The social sciences deal with time either as part of social theory and as part of social measurement in the broadest sense. The entry of time in “The encyclopedia of social theory” (Ritzer, 2006, p.837-41) reminds us that since the age of Augustinus, believing that time is a God-given concept, we have evolved with Kant’s notion of the “Ding an sich” that time exists within our experience, but also beyond our experience of it. It is Durkheim who sees time as a social institution and raises the issue of a social construction of the concept(s) of time. In the process of civilisation, Nobert Elias leads us to think of time as an evolving social process which allows us to reach higher levels of civilisations. Despite wars and other backlashes, the basic premise remains an eventual improvement on previous situations (Time 3). The phenomenological method applied by Husserl points at the “inner time consciousness” of persons, which finds its literary expression for example in Proust’s writings.
In addition to time as the object of social theories, we find frequent implicit use of concepts of time as a component of social theories. Life courses, social change, social mobility, social integration, learning, all these concepts are conceived with “time stamps” attached to the them. Their temporality, i.e. location in time and space, durations, sequential orders and interlinkages form huge fields of research. Whole societies have attempted to define when is the “normal”, “right” or “best” time to do something for the individual or the society as a whole. Social desirability is linked to time and space and varies accordingly. The 1960s probably were a decade where the questioning of social desirability was most obvious.
Social measurement of time and the location of social phenomena in time leads us to the empirical field of studying time or the treatment of time as a basic dimension in and of social processes. “The encyclopedia of social measurement” (Kempf-Leonard, 2005) list the sampling of time as a basic entry to the topic. Frequency of sampling, (yearly, quarterly), level of sampling (person, household, region, country), repeated surveys (prospective, retrospective) of same person or rotating samples of persons have their specific strengths and weaknesses. Analytical methods rely on the concepts of the measurement of time. It seems to be a fair observation that (Clarke and Granato, 2005, p.836) the future of time series analysis lies in the linkages to theory. After all, the 2 worlds of theory and empirical measurement are linked through the concept of time, despite the tendency to abstract from it or assuming a large overlap in the concept of time (and space) referred to. Clocks seems to be ticking differently in different places.
Image: Dali Paris. R. & N. Descharnes Salvador Dali Sculptures & Objects. Eccart. Ref. 615, page 238.