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The Problem of Time from the Perspective of the Social Sciences

[journal article]

Subrt, Jiri

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Abstract This article presents a critical review of ideas about time in modern societies & especially in the social sciences. Man in modern society perceives, reflects, & registers time in a series of contexts, whether this involves questions of thought, the physical body, nature, or society. Current studies that address the question of time in many cases do so through a comparison of archaic temporal awareness & modern temporal awareness, & attempt to describe when & how this historical shift came about. According to O. Rammstedt four distinct historical types of understanding time can be distinguished: (1) occasional awareness of time based on a distinction made between 'now' & 'not-now'; (2) cyclical awareness of time; (3) linear awareness of time with a closed future, & (4) linear awareness of time with an open future. In contemporary social sciences four main theoretical perspectives can be observed. The first one assumes that the basic principles of order are or should be considered as unchanging. These principles express themselves as invariants. In the 20th century we can find them in structural linguistics, & in social sciences with a structuralist orientation. The second approach resembles the previous one in that it also considers the existence of unchanging principles of order. However, it differs through the assumption that these principles reveal themselves in time. The third approach can be considered de facto a sort of special degree of the second, ie, closed historical concept. Unlike the teleological character of the latter, however, it considers human intervention as a necessary condition for the achievement of a future aim. The fourth concept is founded on the idea that the basic principles of order can be revealed only in time. Unlike the second, however, it does not consider the main organizing principles to be unchanging, but rather concludes that in each contemporary period they are open to change. This fourth approach, which can be described as 'temporalized sociology' & which is expressed in works of such authors as G. H. Mead, A. Schutz, N. Elias, N. Luhmann, or A. Giddens, stresses a relatively open future, emergence, novelty, & the concept of discontinuity. In the opinion of the author of this study another concept should be added to our understanding of time: ie, 'irreversibility.' It is a feature of those systems that are far from being balanced & in which, in order to be able to predict future states, it is not enough to know the laws & the initial conditions.
Classification Sociology; Philosophy, Ethics, Religion
Free Keywords Modern Society; Time; Concepts; Social Theories; Sociological Theory
Document language English
Publication Year 2001
Page/Pages p. 211-224
Journal Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review, 9 (2001) 2
Status Published Version; reviewed
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications