Time and Space as Social Constructions

Time and space as concerns for social anthropologists derive from the work of Durkheim and his associates such as Hubert and Mauss (1909). But there are also important methodological questions about time and social anthropology that Bourdieu (1990) has raised particularly sharply.

For Durkheim, time and spaceThey can only be conceived to the extent that they are mediated by society, or rather by the collective representations generated by particular societies and therefore reflecting their social structure. Consciousness of extension as space and duration as time is only possible by distinguishing different regions and moments and finding their associated limits and intervals. These divisions and distinctions have their origin in social and collective life. We cannot conceive of time, except on condition of distinguishing its different moments … It is the same with space “(Durkheim 1915: 10-11). This type of thinking echoes ancient Indian traditions where the Hindu temple is a map of the cosmos and a representation of the cosmogonic processes that produced the universe. The construction of a temple is then the recreation of the universe. The Upanishads and Vedas refer to the gods who measure time and space and consequently create the cosmos. The Sanskrit term for the temple, vimana, means “well measured,” or “well proportioned.” Given the diversity of societies, and the feeling we have that time and space are in some way of fundamental and cosmic importance, Durkheim opened up the engaging prospect of exploring and documenting through empirical field research, as opposed to speculation metaphysics in the study, a wide range of radically different space-time worlds. The Sanskrit term for the temple, vimana, means “well measured,” or “well proportioned.” Given the diversity of societies, and the feeling we have that time and space are in some way of fundamental and cosmic importance, Durkheim opened up the engaging prospect of exploring and documenting through empirical field research, as opposed to speculation metaphysics in the study, a wide range of radically different space-time worlds. The Sanskrit term for the temple, vimana, means “well measured,” or “well proportioned.” Given the diversity of societies, and the feeling we have that time and space are in some way of fundamental and cosmic importance, Durkheim opened up the engaging prospect of exploring and documenting through empirical field research, as opposed to speculation metaphysics in the study, a wide range of radically different space-time worlds.

Space: symbolism and phenomenology

For the inhabitants of the West African Guinea coast, there is a wide cultural distinction between settlement space and forest space. The latter is considered a very rich and diverse life-sustaining resource, but it is also dangerous and life-threatening, as it is in the forest that serious injury is most likely to occur. The relationship between settlement and forest is also temporary, both in the sense of the origin of the settlements and in the dynamics of the continuous relationship between settlement and forest. Not only were houses built by the founding ancestors built in a space cut from the forest, but the settlement and its inhabitants are sustained only by reestablishing a relationship between settlement and forest.

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