Main Hidden Rhythms: Schedules and Calendars in Social Life

Hidden Rhythms: Schedules and Calendars in Social Life

"A pathbreaking book on an important subject which, surprisingly, has been paid little attention by social scientists. Zerubavel writes with both learning and lucidity. His book is a pleasure to read."
-Peter Berger

"Others have written about the structuring of time, but few so insightfully and compellingly as Zerubavel."
-Neil J. Smelser

"This is a jewel of a book, one of the most important contributions to cultural sociology in recent years. Professor Zerubavel's easy blend of history, religion, science, politics, and social values makes this a study a delightful voyage of unexpected discovery and new awareness. It hink the title has misled some people into thinking this is a book on music or something of the sort. All the more reason to rejoice at this reissue in paperback."
-David S. Landes

"Hidden Rhythms is an exciting study of a subject that has net yet gained the attention it deserves among sociologists and other social scientists . . . Zerubavel's book has the distinctive merit to discuss earlier approaches to the study of schedules and calendars and to add a series of extremely shrewd observations and calendars to add a series of extremely shrewd observations of his own on the sociology of time. His work seems indispensable for all those social scientists who have become conscious of the central position of the temporal dimension in the life of people and their society."
-Lewis A. Coser

"Eviatar Zerubavel's Hidden Rhythms is an original and highly imaginative analysis of the role time schedule plays in social life. Continuing the distinctive focus on social time Zerubavel develops in Patterns of Time in Hospital life, he provides in Hidden Rhythms more penetrating and profound analysis of the subtle and diverse significance of time in organizing our social relationships and lives. A joy to read."
-Peter M. Blau
Year: 1985
Publisher: University of California Press
Language: english
Pages: 224 / 217
ISBN 10: 0520056094
ISBN 13: 9780520056091
File: PDF, 11.67 MB
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Hidden Rhythms

Eviatar Zerubavel

Hidden Rhythms
Schedules and Calendars
in Social Life
University of California Press
Berkeley, Los Angeles, London

University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles
University of California Press Ltd.
© 1981 by The University of Chicago
First published by the University of Chicago Press 1981
First California Paperback Edition 1985
ISBN 0-520-05609-4

Printed in the United States of America

To Noga, my starlight





Temporal Regularity


The Schedule



The Calendar




Sacred Time and Profane Time


Private Time and Public Time


Index of Authors
Index of Subjects


The present volume is intended as an introduction to a new
area of investigation— the sociology of time. It has a two­
fold purpose and is, therefore, essentially written for two
distinct audiences. On the one hand, it aims at introducing
the field of the sociology of time and is addressed to so­
ciologists. On the other hand, it also aims at introducing the
field of the sociology of time and is, thus, addressed to
readers who are interested in the topic of time in general.
The entire book has been written with this twofold purpose
in mind.
My first task in writing this volume is to sensitize sociol­
ogists to temporality and, thus, to contribute to the de­
velopment of a new field of interest and investigation within
the discipline of sociology. While time is definitely one of
the most central dimensions of the social world, it has so
far been relatively neglected by sociologists, who have dealt
with it— if at all— only as an aspect of other phenomena,
such as social change or leisure, and hardly ever as a topic
in its own right. This may be partly explained by the fact
that time is an ever-present constituent of social life and, as
such, tends to be taken for granted and ignored as a special
focus of attention. And yet, precisely because time is such a
major parameter of the social world, its significant role in
social life can no longer be ignored. By bringing into focus
some of the main themes underlying the temporal patterning
of social life, I intend to demonstrate to sociologists that
time ought to become a special topic of sociological concern.
I first attempted to accomplish that in my earlier book,
Patterns of Time in Hospital Life, where I offered a close



