This week our Autumn issue went to press and the TFP editorial team are breathing a collective sigh of relief. It can be tense on a deadline, particularly when you are working on-line in different locations (instead of in a shared office). But hey, time is what Transition is all about: knowing it’s time to change tracks, not getting stuck in the past, looking forward to the future, as well making time to focus on community projects, living seasonally and pausing to reflect on our actions and the bigger picture.
While we wait for the bundles of our bright new edition number 6 to come back from the printers and be distributed to Initiatives and enterprises around the UK, thanks to our stirling distribution system (aka Mark Watson), here is a great piece about Sustainable Time from our last issue. It’s by Michelle Bastian who co-ordinates the Transition Research Network, a team of academics who support research that is beneficial to the Transition movement, “making research more accessible, developing best practice guidelines, running events and developing new research projects”.
Sustaining Time Michelle Bastian
The pressure to do everything faster, to produce, consume and discard with greater frequency and with less thought for the future, has become central to affluent Western lifestyles. Whereas the clock once represented all that was wrong with early capitalism, its current incarnation is represented by speed.
The Sustaining Time research project has been looking into this connection between economies and time and particularly what it might mean for developing sustainable economic systems. Would a shift towards more sustainable ways of life bring a shift in how we experience and understand time? If so what would a ‘sustainable time’ look like?
Working with the REconomy project, the new economics foundation, Co-operatives UK and Permaculture UK, the research team visited ten sustainable businesses and four archive collections in the UK and Australia to see how past and current attempts to develop alternatives to capitalism come up against the question of time. Enterprises ranged from Lammas Eco Village of nine smal holdings in Wales, IT co-operative Webarchitects in Sheffield to Open Shed’s ‘collaborative consumption’ start-up in Sydney.
There were already a few candidates for what a sustainable time might be. The most obvious is the Slow Movement, which has expanded beyond its original protest against fast food, to embrace Slow Cities, Slow Technology and Slow Science. Other possibilities include moving from linear time to a more cyclical time, developing a longer sense of time (looking forward seven generations), or simply more focus on a better work/life balance.
Real life is always more complex however, and we found that the ways people were negotiating their time didn’t fit neatly into these possibilities. Most continued to feel pressured and overworked. Others had strong criticisms of cyclical models of time because of the way they been co-opted by big business. Why worry about upgrading to a new phone when you can recycle your old one? The long-term was important, but we didn’t see any seven-generation business plans.
Instead what we did find pushed us to dig deeper into what each of these sustainable times might be standing in for. So while people weren’t slowing down, they were developing a wider sense of what the ‘right time’ for a task might be. For example, the continuous time of industrially produced food (where everything is available 24/7) became the intermittent time of seasonal food. The well-planned out time of the ‘good worker’ made room for the unpredictable time of community-building, and ‘wasted time’ became the time of learning.
Importantly each of these kinds of time are thought to have little value within mainstream economic models. However, just as the idea of a sustainable economy challenges a narrow focus on profit and the limited way in which ‘economy’ is understood, our research suggests that perhaps a sustainable approach to time would throw open the ways we value time and allow it too to become a site of experimentation and creativity.
Find out more about the project at www.sustainingtime.org.
Michelle Bastian is a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a co-ordinator of the Transition Research Network. She previously led an Honouring the Elders project called Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden, as part of her work with Transition Liverpool
Images: Times of Living Dangerously, US documenatry series 2014; keeping in the seasons, Cambridge CropShare (also features in our Summer issue).