On the Complexities of Time and Temporality: Implications for World History and Global Futures

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Abstract

Human beings are temporal and spatial beings. We cannot go back in time; whatever we do is an intervention in irreversible, on-going causal processes; physically, we cannot be in two places simultaneously; and the specific area of space we fill in cannot be occupied by anybody else simultaneously. While the nature of time has been theorised in philosophy, social theory and (world) political theory, in practice historians and social scientists tend to equate time with the modern linear conception of time, organising their narratives and explanations in a chronological order, without reflecting upon the complexities of time and temporalities of social being. I make four arguments, developing them in the context of concrete world historical events and processes. First, I ask what and when is “now”? The present cannot be punctual. Rather, the present is a moment of becoming, and makes reference to an on-going process. Second, because “now” is relative to the relevant processes, its meaning and characteristics depend on how these processes turn out. Thus, the past is, in part, undetermined, and at some level will remain so. Third, the futurized nature of the present is changing. Critical social sciences are involved in this process of transformation, especially through reflexive self-regulation of social systems. Fourthly, the move from predictions to reflexive scenarios about possible futures, and to open ethico-political discourse about unwanted and desired future possibilities, raises deep — in effect, mythological — questions about the meaning and purpose of world history as a whole. I argue that mythopoetic imagination can also be a means for critique.

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