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Part 1

1. Both Synder and the podcast argue that for US truck drivers, clock time along with government regulations that encourage rest and recovery have resulted in new forms of fatigue. What are these new forms of fatigue, why do they occur, and what does the “tyranny of clock time” have to do with it?

2. What similarities or difference do you see between the tyranny of clock time in trucking and palliative care nursing?

Part 2

1. According to Synder, how have the two faces of chronos shaped work culture in the US?

2. Gig work was supposed to offer temporal flexibility and freedom, but as Lehdonvirta points out, for some that is not the case. How come? What constraints does he outline ?

podcast link, if need :


The relevance of time
in palliative care
nursing practice
Karen Marie Dalgaard, Charlotte Delmar
This article describes time as a contextual factor in palliative caring
practices and contributes to an understanding of the connections
between time and the quality of palliative care. The article is based on
an explorative and qualitative research study inspired by grounded
theory. The empirical data of the study were obtained through field
studies and interview. The interpretation is indebted to a philosophical
interpretation that assumes time to be consciously organised into two
categories: an objective clock time and a subjective personal time. Two
scenarios are presented: one in which clock time is insufficient and
another in which clock time is sufficient. Each scenario outlines how
nurses relate to time in different ways according to whether clock time
is insufficient or sufficient, respectively. It is found that the two scenarios
have different implications for palliative care, nurses’ personal time, and
nurses’ opportunities for reflection and professional development.
Karen Marie Dalgaard
is Post doctorate in
Clinical Nursing, Aalborg
Hospital Science and
Innovation Centre,
Aalborg Hospital,
Charlotte Delmar is
Research Manager,
Clinical Nursing Research
Unit, Aalborg Hospital,
University of Aarhus,
Correspondence to:
Karen Marie Dalgaard
Email: kmd@rn.dk
his article aims to contribute to an
empirical understanding of connections
between time and the quality of palliative caring practices (Dalgaard, 2007).
Two scenarios are outlined relating to time:
one in which clock time is inadequate and the
other in which clock time is sufficient. Each scenario outlines how nurses relate to time in different ways according to the amount of time at
disposal in a caring context. The findings indicate that the two conditions have different effects
on nurses’ personal time, their palliative caring
practices and their levels of professional reflection and development. Although the study was
carried out in a Danish context, the trends that
were identified may contribute to a broader
understanding of time as a contextual factor in
other cultural settings.
The motive behind the study was to understand
the interaction between nurses, the terminally ill
and their spouses in caring practices, and to
identify structural conditions influenced by that
interaction. It became obvious that time was an
important structural condition with great implications for the professional care offered to
terminally ill patients (Dalgaard, 2007). As the
relationship between different conceptions of
time and the meeting between patients and carers working in palliative care have so far not
been subjected to empirical study, the relevance
of in-depth research into this connection
was obvious.
The interpretation is based on an understanding of time as presented by the Danish philosopher Niels Thomassen (1999; 2001).
Thomassen’s understanding of time as an experiential and existential phenomenon of daily life
points to a condition that we cannot escape, but
to which we are able to relate in various ways.
Furthermore, we are able to create such circumstances that time can ‘succeed’. The phenomenon
referred to as time is consciously organised in
relation to at least two concepts: 1) world time,
or outside, objective time, as measurable by the
clock; and 2) life time – an inner, personal time
of one’s own, which allows the subject to navigate effortlessly between the present, past and
future. In this article, world time is referred to as
clock time and life time as personal time. Every
person is subjected to both concepts of time, and
for time to succeed, we are challenged to create
space and connections between the two
(Thomassen, 1999).
This qualitative study was inspired by grounded
theory methodology (Glaser and Strauss, 1967;
Glaser, 1978; Strauss and Corbin, 1998; Glaser,
2001). The data collection drew on two qualitative methods: field studies and interviews. Using
two different methods in research is also known
as ‘triangulation’ (Laursen and Delmar, 2005).
The purpose of this is to capitalize on their combined strengths and to enrich perspectives of the
studied material.
Over a period of three months, field studies
were carried out in a number of private homes, a
hospital ward and a hospice. They included participant observation and both formal and informal interviews with key informants (Spradley,
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2008, Vol 14, No 10
1980; Hammersley and Atkinson, 1998).
Qualitative interviews took place in connection
with six concrete death courses, comprising individual and family interviews with patients and
spouses, and individual interviews with nurses
witnessing the actual death course (Kvale, 1995).
The data material included a total of 33 interviews and field notes.
The empirical material was analysed in three
steps: 1) open coding; 2) selective coding; and 3)
theoretical coding (Glaser, 1978). The theory
prescribes a process in which coding moves from
the ‘raw’ data to gradually more abstract levels
of conceptualization. The final step in the coding
process has generated main themes and themes
concerning the influence of time on
palliative caring practices.
The main themes are presented in two scenarios based on analysis of data collected from
Danish hospital and hospice contexts, respectively. The first scenario proved to be prevalent
in a hospital context while the other is more
characteristic of a hospice context.
Ethical concerns
The study was registered with and approved by
the Scientific Ethical Committee of North
Jutland, Denmark. Based on the assumption that
ethical conduct is not conclusively codifiable but
constitutes a practical, dynamic and interpersonal activity, concrete situations have provoked
continued reflection on participants’ interests
and the aim of the research work (Fog, 1995;
Seymour and Ingleton, 1999).
This section presents the findings in two scenarios. The first scenario concerns conditions in
which time ‘failed’ due to a lack of clock time in
a professional caring context in a Danish hospital ward. The other scenario describes a situation
in which time ‘succeeded’ because clock time
was sufficient in a Danish hospice. Although the
scenarios represent two extremes, reflecting prevailing conditions, in both contexts staff meet
with varying conditions in the course of the day,
and from one day to the next.
When clock time is inadequate
A lack of clock time in professional caring contexts results in difficulties with making time succeed. The dominance of clock time over nursing
staff members’ personal time may adversely
affect professional development as the lack of
clock time has a detrimental effect on the concrete care encounter and the nursing staff members’ opportunities for reflection.
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2008, Vol 14, No 10
Professionals engaging in maintaining
control over clock time
A lack of clock time was found in caring contexts characterized by nurses who were overburdened by an abundance of tasks and a pressure
for efficiency in the execution of their numerous
pre-planned tasks. In such situations, nurses
engaged in maintaining control over clock time
by resorting to various time-saving activities:
● Finding a fixed rhythm
● Racing against the clock
● Pointing out ‘time thieves’.
The activities influenced caring practices in a
number of different ways. First, nurses tried to
find a fixed rhythm by structuring their time and
tasks according to routines and rules, for example, in a rigid 24-hour rhythm, which would
dominate the individual patient’s rhythm. It was
found that caring practices became routine as
situational and individual care was ignored.
Second, nurses challenged clock time in a race
against the clock. Nurses were busy ‘doing’
rather than ‘being’ and applied a selective attentiveness. In an attempt to enforce their own
agendas, they tended to overlook and ignore the
needs of patients. In addition, nurses were found
to generate a state of inattention or ‘unawareness’ which conveniently allowed them to overlook time-consuming tasks. One hospital nurse
put it this way:
❛Nurses were
found to
generate a state
of inattention
allowed them
to overlook
‘We raise our threshold for seeing and reacting
on the patient’s suffering with his or her
breathing. It becomes a habit. We don’t see it.’
Nurses developed a kind of ‘closed awareness’
or blindness to the patient’s appeals and suffering. Nurses relied on routines, such as looking
without seeing, and hearing without listening,
with the consequence that phenomena such as
anxiety, fear and despair were ignored. Patients
were not paid proper attention and were left
alone with their suffering. The nurse and the
patient resided in parallel realities.
Third, nurses began to point out so-called time
thieves: patients who flouted rules or routines,
asked questions, made demands or even criticised. They were felt to steal time, to the great
annoyance and frustration of nurses. Time
thieves were placed into categories of wanted/not
wanted, according to the amount of time they
were felt to cost. ‘Heavy patients’ were time consuming and unwanted, as opposed to easy and
resourceful patients, who were viewed in a positive light. For example, a hospital nurse said of a
resourceful patient who was about to be discharged: ‘We might have kept that one, now that
❛When nurses
were engaged in
control over
clock time, they
stress, which
implies that
their personal
time was
disrupted by
the tyranny of
the clock❜
we’ve had so many heavy ones.’ The construction of time thieves expressed a curtailed spaciousness towards time-consuming patients who
presented a challenge to the nurse’s maintenance
of control over clock time.
Being a professional in the space of
inner stagnation
This theme describes the connection between
insufficient clock time, personal time and nurses’
opportunities for reflection. When nurses were
engaged in maintaining control over clock time,
they often experienced stress, which implies that
their personal time was disrupted by the tyranny
of the clock. Being unable to find rest and peace in
their own time, they would enter a state of ‘inner
stagnation’, characterized by inflexibility and
‘closed awareness’, which reduced their opportunities for pausing to turn their attention inwards and
reflect. Their self-reflection was disturbed. They
found themselves in a ‘space of inner stagnation’,
dominated by conservative forces that maintained,
or even aggravated, the adverse effects upon professional development that had already become
accentuated by the lack of clock time.
