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  4. The dimension of time in civilian and institutional order

The dimension of time in civilian and institutional order

Frank Bylov, University College West, Denmark

I work as a Senior Lecturer/Researcher at the Department of Social Work at University College West in Esbjerg, Denmark.

My main interests are:

  • patterns of marginalisation and subculture
  • identity-politics, and
  • self-organisation of people with (learning) disabilities - and its potential feedback to services and professionals in the welfare (market) praxis.

Or simpler: 'Self-advocacy movements and their means of influencing services'!

In Denmark, in the past year TV cameras have shown how staff working in large homes for people with learning difficulties continue to abuse residents, in a similar way to the large institutions. In my work for ULF, the Danish National Organisation of People with Learning Disabilities, I have produced a report suggesting that 'service cosumer groups' are needed to prevent these abused - by setting up more permanent and critical 'eyes from the outside'. The way time is used in residential homes is important to create 'homeliness' and a better quality of life. But time may also be abused as a tool for further disciplining.

'Time' is in other words not only something we 'spend', but also something we may 'invest in' and 'make richer together'. 'Time' is something we are able to plan - but our plans may be overruled by others - e.g. at these large homes, where it rather seems that 'time' becomes either a 'waste' or a 'schedule of training-manuals', reducing our own ideas of 'a better life' to nil. For the academic discussions at the seminar I should like to give a presentation of the conceptual analysis lying behind these observations.

Reconstruction of the dimension of time

The basis of this analytic reconstruction I have found in the 'Theory of everyday life' of Hungarian cultural sociologist Agnes Heller - as further developed by Danish Birthe Bech-Jørgensen and Norwegian Marianna Gullestad. In this approach we focus on everyday life as a 'sphere of reproduction', and as a central point this reproduction is seen as an economy distributed in structures of time, space and practice. In each of these dimensions we can identify the functional means - and the symbolic surplus values. For example, in order to survive we surely need 'nourishment' - but mostly we also create surplus meaning by having 'meals'. In this production of surplus values of symbolic order, the dimension of time is crucial: the ways we distribute activities of everyday practices in time - is one of the very ways we produce 'homeliness' and not only 'survival' - or say it better: it is a mostly important dimension of our personal and shared 'quality of life'.

In order to see more precisely what happens, when 'homeliness' is taken over/produced by means of 'institutional order', I have found it promising to borrow from Swedish/Norwegian sociologists Mårten Söder & Johans Sandvin a conceptual distinction between 'immanent and linear time'. That is: 'time of being - vs. time of becoming'. The argument is that both kinds of time are present in the civilian as well as the institutional order. But they are balanced different. And the means and positions available in this regulation of time are markedly different.

With this I finally can reconstruct 'an economy of time in the civilian order of everyday life' - as a model of the crucial points, where 'liberation or decolonisation of inmate time' may grow. You may say, that the idea is to show, how 'spending and creating surplus values in the dimension of time may produce an outmate or released time'.

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About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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