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?
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.