Doubt, conflict, mediation: the anthropology of modern time


  • Correction Note: This article was first published online on the 15th of April 2014, under a subscription publication licence. The article has since been made OnlineOpen, and the copyright line and licence statement was therefore updated in September 2014.


In this introduction, I argue that in spite of recent discussions of global and neoliberal time, the anthropology of modern time remains under-explored. Modern time here is understood to be a complex historical product. At its centre is the abstract time-reckoning of capitalism, which acts as a universal measure of value, but which always comes into conflict with concrete experiences of time. Its social disciplines emerge from Christian practice, but the ethics of these routines are marked as secular and universal. Its politics is founded on representations of the natural connections of communities through a homogeneous historical time. Its science and technology tightly link social, human time to external non-human rhythms. It is important for anthropologists to reflect on modern time because our discipline has been profoundly influenced by the discoveries of its depth, secularity, and relativity. The controversies that emerged in relation to Darwin's and Einstein's insights still provide the framework for many of our theories, especially when we draw on phenomenological philosophy. In this introduction, I suggest that the key resources for overcoming this significant absence in anthropology lie in a rapprochement between Alfred Gell's epistemology of time and the approaches of Marxist political philosophers. This combination, along with an emphasis on the labour in/of time, gives rise to new questions and reveals new aspects of modern time in the present.