look into the social foundations of the temporal patterning of hos­
pital life.1 The primary focus of the book was the temporal orga­
nization of social life in general, and it was mainly a matter of cir­
cumstance that I chose to study it in a hospital rather than anywhere
else. I tried to make it clear from the outset that, “though the study
took place in a hospital, it was never intended as a study of the
hospital, since its analytical focus was clearly the temporal structure
of social organization, rather than hospital life.”2
However, as I was soon to learn, the way authors define their
work and the way it is perceived by others are two entirely different
things. Despite the fact that I had done my best to point out that a
study done in a hospital is not necessarily a study of the hospital,
my book has nevertheless been often perceived as a study of hos­
pital life, and I myself as a sociologist of medicine!
It is a universal fact of life that, upon encountering novel, unfa­
miliar experience, people nevertheless tend to try and fit it into
rather familiar conceptual categories. Since, at the present moment,
no such field as the “sociology of time” seems to exist, it is only
natural that my study would be cognitively pushed into well-estab­
lished conceptual slots. It was, therefore, hardly surprising that the
first category by which the Library of Congress decided to index
the book for cataloguing purposes was “hospitals— sociological
aspects”! Along the same lines, it was also quite typical that when I
presented parts of my study at sociological conferences, I had to do
that in sessions devoted to the sociology of medicine and the sociol­
ogy of work.
The problem of Patterns of Time, as far as introducing the field
of sociology of time is concerned, is that, even though it gives the
reader a general sense of the potential depth of the field, it does not
provide him or her with a clear sense of its potential scope. By de­
ciding to concentrate on one particular institution, I managed to
demonstrate how a sociologist might go abòut analyzing in depth
the temporal organization of hospital life. What I did not demon­
strate, however, was the applicability of my analysis to the investi­
gation of the temporal organization of so many other domains of
social life.
Therefore, in the present volume, I intend to complement my



previous work by deliberately focusing around a wide variety of
substantive areas and topics. Thus, I shall be dealing with substan­
tive areas as varied from one another as religion, cognition, ideology,
group identity, and work, and with cultural contexts as different from
one another as the medieval Benedictine monasteries, Revolutionary
France, Orthodox Judaism, and the modern hospital. (Along the
same lines, I shall also be moving from discussing cognitive patterns
and cultural values to analyzing actual behavior routines, as well
as from the microscopic level of interpersonal relations to the macro­
scopic level of societal symbols, according to my analytical pur­
poses.) I have deliberately chosen this methodological approach in
order to show the reader that the main focus of the book is not any
one of those substantive areas or topics, but, rather, the unifying
analytical theme of temporality. Thus, this is clearly not a book
about either cognition, symbolism, ideology, religion, or work.
Rather, it is a sociological exploration of time. I firmly believe that
it is precisely the substantive variety of the discussions in this volume
that would be most suggestive of the potentially rich scope of the
field of the sociology of time.
I should add that some of the ideas presented in this volume have
already been published— albeit in a more rudimentary form— in
various sociological journals.3 Here again, however, I was publishing
separate articles that were dealing with different substantive topics—
the French Revolution, the organization of modern professional
commitments, and the social organization of life in the monastery—
and were obviously perceived as separate from one another. It was
impossible to convey the thematic unity of a number of articles that
appeared in separate journals and were not necessarily read by the
same readers. Hence my motivation to publish all my separately
published and unpublished investigations of the temporal aspects of
social life in the form of a single publication that would capture their
unity and would have to be viewed as a whole.
As I pointed out earlier, this volume is not addressed to sociol­
ogists alone. My second major purpose in writing it has been to
demonstrate to those who are interested in time in general that this
topic, which has so far got considerable attention from philosophers,



physicists, biologists, psychologists, and economists, can also be
approached from yet a novel, relatively neglected analytical angle—
the sociological perspective.
In order to highlight the specific contributions of a sociological
perspective to the study of temporality, I have decided to deliber­
ately avoid time-related topics such as historical change or biological
rhythms, which have traditionally been explored by other disci­
plines. Whereas physicists and biologists, for example, have tradi­
tionally been concerned with temporal orders which regulate the
motions of bodies or the lives of organisms, respectively, I intend
to restrict my concern to an entirely different temporal order—the
sociotemporal order, which regulates the lives of social entities such
as families, professional groups, religious communities, complex
organizations, or even entire nations.
This order is clearly distinct from other temporal orders. Whereas
the physiotemporal and biotemporal orders, for example, are natural
and, thus, inevitable, the sociotemporal order is essentially a socially
constructed artifact which rests upon rather arbitrary social conven­
tions. Consequently, while the physical and biological approaches
to temporality have tended to emphasize the objective qualities of
time, the sociological approach would be more likely to highlight its
subjective qualities, the meanings that people attach to it. Obviously,
this is also true of much of the psychological concern with tem­
porality. However, whereas the psychology of time is essentially con­
cerned with the way in which the individual perceives time, the
sociological perspective would be more likely to emphasize the way
time is perceived and handled by collectivities.
Having established what I believe ought to be the distinctive
direction of the sociology of time and its major concerns, let me now
discuss briefly the specific contributions of each of the chapters of
the present volume to this field.
The first chapter centers around temporal regularity, a phenom­
enon that involves the structuring of social life by forcing activities
into fairly rigid temporal patterns. I shall explore four major forms
of temporal regularity by trying to unveil regular patterns of associ­
ating social events and activities with (a) rigid sequential structures,
(6) fixed durations, (c) standard temporal locations, and (d ) uni­



