The perfect storm of multiple crises, including climate change, the peaking in supply of a whole range of key resources, as well as the astounding inequality fostered by current economic systems, have turned many towards developing and implementing alternative approaches. Challenging the philosophical basis of conventional economic theories has been an explicit aspect of this. As a result, the dominant paradigms of neoclassical economics are, at best, seen as being comprised of naive assumptions that fail to capture the complexity of human interdependencies on each other and on the environment.
All around us, the dominant stories of how people interact with each other and the kinds of incentives and rewards they respond to are shifting. Instead of competitive self-interested units, we are more generous, more co-operative and more complex than main-stream economists give us credit for. The structure and characteristics of the web woven between the human and non-human, between the biological, the mineral and the elemental are being questioned and described in new ways. Gift-based economies, the new commons, cooperation, abundance instead of scarcity and distributed networks are just a few examples.
There is already research that suggests that broadly speaking different economic systems seem to be associated with different approaches to time. For example, pre-industrial societies with task oriented time, industrial capitalism with an intensification of clock-time and late capitalism with speed and acceleration. And if we look for further clues within alternative economics, new sustainable times come tantalisingly into view. Steady-state futures or degrowth displace stories of the progressive arrow of time. Movements like Slow Food, Permaculture or Transition are making deliberate attempts to redesign everyday life around slower tempos and complexity-based models of social change. This suggests that social change doesn’t only happen in time, but happens through changes to time itself.
The aim of this project then is try see if we can make some of these shifts in time more visible and more intelligible. But in going about this, we are making the following assumptions which make things more complicated:
- We are assuming there is no definite break between ‘old’ experiences of time and ‘new’ ones. The clocks that were so key to the industrial revolution in the 1800s were already being built as early as the 1300s, for example. And looking more closely at experiences of labour and migration show that ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ are often inter-related rather than opposed to each other.
- There is also no definitive break between economic systems. Related to the first assumption, we are also assuming that there are multiple kinds of economic systems working together at the same time (see the work of J.K. Gibson-Graham in particular).
- Sustainable forms of economics wouldn’t only offer new ways of relating to other humans, but would also change how we understand ourselves to be related to non-humans and the broader environment. But the environment in general is often seen as being outside of time in many ways, as a timeless background to human life. So a ‘sustaining time’ would also mean developing new ways to understand the time of nature.