Cities Unbound: Time and the City

Framing remarks: Jim Ferguson, Thomas Blom Hansen, & others.
Date and Time: 
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 5:30pm

Humanities Center: Watt Room


The discussion will focus on time and the city. The city is a place of multiple temporalities -- what Lefebvre once called a “rhythm machine” bringing together diverse cycles and schedules that interact with each other in complex ways, sometimes generating interference or disruption, at other times simply coexiting or even reinforcing each other. Many of these temporalities are (explicitly or implicitly) central to the standard picture of the modern city that emerges out of canonical urban social theory: the planner’s time of futurity and modernism; the industrial time of the factory floor; the infrastructural time of rush hour, clogged freeways and jammed subways; the institutional time of schools and offices; the biographical time of careers and lives lived as stage-wise progressions. But along with these, this discussion will consider a host of other relations to time that are central to urban life in “most of the world”, but have received little attention in conventional urban studies. These include routines of informality and improvisation; modes of idleness, “hanging around”, and dead time; circuits of exchange, patronage, and dependence; and a host of other kinds of relations to time that flourish under circumstances where regularized formal employment is more the exception than the rule, and opportunistic hustling and improvisation are central to securing economic and social survival.

Student and faculty papers will be presented and discussed. Including:

Downtime: Boredom, Alienation & the Sex Trade. By Bruce O’Neil, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology.

Abstract: Just outside the men’s room of Statia Centrala in post-Communist Bucharest, Romania, young homeless men sat, stood and paced for upwards of twelve hours each day. Unable to land construction work (munca necalificat) in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, these men waited in the hopes of grabbing the affections of a foreign tourist or Romanian professional. Lured in to the sex trade by the potential of fast money – a day’s wage earned in a few minutes of harried effort - these men experienced workdays adrift in downtime: hours spent bored, un-aroused and unpaid. Displaced from an ever-efficient formal sector, these homeless sex workers fell into an informal economy where the boundaries between activity and idleness, work and unemployment, well-being and abuse, blurred. Drawing upon extended ethnographic research with male sex workers at Statia Centrala, this paper enters into the experience of downtime in order to rethink the politics of alienated labor in the shadows of a post-Communist economy in crisis.