form rates of recurrence, stressing the fact that these often con­
stitute binding normative prescriptions. The chapter also examines
the cognitive dimension of temporal regularity. After all, as a result
of the highly regular temporal profile of so many social events, it is
often possible to tell the time by simply referring to our social en­
vironment. I shall focus particularly on people’s responses to
“pathological” situations, where things take place at times other
than their usual ones, since they might tell us a lot about the “nor­
mal,” temporally regular world in which we live.
Probably most responsible for the establishment and maintenance
of temporal regularity in our daily lives is the schedule. Undoubtedly
one of the institutions most characteristic of Western civilization,
the schedule originally evolved in the medieval Benedictine mon­
asteries, and the second chapter first explores, within the context of
Benedictine monasticism, the genesis of the particular sort of tem­
poral regularity which is associated with the schedule. The effective
use of the schedule has also benefited from the invention of the
mechanical clock, and the examination of the temporal organization
of Benedictine monastic life also provides us with better insight into
why it was also through the Benedictine monasteries that this time­
piece was first introduced to the West. The chapter then proceeds to
identify some of the fundamental principles that underlie any
modern schedule and to examine the relation between schedules
and modern life in general. After discussing the conventional basis
of the schedule and the arbitrariness of so many regular temporal
patterns, it considers both the constraints and loss of spontaneity
involved in leading a scheduled life and the advantages of introduc­
ing routine, orderliness, and structure into life. It then proceeds to
examine notable implications of the introduction of the schedule to
the West, such as the development of a utilitarian philosophy of time
and an abstract conception of temporality. Finally, the intricate rela­
tions between schedules and social solidarity are considered.
The relations between temporal arrangements and group for­
mation are further explored in the third chapter, which revolves
around the ways in which various groups throughout history have
used their calendars for solidifying in-group sentiments as well as
establishing intergroup boundaries to separate group members from
“outsiders.” The cases of the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, Easter, and



the Dead Sea Sect and Mohammedan calendars will all be examined
as part of a general discussion of the role of calendars in promoting
social segregation. However, I shall also discuss the proliferation of
the Gregorian calendar and the Christian Era as an attempt to
establish no less than an international temporal reference frame­
work, allowing for an almost universally valid standardization of
time reckoning and dating. Finally, I shall also examine the sym­
bolic functions of calendrical systems through an in-depth analysis
of the French Republican calendrical reform of 1793, since this
reform— undoubtedly the most radical attempt in modern history to
have challenged the standard temporal reference framework that
prevails in the world to this day— was deliberately meant to reflect
as well as promote certain cultural values. The discussion will center
around the variety of ways in which the reformers managed to de­
sign the new calendar so that it would symbolically represent some
of the main themes of the spirit of the French Revolution.
The discussion of the symbolic function of calendrical systems
indicates that people clearly view time not only as a physico-mathematical entity, but also as an entity which is imbued with meaning.
The fourth chapter sheds some light on the way in which time func­
tions as a context for anchoring the meaning of social acts and
situations within the particular domain of religion. One of the funda­
mental essences of many religious systems is the necessity of achiev­
ing a total separation of the sacred and profane domains so as to
maintain the conceptual distinction— and, thus, prevent any moral
confusion—between them. Time plays a central role in facilitating
the dichotomization of the universe into sacred and profane domains
which are mutually exclusive, since it allows man to establish in a
clear-cut manner and with minimum ambiguity whether something
“belongs” within one sphere of life or another. The chapter examines
the temporal segregation of the sacred from the profane by exploring
the various ways in which Jews have traditionally managed to sub­
stantiate and accentuate the fundamental cognitive distinction be­
tween the Sabbath and the regular weekdays, periods of time that
are entirely identical from a purely quantitative standpoint. The
chapter also explores the ways in which the Sabbath and the regu­
lar weekdays are actually separated from one another as well as the



