Time, Time, Time is a… Social Construction?

I love Daylight Savings Time, but not for the reasons cited by most of its supporters: longer days, energy savings, etc. No, I love Daylight Savings because it is my favorite example of the arbitrariness of fundamental aspects of social life. By arbitrary, I do not mean random or haphazard, but rather something like “arbitrated”, achieved by consensus, debate, politics, etc. and not essential. DST shows that time itself is arbitrary, or socially constructed. It’s been a long time since we fixed time zones, so it’s easier to forget how those were arbitrary as well, and their justification seems more essential or natural (i.e. the sun comes up at different times based on your location). But DST is purely social – we want more daylight or lower energy usage and we get that (or try to, at least) by tricking other social arrangements that rely on a fixed clock. It’s great.

So, if it comes up for a vote at any point, I’d vote for keeping DST. Sure, eliminating it would be a great example of the arbitrariness of time, but only for a decade or two, and then all the intro soc students will blink uncomprehendingly. DST requires us to change our clocks twice a year (until, of course, everything with a clock also has DST built in, like our computers and cell phones) and thus reminds us that we have fixed our days into 24 hours in a particular way and, if we like, we can fix time differently.

“Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time…”

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3 Comments

  1. Great example. But on my syllabus I’m not scheduled to teach social construction until a few weeks from now, and the syllabus is firmly set. I mean, I can’t just go and arbitrarily change it, can I?

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