Two sub-themes were identified: a space for ‘letting off steam’ to colleagues; and a situation where
conservative forces dominated the professional
community. The ‘steam-letting space’ was characterized by frustrated outbursts which rarely provoked feedback from colleagues. Hospital nurses
were heard to say: ‘I can’t take it any more’; ‘He
[the patient] makes the whole department go haywire’; or ‘He’s trying to run everything.’ The
nurses took short breaks to let out accumulated
irritation and frustration. The strain created by
their impotence was vented in emotional outbursts
that allowed the nurse short-lived relief. She would
then thrust herself back into the race against the
clock. The problem was that these prejudiced outbursts were met by mute consent from colleagues
and passed unchallenged.
Although there were efforts among colleagues
striving for improvement, conservative forces in
favour of the prevailing professional structures
often undermined such efforts. Nurses depend on
support and recognition from their peers, and the
price of inclusion was to submit to the prevailing
professional structures, or if not, it was at the
risk of exclusion. One hospital nurse spoke of
her concerns:
‘There is an expectation that you tick off a
number of practical jobs in the course of the
day, and if I choose to spend the time with a
patient, I am pushing those things ahead of me
to the nurse on evening duty, who will be
frowning and think: “That one, she never gets
things done. She is just pushing things ahead of
her!” So I have to accommodate – a bit
at least.’
The professional community provoked a continuous downward trend in caring processes as
collective reflection was restricted, and challenges
to the existing professional structures were few
and far between. Such circumstances offered little
opportunity for development in a professional
caring context.
When clock time is sufficient
When clock time is sufficient in relation to the
tasks at hand in palliative caring contexts, there
are good opportunities for making time succeed.
Clock time runs its course without dominating
spaces and people. This may be the beginning of a
positive development trend because the care
encounter and nursing staff members’ reflection
processes are given good conditions.
Professionals turning their attention to
the time of their charges
In a caring context with sufficient clock time in
relation to the number of tasks and demands,
clock time and personal time co-existed harmoniously. In such situations, nurses were found to be
engaged in various ‘activities of presence’:
● Being in step with the other
● The art of shifting gear
● Contemporaneous presence.
First, nurses were flexible and concerned with
adapting to the individual rhythm of the patient.
They did not set the agenda in advance, but sought
to give contextualised and individual care. It follows that work tasks were unpredictable, but
nurses adapted flexibly and were able to be present
and seize the moment when patients needed it.
Second, nurses were able to perform the art of
‘shifting gear’. They were free to adapt their speed
to the caring tasks at hand. Sometimes, they would
have to execute work effectively and quickly,
because this was important to the patient. At other
times they would have to slow down, seize the
moment and be present in sharing moments of
suffering with the patient, in silence or with words,
as the occasion might dictate.
Third, nurses exhibited an open attentiveness.
They were consciously aware and attentive, sensitive and attuned to the patient’s needs. Attention
was directed towards seeing, hearing and understanding the patient in order to be able to intervene relevantly. A hospice nurse described such a
‘contemporaneous presence’ in this way: ‘[It
involves] opening all your senses and being close
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2008, Vol 14, No 10
to another person.’ It was not just a matter of
the nurse and the patient being present in the
same room at the same time; they would be
meeting in a shared reality concerning the things
that mattered for the patient.
Being a professional in the silent space
of inner moving
This theme describes a situation in which clock
time and the personal time of nurses co-exist in
mutual harmony. The nurses were not dominated by the tyranny of the clock but able to
maintain a state of ‘inner moving’ and, when
experiencing stressful and difficult situations, to
find peace by reverting to their ‘own time’. In the
silent space of time, conditions for self-reflection
were optimal. Nurses were given the opportunity
to pause and reflect before facing potentially difficult situations and to take a break after such
situations. They were given time to regain their
peace of mind, to turn their attention inwards,
to wonder, reflect and maintain a state of continuous ‘inner moving’. Such conditions for selfreflection stimulated a positive caring process.
A space for professional exchange
This theme describes how reflection and professional progress were found to be stimulated
among colleagues. In the ‘exchange space’, the
time, peace and energy for professional exchange
among colleagues were allowed. Exchanges took
the form of two-way communication that
encouraged opinions, questions and feedback
from colleagues, discussion and mutual professional challenges. The professional community
stimulated a continuous positive caring process,
which contributed to a high level of reflection
and encouraged nurses to challenge prevailing
professional structures. Such circumstances provided good opportunities for professional development in caring contexts.
The two scenarios represent two extremes. The
first scenario provides an example of conditions
in which clock time dominates over nurses’ personal time, something for which both patients
and nurses have to pay a price. Patients are
affected as the care they receive does not have
sufficient professional quality, while nurses, individually and collectively, are obliged to renounce
the personal time afforded by breaks from work.
As Katie Eriksson states, breaks give nurses an
opportunity to wonder, reflect, and experience
creative silence and ponder the larger meaning in
order to gather strength for renewed action
(Eriksson, 1987).
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2008, Vol 14, No 10
The other scenario exemplifies conditions in
which clock time and personal time exist side by
side, something which seems to be crucial to the
quality of palliative caring practices as it allows
the nurse to move flexibly between the two kinds
of time. In this context, Martinsen argues that
not all kinds of nursing can be performed at the
same pace (Martinsen, 2002). In some cases, care
for the patient may involve efficient and briskly
paced performance, while in others, it calls for a
quiet pace, allowing time and presence alongside
the patient. The latter may apply to situations
where patients experience existential life phenomena as anxiety, or whenever there is a need
to share existential problems with the nurse. In
his theoretical reflections, Joakim Öhlen
describes palliative care as a meeting with the
‘culture of slowness’, because it is concerned
with the care of persons who are confronted
with suffering and the big issues of life
(Öhlen, 2001).
The situations in which time was found to succeed, or fail, respectively, may represent more or
less permanent situations, but in both cases, time
appears to be of crucial importance to the quality of the care offered to terminal ill patients.
Thomassen stresses that both clock time and personal time should be taken into account if time
is to succeed (Thomassen, 1999). If one kind of
time enjoys predominance over the other, they
have become conflicting conditions. Often, clock
time will prevail, and the individual is forced to
pay the price as personal time collapses.
❛In some cases,
care for the
patient may
involve efficient
and briskly
while in others,
it calls for a
quiet pace …❜
The contribution of this study lies in its interpretation of the importance of time in palliative
caring practices. Dalgaard’s data (2007), however, indicate that, organisational and individual
conditions apart, the professional and spatial
structures of the context work together with
time and are important contributing factors to
the care encounter. The professional structures
of the context seem to influence the direction of
attention in the nursing staff, what they see,
notice and give priority to. The organisation of
nursing and the nature of its physical framework may influence whether the care encounter
is given the attention and peace that is required.
Furthermore, the data suggest that nurses’ personal stance towards time differs.
Therefore, relations between time and professional/spatial structures and individual/organisational conditions should be further researched
to better our understanding of how we can
make time succeed and improve professional
care offered to the terminally ill.
Key words
● Palliative
● Grounded
● Clock time
● Personal
● Professional
● Professional
The lack of clock time in palliative caring contexts has an adverse effect on caring processes.
The nurse and patient inhabit parallel realities
because the former is busy ‘doing’, locked into a
state of selective attentiveness where she assumes
an ‘unawareness’ and curtails her openness,
rather than being open, alert and present. The
nurse’s personal time is disturbed by the tyranny
of the clock; her space of ‘inner stagnation’ is
characterised by a limited awareness and a low
level of self-reflection, problems which are exacerbated by the presence of conservative forces in
the professional community. The result is a continuous downward trend in the quality of caring
processes, combined with poor opportunities for
professional reflection and development.
When nurses’ clock time and personal time
co-exist harmoniously, nurse and patient meet in
a shared reality in which the professional’s presence is characterised by a flexibility that encourages a contextualised and individualized care in
which the nurse’s doing and being represent
states of open attentiveness. The nurse is in a
space of ‘inner moving’ characterised by equanimity, awareness and a high level of self-reflection, conditions that are further stimulated in a
space of professional exchange that challenges
prevailing professional structures. The outcome
is a continuous positive trend in caring processes
and a high level of professional reflection
and development.
For professional caring practices to succeed,
clock time and personal time must be brought
into harmonious co-existence. The significance
of this for professional reflection and developJPN
ment cannot be overestimated. I●
The study was funded by the Danish Cancer
Society and the Danish Nurses Organization.
