Chronopolitics: Time of politics, politics of time, politicized time

Chronopolitics: Time of politics, politics of time, politicized time

Tobias Becker, Zentraum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam; Christina Brauner, Universität Tübingen; Fernando Esposito, Universität Konstanz; Arbeitskreis Geschichte und Theorie, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam; German Historical Institute London
Vom - Bis
16.09.2021 - 18.09.2021
Olga Sabelfeld, Abteilung Geschichtswissenschaft, Universität Bielefeld

The conference “Chronopolitics” organized by Tobias Becker (Berlin), Christina Brauner (Tübingen), and Fernando Esposito (Constance) gathered scholars working on the interrelation of time and politics, temporality and historiography. The aim was to systematize the debates on chronopolitics as well as to connect the theoretical work on temporalities with traditional historical research. Furthermore, the conference reflected on our disciplinary temporalities and temporal orders produced by historiography.

In his opening keynote, DIPESH CHAKRABARTY (Chicago) outlined the argument of two conflicting chronopolitics arising out of the collision of the geological and the human-historical time. In particular, the expression of a “post-pandemic future” illustrates singularity which we attribute to the pandemic whereas climate change is narrated as a process. Given the difficulty of Anthropocene for human periodization, Chakrabarty pleaded for conversion of human concerns (e. g. pandemic) into the Anthropocene time – and not simply vice versa.

As the keynote addressed the synchronization of two temporalities, the first panelists focused on micro-studies of three events in their roles as (de-)synchronizers. BURAK ONARAN (Istanbul) examined how the ruling junta intervened after the coup d’état in Turkey on 27 May 1960 in the existing time order. The immediate historicization of the coup placed the event in a new temporality which not only fulfilled the promised future of the past but, by doing so, opened a new horizon of expectation. In the process of blurring the existing and creating new temporal boundaries, the junta legitimized its actions and the radical rupture of the coup to create a continuity of historic meaning. HELGE JORDHEIM (Oslo) then problematized the instrument of “timeline” that was used in large numbers after the terror attacks of 22 July 2011 in Norway. Timelines often seem to reconstruct time and appear almost mathematical and rational but, following Jordheim, they represent highly conflicting instruments of evaluation. According to the included events, actors, time measurement and intervals, timelines “measure, structure, organize, manage, and manipulate time” for the specific purpose of answering the questions: “what happened?” and “how could it be stopped?”. In that capacity, timelines synchronize theier items to a new order and simultaneously desynchronize from other contexts. In the last presentation of the panel, ALEXANDER GEPPERT (New York) introduced temporal regimes of the “Space Age”: first, “futurity” gave meaning to the conquest of space, and also connected future and space as uncharted territories, second, “velocity” as an experience of the acceleration process was projected onto the horizon of expectation. Bearing these temporal modes in mind, a complex media infrastructure ensured that the event of the moon landing on 21 July 1969 was perceived as a synchronizer of time and space. Finally, the media event and the moon landing itself transformed the world into a planet and changed its spatial and temporal perception.

MIRJAM HÄHNLE (Basel) opened the second panel arguing that in the 18th century travelogues about the Middle East the relations between regions were expressed in temporal dimensions. The travellers made temporalities visible in their writings about such things as relics or places. Describing the desert as timeless and the cities as in constant change, the travelogues transported this dichotomy to the spatial relation in which the Middle East existed outside of time and history, whereas Europe stood for the nations with history. Against the simple assumption of a break between premodern and modern temporalities, Hähnle proposed the view of discontinuities and overlaps of historical times between modernity and premodernity. MIRJAM BRUSIUS (London) examined how archaeology contributed to the constitution of historical time and its relevance for colonial ambitions. Archaeological excavations were detached both from their contexts and from the “inhabitants of these modern lands” in order to create European narratives of progress and civilizatory hierarchies. As Brusius demonstrated how history and archaeology rely on linearity, constructed through material and archival practices that emerged in the 19th century in the Western world. Thus, she argued, the analysis of chronopolitics in the history of sciences in general and archaeology in particular, can help to challenge these established assumptions of linear temporalities. In the panel’s last paper, ANDREA NICOLAS (Berlin) discussed how the political time-regimes of a governmental rule are interconnected with dominant forms of historicities, exemplified on the gadaa system of Oromo society in Ethiopia. She argued that the political contexts in which the dominant forms of historicities emerged shape their historical narration. In the case of Oromo society, multiple temporal narrations exist simultaneously – from the major groups in Ethiopia who live under gadaa but also in urban areas and the diaspora. Thus, the question of who dominates the narrative is crucial for the historiographical framing of gadaa as counter concept to Western democracies. Finally, Nicolas appealed for adding multiple forms of postcoloniality to historiography instead of just stating unequal power relations.