means by which passage from one to the other is made possible,
demonstrating that the very same temporal boundaries which serve
to separate the sacred from the profane domain also serve to allow
the transition between them.
In the final chapter, I shall demonstrate how, as a most effective
principle of differentiation, time serves to keep apart not only the
sacred and profane domains, but also the private and public spheres
of life. With the increasing functional and structural differentiation
within individuals’ webs of social affiliations and the growing bu­
reaucratic split between “person” and “role,” maintaining the par­
tiality of the involvement of modern individuals in each of the vari­
ous social roles they occupy has become a necessity. Time is a major
organizational principle which facilitates the institutionalization of
privacy as well as the “segmentation” of modem individuals along
the lines of their various social involvements. By providing some
fairly rigid boundaries that segregate the private and public spheres
of life from one another and to which the association of person and
role is confined, time has become indispensable to the regulation of
the social accessibility of modern individuals as well as to the main­
tenance of the partiality of each of their various social involvements.
Following an examination of the temporal structure of social acces­
sibility in general, I shall proceed to demonstrate that time con­
stitutes a major dimension of social organization along which pro­
fessional commitments are defined in modern society and that the
temporal rigidity of modem work schedules is one of the key struc­
tural characteristics of modern social organization. I shall conclude
the chapter by comparing the temporal structure of the professional
commitments of physicians with that of nurses, and of high-ranking
officials with that of low-ranking personnel, demonstrating that the
degree of temporal rigidity or flexibility in defining professional
commitments can help us to identify and differentiate various occu­
pational roles and professional ethics, as well as to distinguish among
various status rankings within a stratification system.
A general note regarding this work as a whole. This volume ob­
viously presents a rather biased picture of the temporal organization
of social life. Certainly not all social life is temporally structured



in a rigid manner. There are a lot of people who conduct their every­
day life without using calendars and schedules, wearing a watch, or
respecting deadlines, who are often late to appointments, and who
sometimes forget what day it is. I am by no means oblivious to all
of the above. On the contrary, I deliberately try to ignore them, for
heuristic purposes.
Following Max Weber,4 I firmly believe that deliberate one­
sidedness not only should not be regarded as obstructive, but also
ought to be hailed as a methodological virtue. I think that one of
the great strengths of classic sociological works such as those of
Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and
Karl Marx is the fact that, rather than try to portray the world “as
it is” (whatever that means), they chose to deliberately concentrate
in the most biased, one-sided fashion only on selected aspects of
social reality and ignore others.
As Weber himself pointed out, however, scholars ought to have
the necessary discipline to tell their readers where their biases lie.
I therefore wish now to lay out before the reader the nature of my
one-sidedness in the process of writing this volume, as I see it.
Like Weber and Simmel, I tend to believe that one of the most
essential characteristics of modern life is the “rationalistic” character
of modern culture.5 Hence my decision to focus my concerns exclu­
sively around the introduction of the “rational”— precise, punctual,
calculable, standard, bureaucratic, rigid, invariant, finely coordi­
nated, and routine— into our lives. I have done that deliberately so
as to concentrate on what I believe to be highly rationalized temporal
This involved, for one thing, a decision to deliberately ignore all
nonrational or irrational manifestations of the temporal organization
of social life— waiting, latecoming, spontaneity, and so on. It also
accounts for the fact that the process of picking my substantive
topics was by no means random. On the contrary, it was strategically
designed-7-in a most selective manner— to dramatize the features of
what I consider to be highly rationalized temporal orders. This is
how I came to choose only those domains of social life as well as
those cultural contexts where the rigid organization of time can be
seen at its most extreme form— the Benedictine monastery, Revolu­
tionary France, Orthodox Judaism, and the bureaucratic hospital—