Dalgaard KM (2007) At leve med uhelbredelig sygdom [Living with an incurable disease]. Research Unit for Clinical
Nursing, Aalborg Hospital, DK
Eriksson K (1987) Pausen [The Pause]. Almquist and Wiksell, Stockholm
Fog J (1995) Den moralske grund i det kvalitative forskningsinterview [The moral basis of the qualitative research
interview] In: Fog J, Kvale S, eds. Artikler om interview
[Articles on Interviews]. Faculty of Political Science, University of Aarhus: 225–46
Glaser BG, Strauss A (1967) The Discovery of Grounded
Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Aldine and
Atherton, Chicago/New York
Glaser BG (1978) Theoretical Sensitivity. Sociology Press,
San Francisco
Glaser BG (2001) The Grounded Theory Perspective: Conceptualization Contrasted with Description. Sociology
Press, Mill Valley, CA
Hammersley M, Atkinson P (1998) Feltmetodik [Methods of
Field Studies]. Ad Notam Gyldendal A/S, Oslo
Kvale S (1999) InterView. Hans Reitzel, Copenhagen
Laursen BS, Delmar C (2005) Metodetriangulering i sygeplejeforskning. [Methods of triangulation in nursing research]. Tidsskrift for Sygeplejeforskning 1–2(21): 21–5
Martinsen K (2002) Rommets tid, den sykes tid, pleiens tid.
[The time of space, the time of the patient, the time of caring] In: Bjørk IT, Helseth S, Nortvedt F eds. Møte mellom
pasient og sykepleier [The encounter of patient and nurse].
Ad Notam Gyldendal, Oslo: 250–71
Öhlen J (2001) Lindrat lidande [To alleviate suffering]. NYA
DOXA, Nora, Sweden
Seymour JE, Ingleton C (1999) Ethical issues in qualitative
research at the end of life. Int J Palliat Nurs 5(2): 65–73
Spradley JP (1980) Participant Observation. Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, USA
Strauss A, Corbin J (1998) Basics of Qualitative Research.
Sage Publications, CA
Thomassen N (1999) Livstid og verdenstid [Lifetime and
worldtime]. In: Favrholt D, eds. Hvad er tid? [What is
time?]. Gyldendal, Copenhagen: 110–35
Thomassen N (2001) Ulykke og lykke [Trouble and happiness]. Gyldendal, Copenhagen
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 2008, Vol 14, No 10
A Brief History of Work Time
The Disrupted Workplace: Time and the Moral
Order of Flexible Capitalism
Benjamin H. Snyder
Print publication date: 2016
Print ISBN-13: 9780190203498
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190203498.001.0001
A Brief History of Work Time
Benjamin H. Snyder
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter provides some important historical background for understanding
the rise of flexible capitalism as a new cultural and political regime of work time.
The chapter analyzes the rise of chronological work time in terms of its two
“faces.” On one side, it has been a disciplinary tool in capitalist labor systems
used to exploit workers for economic gain. On the other side, it has been a
benevolent guide for moral development among cultural elites, allowing the
disciplined individual to cultivate virtues like vigilance, constancy, and inner
drive. These two contradictory faces have generating perplexing moral dilemmas
for workers, which have deeply shaped American workplace culture. The
chapter concludes by examining what this history can teach us about the
relationship between work time and moral order during periods of economic
Keywords: chronological time, history of time, clock, hour, schedule, career
It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving
at moral perfection; I wished to live without committing any fault at any
time … As I knew, or thought I knew what was right and wrong, I did not
see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.
—Benjamin Franklin (1910:79)
The American works harder than does any other man or woman on earth.
His business is always with him, he has no rest, no cessation, no relief from
the strain. Were he to reduce the effort, his competitors would pass him at
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A Brief History of Work Time
once. […] He has been aptly likened to a steam engine running constantly
under a forced draught. He must have a stimulus even in his recreations.
—Dr. Cyrus Edson (1892:282)
Like many of his Puritan ancestors, Benjamin Franklin was enamored with
scheduling. The ordering of his life in time was an important part of his quest to
achieve moral perfection. In his early adulthood, he constructed a weekly
schedule centered on the practice of thirteen essential virtues: Temperance,
Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation,
Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. Franklin created a “little book,”
as he called it, which he carried with him for much of his adult life. Each page
was dedicated to one of these virtues (figure 2.1). For some period of time he
might focus on, for (p.26) (p.27) example, perfecting temperance. At the end
of each day he would reflect on his successes or failures at keeping this virtue. If
he had failed, he would place a black dot in the box under that day. Franklin
notes that the virtue of Order, for example, which he defines as “Let all your
things have their places; let each part of your business have its time,” was
particularly difficult to achieve (Franklin 1910:80). “I made so little progress in
amendment, and had such frequent relapses,” Franklin (1910:86) recalls, “I was
almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character
in that respect.”
Figure 2.1 Benjamin Franklin’s weekly
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Subscriber: University of Washington; date: 13 November 2021
A Brief History of Work Time
Rather than give up, however,
Franklin redoubled his efforts to
achieve Order by creating a
daily, rather than just weekly,
schedule (figure 2.2). This
allowed him not only to take
account of his virtuous and nonvirtuous actions on a weekly
basis but also to order his life
by the hour, giving a precise
time for sleep, work, and
leisure. In this way, daily Order
allowed him to practice another
of his thirteen virtues: “Industry
—Lose no time; be always
employed in something useful;
cut off all unnecessary
Reprinted from Benjamin Franklin. 1910.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
New York: Macmillan.
actions” (Franklin 1910:80).
Thus, by using the temporal
practices of clocks and
schedules to systematically fix
Figure 2.2 Benjamin Franklin’s daily
his attention “on one [virtue] at
a time,” Franklin could “be
Reprinted from Benjamin Franklin. 1910.
master of that [virtue], then to
proceed to another; and so on
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
New York: Macmillan.
till I should have gone through
the thirteen.” In this way, Franklin (1910:81) aimed to “acquire the habitude of
all these virtues” slowly and methodically over many years. Through vigilant
attention in every minute, he could string together hours, days, weeks, and years
into an entire life that was filled with moral living and nothing else.
Over one hundred years later, in an essay entitled “Do We Live too Fast?” Cyrus
Edson, Chief Inspector of the New York Board of Health, addressed the
readership of the North American Review, a literary magazine, with views about
time that are wholly different from Franklin’s. For Edson, time is not a tool for
achieving moral order but a symptom of the corrosive habits of living that
characterize American workers. He remarks, “In the main … the American
strives for wealth as the great reward in life. But the free competition and the
social environment that make it possible have between them driven the pace up
to a fearful speed” (Edson 1892:282). The pace of work in America, Edson fears,
while primarily responsible for the nation’s incredible material wealth, is
unsustainable—particularly when it comes to workers’ bodies. “To supply his
rapidly exhausted system,” Edson (1892:282) notes, “[the American] is
compelled to consume large quantities of rich food and to stimulate himself with
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A Brief History of Work Time
alcoholic beverages.” As a result, “his system does not receive its proper
nourishment and he soon literally burns out.” Edson sees the intense and
unyielding relationship to (p.28) time, which Franklin held up as a model of
good living, as a barrier to the good life.
Franklin and Edson give voice to a fundamental tension within American
temporal culture, which can be traced back to the very roots of the chronological
temporal regime within pre- and early modern Europe. This regime is best
known by its practices: the mechanical clock, the schedule, and the career.
These have been the most influential social structures on the temporality of
American workplaces. As techniques for organizing the day, week, month, year,
and even one’s entire life, they have created a taken-for-granted background
texture to the flow of social time against which people narrate their lives. But
how this regime became dominant in the American workplace is a surprisingly
rich story, taking us in directions that may seem rather far afield, such as the
inside of a medieval Benedictine monastery. Understanding this history, however,
is an important first step because it allows us to see how earlier forms of work
time have shaped moral order in the past, especially during periods of economic
transformation. What does the history of the chronological temporal order tell us
about how work time can influence moral life in general?
As I explain in this chapter, chronological time has followed two parallel stories
throughout its history. On the one hand, as Franklin so clearly understood, it has
long been an institution of self-discipline. Clocks, schedules, timetables, and the
like became popular because they helped the individual cultivate disciplined
conduct toward virtuous goals (Snyder 2013; Weber 2011). On the other hand,
as Edson notes, these practices also became popular because they were a means
of disciplining others, of effectively ratcheting up the intensity of labor,
sometimes to worrying levels (Lukacs 1971; Marx 2011; Postone 1996). Punch
clocks, piece-rates, shiftwork, and eventually the career model of employment
became the quintessential tools for employers to create the kind of reliable,
dedicated, driven, and busy workers needed for industrial mass production
(Thompson 1967). Chronos has two faces: on one side, a stern but caring moral
guide, and on the other, an impatient taskmaster. The contradictions, tensions,
and dilemmas created by these two faces generated influential narratives about
the good life that have deeply shaped American work culture.
Chronological Time: Marx vs. Weber
Chronological time, which includes the mechanical clock as well as the schedule,
timetable, and the career, is based on a highly abstract notion (p.29) of time.
