Time and society: A cross-cultural study

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Warren D. TenHouten


Spoken text of two cultural groups with broadly divergent forms of social organization-Australian Aborigines and Euro-Australians-is analyzed to reveal these two cultures' underlying form of social relations and temporal experience. A lexical-level content analysis of a corpus of 658 life-historical interviews is conducted to measure social-relationship and time-consciousness variables. Results of this analysis shows that members of Aboriginal culture, because of their emphasis on equality and community in their social relations, experience time as at once patterned-cyclical and present-oriented. Euro-Australians. in contrast. Because of their greater emphasis on hierarchical and economic social relations, experience time as linear and episodic~futura1. Moreover, it was found that Aboriginal culture is predominantly hedonic-a unity of conditional equality and communal sharing, with the result that their time-consciousness is Natural, a cognitive structure that is both patterned-cyclical and immersed in the present. Euro-Australian culture, in contrast, is predominantly agonic-a unity of hierarchical and economic social relationships, with a resulting Rational time-consciousness, based on a unity of linearity and futurality.

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