to be the contexts of my discussions. I have done that deliberately
so as to highlight the rational elements of temporal organization.
Despite the generally impersonal ethos of much of contemporary
sociological research, I have always been motivated to study what
is also of considerable personal concern and significance to me.
Unlike many sociologists I know, I happen to regard the fact that I
study human beings rather than stars, rocks, bacteria, or fish not
as an inherent obstacle, but, rather, as one of the true fascinations
of being a sociologist. For me, doing sociology has always implied
further harmony between my professional life and my personal life.
The present volume has a lot of personal significance, mainly be­
cause it touches some of the most serious problems I face in my own
One such problem is that of social accessibility. While I have
always prided myself on being accessible to meaningful others in my
life, I also cherish privacy and strongly dislike having acquaintances
or neighbors drop by without notice when I least expect them. The
very same ambivalence regarding accessibility also characterizes
my general attitude toward the temporal organization of professional
commitments. On the one hand, I have always had great difficulty
understanding bureaucrats who leave their office precisely at 5:00
p.M. and refuse to be associated with their professional self beyond
their “regular” hours. On the other hand, I have always felt a par­
ticularly strong distaste toward “greedy” institutions6 which would
swallow their employees if they could. Working on the fifth chapter
of this volume, therefore, provided me with a most unusual oppor­
tunity to wrestle sociologically with a problem that has always in­
trigued me personally.
The same is true of the discussion, in the second chapter, of the
clash between spontaneity and routine. When discussing the medie­
val Benedictine monk, I was actually addressing a most personal
problem, namely, being constantly torn between the need to organize
my life through the adherence to schedules and a gut-level love of
spontaneity! In my own life, I have always oscillated between the
two. On the one hand, I consider myself a spontaneous person who
has a strong dislike for routine and prefers to conduct his life accord­
ing to his whim. On the other hand, I have always known that only



through order and discipline— which necessarily entail the introduc­
tion of deadlines and various forms of time management— can I ac­
complish projects such as completing a book. Working on the second
chapter of this volume, therefore, was very significant to me not only
as a sociologist wrestling with a sociological problem, but also as a
person attempting to solve the ever-present existential conflict be­
tween striving for spontaneity and leading a relatively structured life.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a number
of friends and colleagues who, each in his or her own special way,
helped me significantly throughout the process of writing this book.
Three persons in particular influenced my decision to write the
book and helped me shape its general direction. My wife, Yael
Zerubavel, was the first one to encourage me to assemble my various
—published and unpublished— ideas regarding temporality and
present them as a whole. She was the first critical audience for many
beginnings— some of which were dropped right away and others
which did evolve into coherent ideas— and later reviewed early
drafts of the manuscript. At the early stage when I was still uncer­
tain whether I had a book or just a collection of separate essays,
I also got much support and some very useful suggestions from
Renée Fox and Kai Erikson, particularly regarding the interrelations
of the various chapters as parts of a whole.
Charles Lidz provided me with much sociological feedback at a
time when I was working in a department of psychiatry. I am very
grateful for his many patient readings of early drafts of most of
the chapters of the book.
However, as I pointed out earlier, this volume is my very first
attempt to address a scholarly piece of mine to an audience wider
than the academic sociological community. This is how my friend
Linda John came to play such an important role as a critical reader
of the manuscript. It was she who provided me with the necessary
feedback from someone other than a professional sociologist. Her
critical reading of early drafts of the manuscript was most important
to me at the stage of trying to extend beyond the academia as my
exclusive audience.
I would like to thank various colleagues—particularly Rose
Coser, John R. Hall, Samuel Heilman, Joshua Lederberg, and Joel



Telles—who provided me with various suggestions regarding many
ideas presented here. I am also greatly indebted to my friends Lin
Ehrenpreis, Diane Enerson, Alan Meisel, and Amos Yoran, who
helped me significantly by reading and commenting on parts of the
Last, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Barry Schwartz,
not only for his most valuable comments on a number of early drafts
of various chapters, but, even more significantly, for being my pri­
mary partner in the intellectual exchange around the sociology of
time as a focal area of interest.


Temporal Regularity
The world in which we live is a fairly structured place. Even
the most casual glance at our environment would already
reveal a certain degree of orderliness. One of the funda­
mental parameters of this orderliness is time— there are
numerous temporal patterns around us.
At the basis of any structure and order there is usually
some regularity. At the basis of the temporal structure of the
world, we, therefore, ought to expect to find some temporal
regularity. The search for such regularity is the main focus
of the present chapter.
Let me first delineate the major dimensions of the tem­
poral profile of any situation or event.1 One fundamental
parameter of situations and events is their sequential struc­
ture, which tells us in what order they take place. A second
major parameter, their duration, tells us how long they last.
A third parameter, their temporal location, tells us when
they take place, whereas a fourth parameter, their rate of
recurrence, tells us how often they do.
In my search for temporal patterns, I shall thus try to
identify four major forms of temporal regularity— rigid
sequential structures, fixed durations, standard temporal
locations, and uniform rates of recurrence. In other words, I
shall be primarily concerned with the rigidification of the
sequential ordering of situations and events, their duration,
their temporal location, and their rate of recurrence.
There are many forms of temporal patterns. Basically,
however, they all fall into one of the following categories:
physiotemporal patterns, biotemporal patterns, and socio­
temporal patterns.
Physiotemporal patterns lie within the research domains