Chronological techniques treat time as a kind of “container” in which events are
placed along a unidirectional line. The spacing between these events is given a
precise, typically numerical, measure (Adam 1990). A work schedule, for
example, is a temporal container for energy expenditure in paid activity. It tells
precisely when (by the clock), where (in a place of work), and in what order (by
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A Brief History of Work Time
a sequence of tasks) the worker should expend his or her mental and physical
energy. A career has a similar container function, though it operates on a much
larger timescale and with perhaps less precision than a schedule. Career
trajectories tell us when (by level of seniority, calendar year, etc.), where (in an
organization or division), and in what order (by a sequence of roles) to expect
movements within or between organizations. These techniques are useful in
large, complex societies because the coordination of so many people and
processes would be impossible without some standardized language for planning
the “when” and “for how long” of social action (Elias 1994).1
The historical emergence of chronological time was of great interest to early
sociologists (e.g., Durkheim 1995; Hubert 1999). Right from the beginning of the
discipline, it caught the attention of two of its most esteemed theorists—Karl
Marx and Max Weber. They differed significantly in how they saw things. For
Marx, clocks, schedules, and timetables are tools of capitalist coercion and
control. They facilitate the alienation of worker’s labor power from the fruits of
labor through their abstracting capacity. Commodified chronological time is
what we refer to with the phrase “time is money.” It divides the sensuous flow of
everyday life into abstract zones of work time, home time, leisure time, and
quality time, which, under the abstract measure of the hour, are then valued
using the abstract measure of money (Marx 1993:37, 2011:45). Chronological
time, for Marx, is therefore inseparable from (p.30) the wider phenomenon of
commodification, and is one of the primary mechanisms by which older precapitalist ways of life, typically based on the rhythms of agricultural production,
were replaced by a world of factories based on wage labor (Thompson 1967).
From this point of view, Chronos is a taskmaster, vigilantly surveilling the
movements of his subjects, stopwatch in hand, in order to increase efficiency
and productivity.
Though he never engaged in a systematic analysis of time, Weber had a wholly
different view from Marx. He acknowledged the pre-capitalist origins of common
chronological temporal practices, not least of which was the mechanical clock
itself (Segre 2000; Snyder 2013). For Weber, chronological time is a pre-modern
moral institution with its roots in medieval Christianity. Though it is often
associated with industrial culture—particularly with factory life—Weber saw that
Protestant religious communities had an almost obsessive relationship to
chronological time long before there were such things as punch clocks and piece
rates. By emphasizing what he calls “this-worldly asceticism”—a disciplined life
that remains engaged with outer society, and by sacrilizing the idea of working
in a “this-worldly calling”—a meaningful vocation in economically productive
labor—Weber observed that Protestants encouraged an even, predictable order
to one’s life (Weber 1946:291). It makes sense, then, that Protestant ascetics
would be attracted to clocks and schedules, not necessarily as tools to coerce
labor, but because of their ability to assist the faithful in developing personal
discipline. Protestant culture sacrilized forms of disciplined conduct that are
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reflected in the unwavering beat of the mechanical clock and the methodical
routine of the daily schedule (Weber 2011:130–132). From this point of view,
Chronos is a moral guide, assisting the diligent and ascetic laborer in his effort
to achieve Virtue.
Marx and Weber are both right. They describe two important ways in which
chronological time has been used in the West over the course of its long history.2
These two views were compellingly combined by E. P. Thompson (1967) in his
landmark paper “Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Thompson
showed that Marx and Weber provide different and complimentary views of the
same thing: time discipline. Time discipline refers to the extent to which one’s
actions conform to the (p.31) dominant rhythms of a social group (Glennie and
Thrift 1996).3 Where Marx details how modern chronological time disciplines
have functioned as an external coercive force, Weber traces their older history
as internal spurs for meaningful conduct. Thompson’s challenge to future labor
historians, then, was to show how these two ways of using chronological time
have interacted over its long history and in different social contexts. How have
the two faces of Chronos shaped the meaning and practice of work at different
points in history? Why do so many contemporary workers take for granted the
notion that methodical and disciplined conduct in paid work, which is marked
and measured by clock hours, leads to existential security? How were these
notions about the good life built, and who built them?
Chronos Cloistered
Any discussion of the history of chronological time disciplines must begin,
perhaps unexpectedly, inside the ancient Christian monastic system. The
precursors to the mechanical clock and some of the earliest and most influential
ideas about work time were born there (Zerubavel 1980). Though these
developments took place hundreds of years ago, they are nevertheless important
for establishing the basic contours of the timescapes and time maps workers
take for granted today.
The most fundamental aspects of the chronological temporal regime are the
schedule and the mechanical clock. The invention of the schedule preceded the
invention of the mechanical clock by over one thousand years (Zerubavel 1980).
The first example of a kind of proto-schedule can be found in the many systems
of rules recorded in the 3rd through 5th centuries by early Christian monks who
practiced together in the Egyptian desert. These books of rules, such as that
recorded by Pachomius, provided guidelines for how to run a monastery and
included directions on how to use time signals to call monks together for group
prayer (Jennings 2003). A standardized system of collective timing based on
these earlier books of rules was further refined by Saint Benedict of Nursia,
perhaps the most important western figure in the early history of chronological
time. The Rule of Saint Benedict, written in the mid 6th century, became the
paradigmatic system (p.32) for organizing monastic life in western
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Christendom, spreading throughout western Europe during the medieval period.
This system, which was based on the concept of the hour, was known as the
The problems encountered in meeting the demands of the horarium spurred
interest in the development of the first mechanical clock, which occurred
sometime in the late 1200s (Dohrn-van Rossum 1996; Glennie and Thrift 2009;
Landes 1983). More like what we would today call a timer, these early clocks
were some of the first automated machines created in the West.5 Their primary
purpose was to help the monks wake up at the “proper time,” according to the
horarium schedule, in the middle of the night to perform a set of prayers known
as Vigils (Landes 1983:67).6
The clock, however, was more than just a practical tool for group coordination. It
was foremost a moral practice. Hence, activities like waking up for Vigils live on
in moral language today, such as the word vigilance, the virtue of being
watchful, and the sin of being lazy and distracted. The clock assisted the monks
in achieving a central spiritual goal of the horarium: to prevent sinful
distractions from God’s work, known as acedia or “sinful sloth” (Wenzel 1967).7
The schedule and clock allowed the (p.33) Benedictine monk to tether his body
to a regular rhythm that protects the soul from distraction by the weaknesses of
the body and, by proxy, from the fleshly temptations that drag the faithful to hell.
By focusing the monk’s restless energy, it was hoped that his day would be filled
with the pursuit of God and nothing more. The surest road to salvation,
according to the Benedictine system, is a regular routine consisting of a high
volume of action—constant prayer and study—and low variety of action—
spiritual work and nothing more.
The early history of the clock and schedule suggests that, right from the
beginning, Chronos had two complimentary faces that functioned as a kind of
cultural scaffolding for moral life. In the monastery, clocks and schedules were
used both as tools of external control to put the less determined and more
distractible monks in line and as techniques for developing inner excellence
through regularity and constancy. Together, the two faces of Chronos urged the
monks to cultivate vigilance—the ability to focus on spiritual work and nothing
else—and thus ensure they make a place for themselves in heaven. Though
mundane in their application, the schedule and clock were meant to transcend
the mundane and orient the whole of one’s life to God.
Chronos Unbound
The tradition of chronological time that grew up inside the Benedictine
monastery had a profound influence on late medieval and early modern Europe,
particularly in the context of economic life. The system of bell ringing used to
mark the beginning and end of monastic offices could be heard throughout the
landscape and quickly became a convenient way to coordinate non-religious
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activities outside the monastery. Markets, court proceedings, the changing of
guards, schools, and, most importantly for our purposes, the marking of the
workday began to rely on the ringing of bells to function smoothly, thus
disseminating the beat of the clock and structure of the schedule throughout lay
life (Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:197–209). By the 15th century, large public clock
towers that were separate from the church could be found in all the major and
many of the minor population centers in both western and eastern Europe
(Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:125–160).
A constitutive part of the medieval aural environment, then, were dozens of
temporal signals for day laborers—work bells. Before the dissemination of the
mechanical clock, work time for wool shearers, weavers, fullers, and other sorts
of guild laborers were determined in part by sunrise and sunset and partly by
monastic office signals. Thus, the workday would have (p.34) been longer in
the summer and shorter in the winter, and workers’ wages larger in the summer
and smaller in winter. Conflicts over fair pay for fair work inevitably arose under
this system because of the loose and flexible relationship between effort and
reward. Employers claimed they were not receiving sufficient pay for work
(Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:293–294).8 At least at first, the mechanical clock
proved a fair, transparent, and precise way to quell these disputes over the ratio
of pay to effort in cases where more traditional forms of timing were unhelpful
(Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:296, 304).
Out of this environment of increasingly precise and abstract timekeeping within
an increasingly politically charged workplace emerged prototypical forms of the
hourly wage. But routine payments gauged to a standardized, precise, and
abstract unit of time—the hour—did not catch on immediately.9 It was not until
the arrival of industrial labor relations, and the portable and precise mechanical
clocks that accompanied them, that the full abstraction of work time into
commodified hours would occur.