The first part of the third panel dealt with the ideological temporalities of (post)socialism in Eastern Europe. MARCUS COLLA (Cambridge) asked what temporal orders existed under socialism and how a temporal lens may help to better grasp the condition and crisis of late socialism. He argued that both alternative and simultaneous temporalities were strongly interconnected with the regime and thus every critique of time vision was perceived as a critique of the regime. Notions of time appeared in various shapes and fields of critique ranging from cultural censorship and the process of de-Stalinization to the protest and oppositional discourses about timeless ethical universalism. The enormous gap between political time and temporalities of lived experience increased over years which meant the crisis of socialism was condensed in the crisis of time. Beyond these, the events of 1989 ruptured existing temporal assumptions and an analysis of chronopolitics may help to understand how the imagined pasts or futures entered the political cultures in Eastern Europe. ADÉLA GJURIČOVÁ (Prague) complemented the discussion on socialist temporalities by focusing on the transition from socialist to a democratic regime in Czechoslovakia. She could observe conflicting temporalities in four subfields of the transition period. First, during the year 1989 the legislative procedure managed to control the speed and time of the revolution. Second, in the process of reform negotiations, the parliamentarian time revealed its slowness and time-consuming deliberative mission, whereas Havel intervened as president and accused parliamentarians of being an obstacle in urgent policies, using a classic anti-parliamentarian topos. The third case problematized the demand for a quick privatisation which produced a significant degree of uncertainty and enabled investment funds to pose themselves as reliable actors. Finally, the election of 1992 manifested the picture of the federal system as being slow and stuck to the past, whereas the new dynamic republics belonged to the new era.

For the evening lecture, MARGARITA RAYZBERG (New York) and BLAKE SMITH (Chicago) focused on academic chronopolitics, aiming to examine our disciplinary and systemic experiences of time, discourses on time, and perceptions of time as a resource. Catching up on the critique of speed and productivity in academia and its exemplary representation in the book “The Slow Professor”, the authors rejected the existence of that choice particularly for junior scholars who additionally are not able to reproduce the careers of senior researchers. One important field of producing and making sense of time is the academic autobiography in which researchers have to position themselves in time by connecting past achievements and experiences with a present (of application) to a final successful future horizon. The second aspect concerned the communication of academics in society, striving to be timely and relevant with the purpose to speak on certain topics in public but also having a rather atemporal training while working on a PhD thesis. The last part of the talk related to our experiences in the pandemic time which meant huge ruptures and disorientation: while certain obligations and deadlines fell, the immobilization and constraints revoked future horizons.

In the second part of the panel on socialist and neoliberal temporalities, BENJAMIN MÖCKEL (Cologne) examined the discourse on the political metaphor of “future generations”. As not-yet-born generations cannot address and claim rights, it requires an explanation of why this metaphor is pivotal to articulate certain political ideas. Möckel argued that ‘future generations’ integrated distant futures into the political discourse of the present and thus created a social relationship between these temporalities to be able to talk about the future. But the relation could only be established by imagining the future generations as identical to the contemporary generation. In the long run from the 18th to the 21st century, the concept “future generations” was successful because of its adaptation to environmental and ethical demands as well as its neoliberal, nationalist, or even racist agendas. While Möckel problematized moral responsibilities which are expressed in economic values, ELIZABETH COHEN (New York) introduced the attribution of value to time in liberal democracies. Cohen focussed on the “scientifically measured durational time” to describe how time evaluates non-measurable aspects of political processes. Starting from the calendar, which is essential to establish and maintain political boundaries, Cohen stressed the function of time for forming justice and for deliberation. The last aspect regarding deadlines and waiting periods as political structures concerned time as a scarce good for doing politics and earning money.

The fourth panel had the “many historicities” at its focus. FERNANDO ESPOSITO (Constance) problematized the doing of historiography, not as observations but chronopolitical acts. Exemplifying the argument on the historicization of historicism put forward by Reinhart Koselleck, Esposito however stressed that not every change of relation to the past (as the film “Shoa” or the novel “Austerlitz demonstrate) happened intentionally to intervene in historiographical temporalities, instead, they oftentimes merely relied on structural transformations. Having accentuated the Eurocentricity of the Koselleckian concept of the contemporaneity of the non-contemporaneous, he introduced “Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen” to conceptualize the plurality of times and the contemporaneity as the new fundamental experience of time.

