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Simmel’s sociology of time: On temporal coordination and acceleration

Staudacher, Cassiopea

Time plays an integral role in understanding how the social is possible. However, most discussions of sociological classical thinkers—such as Georg Simmel—remain starkly underexplored in terms of their theories’ temporal presuppositions. While most responses to Simmel’s work credit him for his major contributions to the sociology of space, in this paper I aim to systematically reconstruct his explicit and implicit temporal assumptions and explore how these inform some of his social-theoretical writings and his sharp temporal diagnosis of modernity. For this purpose, I re-evaluate some of his central works using a theory distinction between social-theory, which aims to answer what constitutes the social, versus theory-of-society, where the key focus is what form or forms human societies have taken so far, and especially what form modern society takes. By offering a new reading of Simmel’s philosophical and sociological writings, I formulate a comprehensive social theory of time, in which time is both located within individual consciousness and reciprocally mediated by a culturally fixed and supra-individual timeframe, thus highlighting the temporal tensions between individual flexibility and social standardization and coordination. Simmel’s diagnosis of modernity reveals a conceptualization of time in spatialized terms, a monetization of time, and an acceleration of life.
Published in: Time & Society, 10.1177/0961463X231161401, Sage