In addition to monastic timing technology, monastic temporal culture had an
equally important influence on work, especially among educated elites. An
internalized chronological time discipline became a sign of moral worth even
among the non-cloistered. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than among
Renaissance Humanists and the burgeoning merchant class (p.35) of the 15th
through 17th centuries (Quinones 1972). Chronological time discipline was
important in this social context because it was seen to organize and direct one’s
scattered attention, thus enhancing ambition and the drive for worldly
success.10 As the humanist educator Leon Battista Alberti writes, “He who
knows how not to waste time can do just about anything; and he who knows how
to make use of time, he will be lord of whatever he wants” (quoted in Landes
1983:91–92). Unlike in the monastery, chronological time was seen among the
Renaissance merchant class as a means to manage a “busy life”; a life that is
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both high volume—lots of activity—and high variety—many different types of
During the 14th through 17th centuries, then, clocks and schedules were
unbound from the institution of the monastery. Chronological time became a
common feature of a limited number of specific European timescapes, such as
those inhabited by guild laborers and worldly merchants. What drew people to a
more abstracted form of timing? In part, its political appeal. In the context of
guild labor, for example, schedules and clocks were useful for coordinating
complex spaces of action where disputes over the relationship of effort to
reward were common.12 Chronos held the promise of transparency and
neutrality for employers and workers. But, at least among educated elites, the
appeal was also moral. Chronological (p.36) time, via its Benedictine roots, was
associated with a particular vision of the good life as successful and ambitious. A
good person leads a “busy” life that involves the careful management of time
through precise measurement and allocation.
Chronos Privatized
The story of Chronos in the 17th through 19th centuries centers on the
commodification of the hour within the early factory system and the increasing
use of precise timing techniques by employers to wrest more control over the
labor process from workers. Marx, in particular, focused on this moment in the
history of chronological time for his analysis of alienated labor (Engels 1969;
Marx 2011; Postone 1996). Crucial to this period was the increasing portability
of mechanical clocks (Landes 1983). Smaller and more precise devices could
now be made more cheaply and, in the context of workplaces, put into service
alongside the already common sandglass. Rather than being owned by the city
and housed in a public tower, then, clocks could now be owned by, say, a silk
manufacturer and housed in the factory itself.13 Factory clocks allowed owners
to shift entirely to a pay-by-the hour system. As the precision and portability of
these newer technologies improved, employers began to use ever more refined
ways of accounting for work time, such as early forms of the punch clock
(Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:317–319). By the end of the 18th century, the marriage
between work, the hour, and pay became standard within the factory.
For workers, the tying of work to hours and hours to pay ended up being a
Faustian bargain. The earlier struggle among guild laborers to gain some degree
of fairness in the workplace by linking the effort-reward relationship to an
abstract unit of time had the unintended effect, in the new context of the factory,
of ceding control over the pacing of work to employers. What changed most
dramatically about work timescapes in this new context, then, is an increasing
regularity and intensity to the rhythm of labor (De Vries 2008:110–112). Preindustrial weaving, for example, could generally be carried out at an irregular
pace, featuring breaks that could be taken whenever the worker saw fit. In
factories, however, people had to work a (p.37) certain number of hours and
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take precisely timed breaks when and where they were told (Huggett 1973:19;
Smith 1980:66).14
The new factory timescapes, then, were partly a product of the increasingly
privatized nature of clock time. Work time was no longer a strictly public
resource housed in a centralized civic tower. It could be controlled by whoever
had the means. As a result, Chronos became not just a taskmaster but a
patronizing taskmaster. Who owns the clock, and hence the duration and pacing
of work, became a hot-button political issue that dominated early industrial
workplaces, leading to massive reform movements in the latter half of the 19th
century, including fights to establish a 10-hour and 8-hour day, and eventually a
40-hour week (Hunt 1981). As E. P. Thompson (1967) notes, however, the fight
over work hours also firmly entrenched privatized chronological time as the only
legitimate temporal language in which to carry out debates about work
conditions—a legacy that lives on in contemporary debates about work time
based on “time diaries.” In fighting over work hours, early factory laborers
normalized work time as chronological.
For their part, employers clearly favored the privatization of chronological time
because of the disciplining capacity it lent them. In their efforts to harness
Chronos the taskmaster, however, employers also relied heavily on Chronos’
other face. They were able to legitimize their support for regularized and
intensified labor by appealing directly to the now ancient tradition of
chronological time as a stern moral guide. This elite discourse about time
discipline, as Weber (2011) clearly understood, had been passed on from
Benedictine Catholicism and Renaissance humanism to the “industrious”
Protestant sects, such as Lutherans, Calvinists, and Methodists, and inspired
figures like Richard Baxter and Benjamin Franklin (Snyder 2013).
In the secular context of the factory, the hyper-moralized discourse about
“internalized” time discipline was often used simply as a means to justify the
driving of labor (Thompson 1967). This invocation of Chronos was carried out
with great fervor in the rapidly growing northern industrial regions of 19th
century America.15 In an 1878 report from the Ohio (p.38) Bureau of Labor
Statistics, for example, the bureau asked for comments from American factory
owners on the then hotly contested issue of the eight hour day. Their resistance
reveals the continued influence of Chronos’ moral face. A carriage manufacturer,
for example, argued that “[An eight hour work day] would be ruinous to
workmen, it would curtail their wages and increase their habits of idleness.
Never reduce labor to less than ten hours per day, twelve would be better, for
when they are at work they are out of mischief” (Ohio Bureau of Labor Statistics
1878:281). “The majority of men are like boys,” complained a furniture
manufacturer, “the less they have to do the more time they put it in deviltry. Give
them plenty to do, and a long while to do it in, and you will then find them
physically and morally better” (Ohio Bureau of Labor Statistics 1878:281).
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Appealing to the ancient discourse about chronological time as the best means
to create sober and diligent people, manufacturers could justify their control
over work time.16
Chronos Taylorized
Up to this point, the story of Chronos has been limited to a few select groups
living in what otherwise would have been a much less time disciplined—though
not necessarily less time conscious (Glennie and Thrift 2009)—world. In the 20th
century, as gainful employment moved increasingly from agricultural to
industrial centers, chronological time discipline became a more widespread
phenomenon. As the factory system grew in the booming 20th century war
economy, for example, America began to surpass Europe as the world’s
innovators in new uses of chronological time at work. The most important of
these innovations, scientific management, had some (p.39) precursors in
Europe (Dohrn-van Rossum 1996:318; Rabinbach 1990), but was systematized
and popularized by an American: Frederick Winslow Taylor. While in hindsight
Taylor’s methods proved to be revolutionary, at the time they were seen as just
the next logical step in the tradition of Chronos the taskmaster, which had long
sought to increase the regularity and intensity of labor for the sake of increased
output (Cappelli 1999:58).
Scientific management is essentially the installation of a preplanned piece-rate
production system based on the objective gathering of evidence about the labor
process through time-and-motion research. Time-and-motion studies make use of
an even more precise, portable, and privatized timekeeper: the stopwatch. Much
like the original mechanical clocks used in the monastery, these devices were
designed to measure a purely abstract duration within the context of a larger
process. Unlike monastic timers, however, stopwatches can be started and
stopped at will, allowing the user to break processes down into discrete micro
movements and thus gain control over the time that lives “within” a work task or
even the worker’s body—what Michel Foucault (1995:152) describes as “a kind
of anatomo-chronological schema of behavior.” In the context of industrial labor,
scientific managers used stopwatches to measure “each of the elements of
various kinds of work … and then find the quickest time in which each job could
be done by summing up the total times of its component parts” (Taylor 1911:
148). Once a baseline total was established, managers could then experiment
with accelerating the pace of each element, isolating and removing any
“unnecessary” elements, and manipulating the work environment to lower the
total time required, all while maintaining a relatively constant or even lower
expenditure of effort by the worker compared to the baseline measurement.
Taylorism had a profound effect on the timescapes of industrial labor, which has
been much remarked on by sociologists (e.g., Braverman 1974). But accounts of
Taylorism often miss the reasons behind its invention. Taylorism emerged out of
a desire to solve the problems of worker inefficiency that were a common
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feature of the 19th century contracting system (Cappelli 1999). Much like the
contemporary era of “lean” and streamlined businesses that focus on their “core
competencies” while outsourcing everything else, 19th century American
companies generally divided their labor among a complex patchwork of
independent contractors. These contractors would use the factory owner’s
facilities, but manage themselves. Over time, these contracting arrangements
became a tangle of inefficiencies, especially because of resistance by skilled
contractors to “productivity improvements that made them work harder or took
some of their control away” (Cappelli 1999:55).
(p.40) At the turn of the 20th century, the contracting system was rapidly
replaced in many companies by the so-called “drive” system, which consisted of
foremen and workers who were directly employed by the company, essentially
moving the entire production process in house. Having gained direct control
over both management and labor, owners could now better monitor the output
and quality of products. What they found was that some workers were faster and
some slower, leading to bottlenecks and moments of high inefficiency (Cappelli
1999:56). Taylorism, then, was just the most successful version of a widespread
effort to improve output by standardizing the regularity and intensity of labor
across a workforce with varying degrees of skill and motivation.
Seen in the context of the drive system, Taylor’s biggest impact was not the
invention of time-and-motion study per se, but the powerful political legacy he
left behind by inserting the “objective” and “scientific” symbol of chronological
time between the foreman and the worker, a relationship that had become
notoriously tense. Rather than bicker over piece-rates, the rate could be
scientifically determined in advance by a distant “time man” whose office would
be located somewhere outside the workers’ view. In this way, chronological time
facilitated the separation of “brain” work from “hand” work, thus, it was hoped,
neutralizing controversies over the pacing of output (Braverman 1974). Taylor
(1939:143–144) is worth quoting at length here.