Speaking in terms of ETHAN KLEINBERG (Middletown) Esposito contributed to the History of the Present. Opposing a certain way of narrating history, Kleinberg presented his own understanding of History of the Present – one that disputes the present as a stable point that itself presupposes a stable past. Kleinberg approached the present as a performative interpretation that transforms and limits the past. Referring to other historians’ statements on the changing nature and power of history, he diagnosed the discipline’s inability to relate to the future and as a result “to roam an ever-extending present while looking back”. Kleinberg emphasized that Koselleck’s assumption of anthropological constants throughout history is in a similar way determined by our temporalities and in this aspect restricts our imagination of the possible present pasts. Kleinberg pleaded for a plurality of approaches to encounter the “ghosts” of the past that are “surging” in our present – making the historians able to ride “The Surge” as past only exists as history.

ZOLTÁN BOLDIZSÁR SIMON (Bielefeld) introduced such new approach in which technological and ecological temporalities disconnect history from its past and break the developmental continuity between past, present, and future. As Simon linked the political domain with historical temporalities, he described a desynchronization of the political and technological time – not regarding to their pace of change but rather regarding to the different kinds of change informing them. Whereas political change is subject to “processual” temporality, the technological changes occur unprecedented in their “evental” novelty. Drawing on Helge Jordheim’s argument of a modernity that synchronized multiple temporalities to a single linear and homogenous progress, Simon outlined a desynchronization of “processual-developmental” and “evental-unprecedented” changes, arguing that this desynchronization produces temporal conflicts concerning our expectations in future or the relevance of the past.

The conference “Chronopolitics” laid out a potential program to explore the relation of time and politics in/of history. First, the connection consists of time as a resource in politics and struggle for dominance over time or power relations (i. e. politics) characterized in temporal conflicts. Second, politics and power presuppose actors who are necessarily to be identified. Following actors in dominant power relations, a history of chronopolitics should ask how to consider the experiences of excluded actors and social groups. Third, we as historians have to reflect on our disciplinary chronopolitics and our research as chronopolitical acts. Finally, the theory of history must not only frame empirical research but rather integrate the temporal category into the research on historical and social change.

Conference overview:

Dipesh Chakrabarty (Chicago): Anthropocene Time and the Clash of Geological and Human-Historical Time

Panel I: Synchronicity. The Simplification and Coordination of Time

Burak Onaran (Istanbul): Politics, Time and History in Turkey: A Case Study of the Coup d’État of 1960

Helge Jordheim (Oslo): Realigning Time: The Politics of Timelines after the 22 July Attacks in Norway

Alexander Geppert (New York): Synching the Planet on July 21, 1969

Panel II: (Post-)colonial Temporalities, or: Pluritemporality

Mirjam Hähnle (Basel): Multiple Layers of Temporality in 18th Century Travelogues about the Middle East

Mirjam Brusius (London): Excavating and Burying Temporalities: Archaeology and the Historical Construction of Time

Andrea Nicolas (Berlin): Legacies of Time: Political Calendar-Charters and the History of Generations (Oromo/Ethiopia)

Panel III: Ideological Temporalities from Communist to “Neoliberal” (Post)Communist Temporalities

Marcus Colla (Cambridge): Time and Politics in the Age of Late Socialism

Adéla Gjuričová (Prague): Measuring the Tempo of Democracy: Time as an Element of Post-Communist Transformation

Evening lecture

Margarita Rayzberg (New York), Blake Smith (Chicago): Academic Chronopolitics: Failure, Fast and Slow

Panel III: Ideological Temporalities from Communist to “Neoliberal” (cont.) “Neoliberal” Temporalities

Benjamin Möckel (Cologne): What has posterity ever done for us? “Future generations” in the political discourse of the 1970s

Elizabeth Cohen (New York): The Political Value of Time

Panel IV: A Tale of Many Historicities

Fernando Esposito (Constance): Gleichzeitigkeiten or: Present Pasts

Ethan Kleinberg (Middletown): The Pasts that Haunt Time: Deconstructing Historicist Temporality

Zoltán Boldizsár Simon (Bielefeld): The Conflicts of Political and Technological Time