study of social interaction, I point to scattered evidence for cross-cultural uniformity in the perception of time and temporal agency. I conclude with a call for further investigation of these topics.


ALVERSON, Hoyt. 1994. Semantics and Experience: Universal Metaphors of Time in English, Mandarin, Hindi, and Sesotho. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

AUYERO, Javier. 2011. “Patients of the State: An Ethnographic Account of Poor People’s Waiting”. Latin American Research Review, XLVI: 5-29.

BEIDELMAN, T.O. 1963. “Kaguru Time Reckoning: An Aspect of the Cosmology of an East African People”. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, XIX: 9-20.

BENGTSSON, Tea Torbenfeldt. 2012. “Boredom and Action – Experiences from Youth Confinement”. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, XLI: 526-553.

BERGER, Peter L. & LUCKMANN, Thomas. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Anchor.

BLOCH, Maurice. 1977. “The Past and the Present in the Present”. Man, XII: 278-292.

BOHANNAN, Paul. 1953. “Concepts of Time Among the Tiv of Nigeria”. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, IX: 251-262.

CALVINO, Italo. 1969. t zero (translated by William Weaver). San Diego: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

CHEN, M. Keith. 2013. “The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets”. American Economic Review, CIII: 690-731.

CHRISTENSEN, Dorthe Refslund & SANDVIK, Kjetil. 2013. “Sharing Death: Conceptions of Time at a Danish Online Memorial Site”. In: D. F. Christensen & R. Willerslev (eds.), Taming Time, Timing Death: Social Technologies and Ritual. Surrey: Ashgate. pp. 99-118.

CHRISTENSEN, Dorthe Refslund & WILLERSLEV, Rane (eds.). 2013. Taming Time, Timing Death: Social Technologies and Ritual. Surrey: Ashgate.

DALSGÅRD, Anne Line. 2004. Matters of Life and Longing: Female Sterilisation in Northeast Brazil. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

DALSGÅRD, Anne Line; FREDERIKSEN, Martin Demant; HØJLUND, Susanne & and MEINERT, Lotte (eds.). 2014. Ethnographies of Youth and Temporality: Time Objectified. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

DENZIN, Norman K. 1969. “Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnomethodology: A Proposed Synthesis”. American Sociological Review, XXXIV: 922-934.

DEUTSCHER, Guy. 2010. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. New York: Metropolitan Books.

DEVINE, Elizabeth & BRAGANTI, Nancy L. 2000. The Traveler’s Guide to Latin American Customs and Manners. New York: St. Martin’s.

DURKHEIM, Emile. [1915] 1965. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: Free Press.

EVANS, Vyvyan. 2014. The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

EVANS-PRITCHARD, E.E. 1939. “Nuer Time-Reckoning”. Africa, XII: 189-216.

FLAHERTY, Michael G. 1999. A Watched Pot: How We Experience Time. New York: New York University Press.

______. 2011. The Textures of Time: Agency and Temporal Experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

FLAHERTY, Michael G.; FREIDIN, Betina & SAUTU, Ruth. 2005. “Variation in the Perceived Passage of Time: A Cross-National Study”. Social Psychology Quarterly, LXVIII: 400-410.

FREDERIKSEN, Martin Demant. 2013. Young Men, Time, and Boredom in the Republic of Georgia. Philadephia: Temple University Press.

GARFINKEL, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

GEERTZ, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

GIDDENS, Anthony. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.

GIVENS, Douglas R. 1977. An Analysis of Navajo Temporality. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

GOFFMAN, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Anchor.

______. 1967. Interaction Ritual. Garden City, NY: Anchor.

HALLOWELL, A. Irving. 1937. “Temporal Orientation in Western Civilization and in a Pre-Literate Society”. American Anthropologist, XXXIX: 647-670.

IUTCOVICH, Mark; BABITT, Charles E. & IUCOVICH, Joyce. 1979. “Time Perception: A Case Study of a Developing Nation”. Sociological Focus, XII:71-85.

JACOT DE BOINOD, Adam. 2006. The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World. New York: Penguin.

JAMES, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1. New York: Dover.

KLUCKHOHN, Clyde & MURRAY, Henry A. 1959. “Personality Formation: The Determinants”. In: C. Kluckhohn; H. A. Murray & D. M. Schneider (eds.), Nature, Society, and Culture, 2d ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 53-67.

KOESTLER, Arthur. 1960. Dialogue with Death. New York: Macmillan.

LAST, Murray. 2013. “Dying on Time: Cultures of Death and Time in Muslim Northern Nigeria”. In: D. F. Christensen & R. Willerslev (eds.), Taming Time, Timing Death: Social Technologies and Ritual. Surrey: Ashgate. pp. 247-264.

LEVINE, Robert. 1997. A Geography of Time. New York: Basic Books.

LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. [1962] 1966. The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

______. [1964] 1969. The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology. New York: Harper & Row.

MEAD, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MEAD, Margaret. [1951] 1966. Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Problems of Soviet Character. New York: Schocken Books.

MEINERT, Lotte & SCHNEIDERMANN, Nanna. 2014. “Making a Name: Young Musicians in Uganda Working on the Future”. In: A. L. Dalsgård; M. D. Frederiksen; S. Højlund, & L. Meinert (eds.), Ethnographies of Youth and Temporality: Time Objectified. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 153-174.

MENAGHAN, Elizabeth G. 1995. “Social Psychology: Interpreting the Data”. Social Psychology Quarterly, LVIII:321-325.

NILSSON, Martin P. 1920. Primitive Time-Reckoning. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup.

ORTIZ, Alfonso. 1969. The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being, and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

SCHLISSEL, Lillian. 1982. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York: Schocken Books.

SCHULZ, Amy; KNOKI, Faye & KNOKI-WILSON, Ursula. 1999. “How Would You Write About That? Identity, Language, and Knowledge in the Narratives of Two Navajo Women”. In: M. Romero & A. J. Stewart (eds.), Women’s Untold Stories: Breaking Silence, Talking Back, Voicing Complexity. New York: Routledge. pp. 174-191.

SCHUTZ, Alfred. 1962. Collected Papers, vol. 1, The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague: Nijhoff.

SONTAG, Susan. 1964. Against Interpretation. New York: Delta.

THOMPSON, E.P. 1967. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism”. Past and Present, XXXVIII:56-97.

WARD, Geoffrey C. 1996. The West: An Illustrated History. Boston: Little, Brown.

WHORF, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, Thought, and Reality. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

YAO, Ping. 1993. “Power, Resistance, and Accommodation: Affect in a Women’s Writing System in Jiangyong, China”. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.




Como Citar

Flaherty, M. G. (2017). An Erotics of Time: Toward the Cross-Cultural Study of Temporal Experience. Revista De Antropologia Da UFSCar, 9(2(suplemento), 7–27.