As one of the elements incident to this great gain in output, each workman
has been systematically trained to his highest state of efficiency, and has
been taught to do a higher class of work than he was able to do under the
old types of management; and at the same time he has acquired a friendly
mental attitude toward his employers and his whole working conditions,
whereas before a considerable part of his time was spent in criticism,
suspicious watchfulness, and sometimes in open warfare.
While he is deservedly (in)famous for having pushed the agenda of Chronos the
taskmaster to its extreme, Taylor also clearly had in mind an ambition to instill
the moralizing face of Chronos into the industrial workplace. Not only did time
study allow for the disciplining of an unevenly skilled and motivated workforce,
but, at least in Taylor’s mind, it also held out the promise of lifting those
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workers, and ultimately their entire workplaces, to a higher moral standard—
one that is more democratic, transparent, and peaceable. Whether this aspect of
Taylor’s thought was mere instrumental justification for an exploitative system
or a genuine belief in Chronos as (p.41) a moral guide is unclear.17 Regardless,
Taylor clearly understood the two faces of Chronos and sought to create
industrial timescapes that could capitalize on both.
Unlike in previous historical eras, there is ample evidence of how everyday
workers experienced this new work temporality. As Harry Braverman (1974)
shows, work under Taylorism went through a profound “deskilling” trend in
which laborers became increasingly responsible for just one discrete part of the
production process, which they were instructed to carry out with monotonous
intensity under the preplanned direction of the “time man.” Taylorist work was,
not surprisingly, boring and repetitive compared to work under the contract
Contrary to Braverman’s depiction, however, employees in Taylorist shops did
not just passively submit to the “lash” of the clock. They sought ways to actively
transform stopwatch-timed labor into something more meaningful. Taylorism’s
hyper-regularized style of work created new timescapes that offered new
opportunities for moral world building. Donald Roy, in his classic 1945
ethnography of a piecework machine shop, gives us an unprecedented glimpse
into Taylorist labor at the height of its influence at the end of World War II.
Workers’ main concern, Roy (1959:158) suggests, is “combating” the “beast of
monotony.” The main way they do this, he observes, is by turning work into a
“game.” Roy’s (1953:510) reflections on his own physical and mental
experiences while playing the game of piecework are telling.
The writer found that fast rhythmic work seemed less fatiguing, although
the reduction of fatigue may have been closely related to the reduction of
boredom. He discovered further that the same job that had bored and
wearied him as a “time study,” or non-piecework operation, now interested
him and gave him exhilaration on piecework.
Taylorist work is boring and monotonous by nature, Roy indicates, but in its very
repetitiveness, it also affords the worker a certain temporal texture—“fast” and
“rhythmic”—that can actually result in something like (p.42) exhilaration. For
Roy, the rhythm of work under these conditions becomes a kind of reward in
itself because of the cognitive and emotional experiences it delivers—
experiences of skill, smooth acceleration, cleverness, and triumph. Roy goes on
to give examples from his coworkers that corroborate his own experience,
leading him to a rather unforeseen conclusion.
Making quota called for the exercise of skill and stamina, and it offered
opportunity for self-expression. The element of uncertainty of outcome
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provided by ever-present possibilities of bad luck made quota attainment
an exciting game played against the clock on the wall, a game in which the
elements of control provided by the application of knowledge, ingenuity,
and speed, heightened interest and lent to exhilarating feelings of
accomplishment (Roy 1953:511).
Roy was no apologist for Taylorism. He would no doubt agree with later
observers that Taylorist piecework is alienating (Roy 1959), and, indeed, he was
active in the labor movement throughout his life. But in experiencing Taylorism
firsthand, Roy was also made privy to the hidden meanings of working under the
gaze of Chronos the taskmaster. In his very struggle to keep up with the clock,
he finds the other face of chronological time, the face that offers opportunities
for “self-expression” and the development of “skill” under an unyielding rhythm.
The Taylorization of Chronos reveals the extent to which chronological time had
penetrated into the smallest physical tasks and most personal emotional spaces
of industrial labor. While sociologists have rightly seen this construction of work
time as pernicious in the way it shifts control to management, they have tended
to overlook the ways workers maintained a sense of agency by building moral
order upon that temporal scaffolding. Taylorized labor was made meaningful
through the elevation of certain virtues, like perseverance in the face of grinding
monotony or the ability to entrain one’s body with the rhythms of machines.
These notions of hard work, built within a Taylorized timescape, have had an
important influence on blue-collar culture more generally and can be seen in
numerous ethnographic accounts of working class morality throughout the 20th
century (e.g., Burawoy 1979; Lamont 2000; Willis 1981). As in previous historical
eras, then, we see that the introduction of new timescapes tends to create moral
dilemmas—labor conditions that simultaneously offer new challenges and new
forms of self-expression. Workers are not always entirely sure whether or not
new forms of work time are wholly good or bad. The heated conversations about
the good life sparked by these dilemmas profoundly shape work culture.
(p.43) Chronos Promoted
The Taylorization of Chronos at the turn of the 20th century was closely followed
by another crucial temporal innovation, again having its most extensive early
application primarily in the United States: the bounded career (Cappelli 1999).
While not as precisely and mechanically measured, the career is a close cousin
to the schedule and mechanical clock because it shares a similar “chrono-logic.”
Like schedules and clocks, careers are containers for events. They hold the
events of one’s entire working life trajectory. Unlike schedules and clocks,
careers measure broad movements of seniority within and between
organizations over a lifetime of work.
What is most remarkable about the rise of the career in the United States in the
middle of the 20th century is just how intimately connected it is to the successes
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and failures of Taylorism from the early 20th century. While the best known
accomplishment of Taylorism was the time-disciplining of labor, an equally if not
more important outcome was the development of a more powerful, autonomous,
and sophisticated class of workers that stood between owners and shop men:
middle managers. Emerging from the planning department of the time-andmotion system, this “white-collar” class of workers began to experiment with
new ways of boosting laborers’ motivation when it proved clear that the “lash” of
the clock did not engender commitment and loyalty.18 This became especially
clear as factory jobs boomed during the world wars and workers had less fear of
unemployment (Cappelli 1999:59–61). What was to motivate them to tolerate the
ratcheting up of piece rates when they could just quit and go to an easier job?
The answer was the “bounded career”—an internal labor market with
preplanned pathways of promotion that resided entirely within the company
itself. Rather than go to the dwindling pool of unemployed or underemployed
workers outside the company, middle managers began to develop (p.44) their
own talent and institute systems of promotion that would motivate employees to
work hard and refine their skills. As Cappelli (1999:131) notes, this system was
based on a different understanding of motivation—a “happy worker model” that
could replace the old “frightened worker” model of the Taylorist system. This
model was part of a wave of experimentation with new ways of motivating
industrial workers—the famous Hawthorne experiments, for example—that were
deeply influenced by gestalt psychology and Durkheimian sociology (Wren 1987:
The bounded career reshaped time discipline in two ways. First, it shifted the
focus of time discipline from the externalized “stick” of the clock, to the
internalized “carrot” of promotion. In a report entitled “Sales Power through
Planned Careers,” for example, Andrall Pearson (1966:105) told the readers of
the Harvard Business Review, “From a study of 30 large companies, a new
concept emerges—the career path—which offers businessmen the means for
restoring vitality to the sales organization.” Throughout his report, Pearson
provides a number of graphical representations of such paths (figure 2.3). As
Pearson’s diagram illustrates, rather than being motivated by fear, career
tracked workers can aspire to a position in the distant future. “A career provides
a degree of predictability about an individual’s future,” notes Robert Dubin
(1958:279) in his popular mid-century industrial relations textbook,
“Predictability about the future is one of the important elements that give
stability to society.”
Second, the bounded career shifted the “wavelength” of time discipline from the
micro scale of hours and tasks to the macro scale of years of seniority. An
important means by which this shift occurred was to instill in the career time
map an “up or out” norm. As becomes clear in Pearson’s diagram, there is only
one legitimate way for workers to move through the firm over time: forward and
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A Brief History of Work Time
upward. Even the failure to reach seniority by age 55 means an “early” (read:
forced) retirement. This is the sense in which Chronos becomes a fully-fledged
time-map. Rather than just governing the processes of the immediate work
environment, the logic of Chronos could now be used to map out a distant future
trajectory in which employees could envision an entire narrative about their
direction of travel through the firm and cultivate personal discipline to meet that
Though it is debatable just how widespread extensively preplanned career paths
were in practice (Cappelli 1999; Moen 2005), the idea of the career took on a
kind of aura in American work culture, especially in the context of white-collar
work (Moen and Roehling 2004). New conceptions of job security were now
thinkable in a way that had not been possible before. American workers became
accustomed to “the belief that working hard and putting in long hours
continuously throughout adulthood is (p.45) (p.46) the path to occupational
success, personal fulfillment, and a secure retirement” (Moen 2005:189). This
“career mystique,” as Phyllis Moen (2005) calls it, overlooked the fact that
regularized and secure employment pathways were rarely if ever granted to
women, racial minorities, and low-wage workers. Bounded careers were
primarily the privilege of educated middle and upper class white men. Still,
Moen (2005:191) notes that over time Americans began to embrace a “shared
cultural model” of the career, even though it may not have reflected their lived
While some Americans may
have welcomed the promise of
existential security in exchange
for a heavily preplanned and
busy working life, it was not
without its discontents. Much
like the hourly wage at the
dawn of the industrial era, the
bounded career was a Faustian
bargain for many 20th century
workers. Criticisms came
mainly from that small slice of
the American population that
actually did extensively
experience bounded careers:
elite white men. Their critique
went by one word: conformity.
