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time-space distanciation

  A term proposed by the British sociologist Anthony Giddens to describe the \'stretching\' of social systems across time and space. The term is used in structuration theory to describe what Giddens called system integration — interaction with people who are absent in time or space — which (historically) has entailed \'the expansion of interaction over space and its contraction over time\' (Giddens, 1981, 1984).

The basic idea is scarcely foreign to human geography: the concept has obvious and close affinities with both time-space compression and time-space convergence. But Giddens argued that the concept has two important implications for social theory more generally .

In the first place, conventional social theory has been strongly influenced by forms of functionalism which assume that societies are coherent and bounded systems, and by models of social change which presume that the basic structural dimensions of societies are internal (\'endogenous\') to those systems. Giddens rejects these propositions: \'The nexus of relations — political, economic or military — in which a society exists with others is usually integral to the very nature of that society\' and, indeed, \'to what “societies” are conceived to be\' (Giddens, 1981). At the limit, he implies, the time-space constitution of social life dislocates most of the \'totalizing\' ambitions of conventional social theory (cf. Mann, 1986; see also Gregory, 1990).

In the second place, Giddens uses the concept to offer an outline sketch of the historical trajectory of time-space distanciation which is also an analytical map of different societies. In this scheme \'tribal societies\' are characterized by low levels of time-space distanciation (most interactions are localized) and by little substantive distinction between \'authoritative\' and \'allocative\' resources (between \'political\' and \'economic\' power). With the emergence of so-called class-divided societies like those of European feudalism the level of time-space distanciation increases, largely through the powers extended by \'authoritative resources\' to the state. The transition to the class societies of capitalism is measured by the much greater prominence accorded to \'allocative resources\', especially through industrialization, and is marked by much higher levels of time-space distanciation. In his early texts Giddens (1981, 1984) drew attention to the historical importance of systems of writing, recording and surveillance and systems of monetization and commodification in underwriting this genealogy of modernity. In his later texts Giddens (1990, 1991) became much more interested in the constitution of late twentieth-century \'high\' modernity and the generalization of processes of time-space distanciation. He now distinguished between (i) expert systems, which \'bracket time and space through deploying modes of technical knowledge which have validity independent of the practitioners and clients who make use of them\', and (ii) symbolic tokens, which are \'media of exchange which have standard value and thus are interchangeable across a plurality of contexts\'. Together these constitute abstract systems which, so Giddens argued, penetrate all aspects of everyday life and in doing so undermine local practices and local knowledges; they dissolve the ties that once held the conditions of daily life in place and recombine them across much larger tracts of space (see abstraction; globalization; reflexive modernization).

Giddens\'s scheme has been subject to several criticisms. The most common objection is to the generality of Giddens\'s system of concepts which lack sufficient historical and geographical specificity (Gregory, 1990). In its original form Giddens\'s genealogy of capitalist modernity accentuates the centrality of class and fails to accord (for example) patriarchy the same importance. Indeed, in treating space as a gap to be overcome and describing how time-space is \'bound in\' to the conduct of social life, Giddens represents space as a barrier to interaction and as a void to be transcended, incorporated and subjugated. In doing so, he repeats the characteristic movement of Western master-narratives more generally, which has been to recover what eludes them as lacunae, margins, \'blank spaces\' on the map\' (Gregory, 1994, p. 129). This intersects with other objections to the ethnocentrism of Giddens\'s formulations. Hirst (1982) claims that the trajectory of time-space distanciation outlined by Giddens \'harbours an idea of the immediate and intimate and our movement away from them\'. \'If we take the categories of non-Western societies seriously ,\' he contends, this is simply a myth. It is also a myth if we take the categories of Western societies seriously (see Mestrovic, 1998). Finally, Giddens\'s theorization of time-space distanciation is conducted in the language of domination, and fails to explore the ways in which signification and legitimation, supposedly equally important axes of social structuration, are implicated in the cultural formations that are centrally involved in historical and contemporary processes of globalization (cf. media, geography of). (DG)

References Giddens, A. 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism. Volume 1: Power, property and the state. London: Macmillan. Giddens, A. 1984: The constitution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Giddens, A. 1985: A contemporary critique of historical materialism. Volume 2: The nation-state and violence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Giddens, A. 1990: The consequences of modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Giddens, A. 1991: Modernity and self-identity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Gregory, D. 1990: \'Grand maps of history\': structuration theory and social change. In J. Clark, C. Modgil and S. Modgil, eds, Anthony Giddens: consensus and controversy. Basingstoke: Falmer Press, 217-3 3. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford: Blackwell. Hirst, P. 1982: The social theory of Anthony Giddens: a new syncretism? Theory, culture and society 1 (2) 78-82. Mann, M. 1986: The sources of social power. Volume 1: A history of power from the beginning to  AD1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mestrovic, S. 1998: Anthony Giddens: the last modernist. London and New York: Routledge. Wright, E.O. 1989: Models of historical trajectory: an assessment of Giddens\'s critique of Marxism. In D. Held and J.B. Thompson, eds, Social theory of modern societies: Anthony Giddens and his critics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 77-102.

Suggested Reading Giddens (1984), chs 4 and 5. Giddens (1991). Kilminster, R. 1991: Structuration theory as world view. In C.G.A. Bryant, and D. Jary, eds, Giddens\' theory of structuration: a critical appreciation. London: Routledge, 74-11 5. Wright (1989).



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