Instead of security,
predictability, and prestige,
Figure 2.3 A career time map.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard
Business Review. Exhibit IV from “Sales
Power through Planned Careers” by
Andrall E. Pearson, 44(1). © 2000 by the
Harvard Business School Publishing
Corporation; all rights reserved.
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critics saw the career as a threat to individuality, autonomy, and authenticity
because of its clockwork motion.
The most enduring examples of this critique are in literary novels about working
life, such as Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 Babbit, John P. Marquand’s 1949 Point of No
Return, or Sloan Wilson’s 1955 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. It is also found
within some of the most widely read American social scientific literature (e.g.,
Lasch 1979; Packard 1962; Riesman 1967; Whyte 1965).
In his popular 1956 critique of social conformity, The Organization Man, the
sociologist William Whyte presents perhaps the clearest and most wide-ranging
version of this critique. For Whyte, the problem of the bounded career is that it
is too stable and too predictable to nourish the kind of rugged individuality that
is the hallmark of the American character. He writes,
When he is on the lower rungs of The Organization the young man feels
himself wafted upward so pleasantly that he does not think high-pressure
competition really necessary, and even the comparatively ambitious tend to
cherish the idea of settling in some comfortable little Eden somewhere
short of the summit. As the potential executive starts going ahead of his
contemporaries, however, the possibility of a top position becomes
increasingly provocative. […] He will never be the same … He knows that
he has committed himself to a long and perhaps bitter battle.
Psychologically he can never go back or stand still, and he senses well that
the climb from here on is going to involve him in increasing tensions
(Whyte 1965:149).
It is in the very orderliness of the successful, executive-bound career trajectory
that Whyte sees the deepest existential dilemmas. At the lower levels, (p.47)
the Organization Man feels automatically “wafted” up the status hierarchy. As he
continues, things become more complicated. He begins to see more clearly the
type of commitment he has entered into, perhaps unknowingly. He begins to see
his future too clearly. As Nicholas Dames (2003:256) observes, “The career not
only domesticates ambition—by placing it in a harness, as it were—but in fact
replaces it altogether with a version that desires the career as an end, not a
means.” So totalizing is the career trajectory, the critique goes, that the worker
begins to lose his authenticity in its structure—he becomes a careerist. Whyte
notes, “The figures of speech younger executives use to describe the situation
they now find themselves in are illuminating. The kinds of words they use are
‘treadmill,’ ‘merry-go-round,’ ‘rat race’ …” The bounded career trajectory is
exhaustingly secure. “It is not the evils of organization life that puzzle [the
Organization Man],” Whyte (1965:16) concludes, “but its very beneficence. He is
imprisoned in brotherhood.” In providing relentless security Chronos creates an
overly structured future.
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Critics like Whyte helped ignite a widespread conversation within professional
circles about the fate of the rugged individualist and the future of that
enterprising, entrepreneurial spirit that was always assumed to drive American
success. In a 1960 essay in the Harvard Business Review, for example, Joseph W.
McGuire asked 189 of America’s “top executives of commercial banks” to
discuss how closely they think “real businessmen” fit the images of them
portrayed in popular critiques like The Organization Man. Do bankers find the
“unflattering depictions of roistering, boostering Babbits, insecure Charley
Grays in gray flannel suits (by Marquand, Whyte, and Brooks Brothers), or even
the range of predators foraging in the executive suite,” to be an accurate
reflection (McGuire 1960:67)? “Almost 80 percent of respondents,” McGuire
(1960:71) claims, “said that executives should be risk-takers and individualists
rather than persons seeking security and teamwork.” He notes, however, that
“Over one half of the bankers … seem to feel that the day of the rugged
individualist, the captain of industry, the business technocrat has passed.” “This
unanimity of opinion,” he concludes “evidences an overwhelming dislike of the
trend toward conformity” (McGuire 1960:71). The generalizability of McGuire’s
survey aside, its very appearance in such a popular business periodical is
testament to the degree of interest in the moral dilemmas of the bounded career.
By 1973, the waning days of industrial dominance in the United States, the
authors of a congressional research report on the American work ethic,
reflecting on the now voluminous literature concerning the “problem” of the
bounded career, worried, “As portrayed in a host of official studies, press
findings, and industry reports, the increasingly familiar ‘blue collar blues’ of (p.
48) bored, alienated assembly-line workers have spread to a white collar world
of dull, unchallenging jobs” (quoted in Hamilton and Wright 1986:32).19
Though the career may have initially been a sought after solution to the
problems of Taylorized labor, its critics believed it simply spread those problems
over a longer time horizon and to a new class of white-collar workers. Like the
schedule and clock before it, the career presented moral dilemmas that had no
straightforward answers. The career time map seemed to open the door to
predictable and long-term vision at the same time that it closed the door to
authentic individuality. The “rat race” versus the “entrepreneur” became
familiar cultural tropes that seemed to pit security against creativity in a zerosum game.
Chronos Disrupted
In the decades following the 1960s, a number of structural and cultural forces
have emerged that seem to be reshaping the way people work. Scholars are just
now beginning to understand the significance of these developments. It is still
unclear to what degree they are transforming or reinforcing the chronological
temporal order.
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Demographic changes have been particularly important. As suggested by the
historical picture presented above, chronological time has always been primarily
about the ordering of men’s lives. Chronos is a he (Odih 1999). Though women
have certainly used chronological techniques and participated in the spread of
schedules and clocks (Glennie and Thrift 2009), they have historically rarely
been the drivers of temporal culture. The Feminist movement, the large-scale
entry of women into white-collar and professional work after the 1960s, plus the
rise in divorce rates that accompanied these trends, have begun to bring the
gendered nature of chronological work time to light. Fewer households are
operating with the breadwinner/homemaker model of production, while the duelearner and single working parent models have become more common. As Jerry
Jacobs and Kathleen Gerson (1998) have argued, while it is debatable whether or
not individuals are working more hours today than in the middle of the 20th
century, (p.49) it is clear that these new types of households are working more
hours than households on the breadwinner/homemaker model. Women, in
particular, have been asked to shoulder a double burden for both home and work
responsibilities (Hochschild 1989).
Out of these new household-level time pressures has sprung a new and powerful
cultural category: balance. The discourse surrounding balance, however, seems
to both challenge and reinforce the chronological tradition of deifying busyness
as a badge of honor (Sabelis et al. 2008). Work-to-family and family-to-work
conflict have become hot-button political issues, especially for women, which has
provided a platform to argue for work arrangements that promote a balanced,
rather than just productive, life (Williams 2000). Some forms of flexible
scheduling, for example, are a direct attempt to generate more balanced
workplaces that can better accommodate non-working life. At the same time,
work-life balance rhetoric has reinforced the notion that workers can have it all
and do it all, thus fortifying the cult of busyness in some respects (Hochschild
1997). It may be that, in the very act of critiquing the gendered nature of work
time, balance discourse has also reinforced other aspects of chronological
culture, such as busyness and the use of clocks and schedules to pack more and
more activity into one’s life.
New technologies have had similarly ambiguous implications for the
chronological order. On the one hand, the Internet and the digital revolution
have made the boundaries between work and non-work spaces fuzzier.
Telecommuting and the increasing use of globally distributed virtual work teams
seem to be challenging core binaries, such as work/home and work/leisure (Lee
and Liebenau 2002). Among knowledge professionals, for example, the
digitization of work may allow them more freedom to work when and where they
want. On the other hand, especially among low-wage shift workers, but also
among some white-collar professionals, managers are using digital technologies
to develop predictive scheduling algorithms and remote productivity monitoring
devices that allow them to tweak workers’ movements in ways that would
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certainly impress Frederick Winslow Taylor (Sewell 1998). At the same time that
some aspects of the chronological temporal order are being challenged by the
digital revolution, then, we may be seeing the simultaneous rise of a kind of neoTaylorism unleashed by new technologies of efficiency and surveillance (Crowley
et al. 2010). Scholars are once again turning their attention to scientific
management to understand how the latest attempts to make workers more
efficient through close supervision resemble or differ from the past (Ackroyd and
Bolton 1999; Conti and Warner 1994; Lomba 2005).
The one area of chronological culture that does seem to be in clear decline is the
bounded career. As Peter Cappelli (1995, 1999) has argued, (p.50) large
organizations are increasingly asking workers to strike a new employment deal.
In exchange for giving up things like loyalty, long-term commitment, and clear
hierarchy—structures that, as noted above, were a source of anxiety for some—
workers are offered new “opportunities” to become more entrepreneurial and
personally responsible for their work trajectories (Moen and Roehling 2004;
Smith 2001). Employers increasingly see long-term contracts as a sunk cost, and
favor flexible arrangements because they encourage workers to be more
entrepreneurial and manage their own employment risks. Management experts
have begun to conceptualize a new kind of “boundaryless” career model wherein
workers are trained to think of their working lives in terms of a trajectory of
employment but not within the secure confines of a single organization or even a
single occupation (Arthur and Rousseau 1996).
In America, nowhere has this emphasis on individual responsibility and
entrepreneurialism been more influential than Silicon Valley. Already in the late
1960s and early 1970s, pioneering Silicon Valley tech firms such as Fairchild
Semiconductor and Intel were experimenting with what would later become
standard practices of flexible capitalism: independent contracting, the
outsourcing of manual labor overseas, alliances with Wall Street venture
capitalists, and the use of stock options rather than security and pensions to
recruit the most skilled employees. Many of the founders and early employees of
these companies, such as Robert Noyce, were former East Coast Organization
Men who moved to rural California (of all places) to get away from the stifling
conformity of bloated bureaucratic firms like Bell and Philco (Lecuyer 2006).
In the last forty years, the quirks of Silicon Valley business culture have evolved
into a powerful hegemonic discourse about how all types of workers will need to
conduct themselves in the coming future (Chiapello and Fairclough 2002; Vallas
and Prener 2012). Wildly popular management and advice texts, such as Clayton
Christiansen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma and Richard Bolles What Color is Your
Parachute?, invite workers to embrace risk and anticipate change, even if you
think you are secure. For example, in a 1994 Harvard Business Review essay
entitled “Toward a Career-Resilient Workforce,” three management experts note
that, “Under the old covenant, employees entrusted major decisions affecting
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their careers to a parental organization. Often, the result was a dependent
employee and a relatively static workforce with a set of static skills” (Waterman,
Waterman, and Collard 1994:88). They advocate for a “new covenant” with
workers that nurtures,
a group of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous
learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with
change; (p.51) who take responsibility for their own career management;
and, last but not least, who are committed to the company’s success. […] A
workforce that is constantly benchmarking and updating its skills is one
that not only responds to change but anticipates it. Competitiveness—
keeping close to customers, staying on top of technology and market
trends, and striving to be ever more flexible—becomes everyone’s
responsibility, not that of just a handful of executives. […] By looking out
for themselves, employees look out for the company (Waterman et al. 1994:
These comments harken back to the mid 20th century critiques of people like
William Whyte in that they are a direct response to the static dullness and
conformity of the bounded career system. But they differ from Whyte’s critique
in an important respect: they take the perspective of the employer, rather than
the employee. In this way, management experts have wholeheartedly taken on
the Organization Man critique, but have adapted it to their own ends by
exhorting workers to become more involved in shouldering what used to be
company risks, such as managing an employee’s long-term trajectory (Boltanski
and Chiapello 2005). The message to workers, then, can sound tortuously
confusing. Be flexible, but one-pointedly committed to the company when it
counts. Be an entrepreneurial individual, but fit into the organization’s plans. Be
disruptable, but don’t get disrupted.
In short, there is no question that some things have changed about the nature of
work since the 1960s. It remains unclear, however, how workers in diverse
structural positions make sense of these changes and to what degree
chronological culture remains a salient matrix in which to narrate their lives.
Are new experiences of work time engendering new understandings of good
work or the good life more generally? Or have the changes simply been met by
bootstrapping old chronological understandings of good work to new contexts?
How do old and new moral categories interact and sit alongside each other?
Work time in America bears the legacy of the chronological temporal order. With
its roots in early medieval Europe, this order blossomed most fully in the
industrial-bureaucratic workplace of the post-World War II era. Its dominant
techniques—the schedule, clock, and career—gave social time a rigid beat and
predictable trajectory. These timescapes and time maps are meant to allow
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workers to construct a life that feels methodical, full (p.52) of activity, and
secure—to unify effort and reward under an umbrella of planning. For
employers, they are meant to create the type of worker who is loyal and
internally motivated to work steadily for a distant reward. And when internal
motivation fails, they function as coercive disciplinary tools to keep the less
motivated in line. As Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot (2006:208) observe,
clocks and timetables “take advantage of the regularity with which industrial
objects function and endow the industrial world with a representation of time …
in which one can be transported without friction.” A frictionless, smoothly
flowing, well-oiled temporality is the industrial utopia (Rosa and Scheuerman
2009). One of the basic accomplishments of industrial capitalism, then, was to
harness the ancient logic of Chronos to instill on a mass scale timescapes and
time maps that produce what Lefebvre (2004) describes as “eurythmia”—when
multiple rhythms work together in functional synchrony. Eurythmia orients
organizational processes to a measured, steady, long-term trajectory. Perhaps
ironically, then, this measured steadiness is precisely the problem of industrial
capitalism for its workers, especially when it is deployed as an external
disciplinary tool. The worker becomes “a steam engine running constantly under
a forced draught” (Edson 1892:282). Work can grind him down with boredom,
monotony, and predictability.
Chronological time has not only left its mark on the structure of the American
workplace, then, but also on the moral order of work. The meaning of work
within this rigid, predictable, and linear temporal order has been built out of the
promises and perils of eurythmia. The schedule and clock, particularly in the
context of physical labor, have long held the promise of transcending physical
limitations, turning the body into an inexhaustible source of creative energy. But
in the very act of tethering the body to this unyielding beat, it can easily create
exhaustion. Out of this moral dilemma, then, emerged important agents and
agendas of social reform: industrial labor unions, the short-time movement, and
workplace safety regulations.
Similarly, the career, being the dominant time map of the chronological order,
promised a well-oiled and smoothly flowing pattern of progression for ones
entire lifetime of employment. For employers, it also promised to solve the
problems of self-motivation and long-term skill development that seemed to have
gone unanswered by Taylorism. But this security came with its own quandaries,
especially for elite male workers. It could just as easily create conditions of
stifling conformity, which threatened the very image of rugged individualism
that the American success ethic championed. Excessively rationalized temporal
trajectories were seen to “stifle inspired outpourings” and inhibit “creative
spontaneity” (Boltanski and Thevenot (p.53) 2006:240). This debate reinforced
one of the classic tropes of American work culture—the heroic figure of the
enterprising individual—a trope that inspires contemporary thinking about
workplaces now more than ever. The legacies of chronological time for the
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American workplace, then, are both structural and cultural—giving shape to
things as mundane as the shift schedule and as elaborate as the myth of the
genius entrepreneur.
By virtue of this historical perspective, we are now able to see in greater detail
some important general relationships between work time and moral order, which
will prove useful in thinking about flexible capitalism. In its long journey from
the cloister to the bureaucratic firm, chronological time has continually
presented itself as a rational way to synchronize action in space, but also as a
cultural scaffolding upon which actors can build meaningful narratives about
their worlds. Both faces of chronological time discipline actors to behave in
patterned ways, either through external coercion or internal motivation. Social
elites, from St. Benedict to Frederick Winslow Taylor, have been interested not
only in directing the organization of time, then, but also in shaping the meanings
of time so they can gain greater control over mechanisms of intrinsic motivation.
Religious, educational, and other institutions that give expert advice pay just as
much attention to the kinds of narratives about the good life that are stretched
over the scaffolding of social time as they do to the design of the scaffolding
itself (Thompson 1967).
If the history of chronological work time teaches us anything, however, it is that
the recipients of new timescapes and time maps often find themselves cast into
moral dilemmas and Faustian bargains. It is often unclear at first whether new
forms of work time are wholly good or bad because these new arrangements
may in fact address some of the grievances associated with older work
arrangements (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005; Boltanski and Thevenot 2006).
Taylorism, for example, was in many ways a reaction to the uncertainties and
irregularities of employment under earlier systems of external contracting. The
bounded career was, in part, a reaction to the problems of Taylorism. The
introduction of these new temporalities, then, asked workers to weigh new forms
of economic suffering against new potential freedoms, or the loss of old
freedoms against new and unexpected sources of suffering. Workers find
themselves pulled between goods and bads that can have precisely the same
sources and are thus compelled to debate both the negative and positive futures
implied by new arrangements.
The debates that spin out of these tensions, then, create powerful cultural
narratives about the good life in capitalism (Bell 1976). Workers seek out
political spaces and new languages to articulate their experiences (p.54)
coherently and figure out where they stand. During the height of the industrial
era in the 19th and 20th centuries, labor unions, novelists, management experts,
and social scientists were some of the most powerful voices in these debates.
They developed compelling narratives that invited workers to either challenge
the economic transformations preferred by elites or accommodate those
transformations, thereby smoothing the way forward for further
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institutionalization. There is a great deal at stake in the moral debates
surrounding new forms of work time, then, because of their ability to either
accommodate or challenge the emerging status quo of the new economic regime
(Boltanski and Thevenot 2006).
With this historical backdrop in mind, we can now turn our attention to flexible
capitalism with an enriched understanding. How does this new temporal regime
differ from the chronological regime? Is it a distinct break from the past, or does
it rely on and incorporate elements of Chronos? How do workers make sense of
the introduction of flexible timescapes and time maps when their dispositions,
habits, and expectations may still be deeply inf…
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