Chapter One

of the physicist and the astronomer. They essentially involve tem­
poral regularities such as the following: the predictable fact that
lightnings always precede thunders, rather than follow them; the
predictable duration of the flight of projectiles, as calculated by
ballisticians; the predictable time of day at which the sun rises on
any particular day of the year; the predictable period during which
a particular planet completes a revolution around the sun or a
rotation on its own axis; and so on.
Whereas the physiotemporal order regulates the movement of
physical bodies, it is the biotemporal order that is primarily re­
sponsible for regulating the lives and daily functioning of orga­
nisms. Biotemporal patterns lie within the research domain of the
biologist and involve temporal regularities such as the following:
the predictable sequential relations among the stages of being a
larva, a cocoon, and a mature insect; the relatively fixed duration
of pregnancy periods; the fairly predictable temporal location of
puberty within the life cycle; the fairly uniform circadian rhythms
that govern the body’s temperature; and so on.
The present chapter revolves around the sociotemporal order,
which regulates the structure and dynamics of social life. I am
primarily concerned, therefore, with sociotemporal patterns, which
essentially involve the temporal rigidification of social situations,
activities, and events. Such patterns clearly lie within the research
domain of the sociologist. Unfortunately, unlike the physical sci­
ences and the life sciences, sociology has so far paid relatively little
attention, if any, to the phenomenon of temporal regularity. (This
is not necessarily true of the other social sciences. Consider, for
example, the traditional anthropological concern with seasonal
cycles or the study of business cycles in economics.) And yet, this
phenomenon is probably one of the fundamental parameters of any
social order. It is definitely among the main characteristics of mod­
ern social life, one of the key phenomena that provide it with an
unmistakable structure. As Lewis Mumford put it, “The first charac­
teristic of modern machine civilization is its temporal regularity.”2
R igid S e q u en tial Structures

Rigid sequential structures are the most obvious and conspicuous
form of temporal regularity. It is in the nature of many events, activi-

Temporal Regularity


ties, and situations that they cannot all take place simultaneously
and must, therefore, be temporally segregated from one another in
terms of “before” and “after.” The sequential order in accordance
with which they are arranged may sometimes be purely random.
However, it is very often the case that it is rigid, to the point of
As Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann have pointed out, se­
quential rigidity is inherent to the everyday life world:
I cannot reverse at will the sequences imposed by [the temporal
structure of everyday life]— “first things first” is an essential
element of my knowledge of everyday life. Thus, I cannot take a
certain examination before I have passed through certain
educational programs, I cannot practice my profession before I
have taken this examination, and so on.3
Usually, sequential rigidity is a normative prescription and not a
mere empirical coincidence. It is identifiable already at the level of
short ceremonial events such as weddings, funerals, military parades,
religious services, classical music concerts, and official banquets.
However, it is also built into entire life careers. Consider, for ex­
ample, the common prohibition of procreation prior to marriage
or the sequential order of various rites of passage, which is hardly
ever flexible and reversible! In between those two extremes, note
also the rigid sequential structure of “career timetables,”4 academic
curricula, and various bureaucratic routines and procedures. I
should add that sequential rigidity is by no means characteristic of
formal organizational life alone. As will soon become apparent from
the discussion of courtship norms, it prevails in the more informal
domains of social life as well.
Some irreversibilities are determined by nature or are inevitable
from a logical or technical standpoint. It is natural imperatives that
force farmers, for example, to plow their fields before, rather than
after, sowing, or that make it impossible for anyone to become an
infant after one has already aged. It is a logical-definitional neces­
sity that compels track-meet organizers to schedule finals after,
rather than before, heats. Likewise, it is a technical constraint that
forces us to eat only after— and not before— cooking.
However, it is a mere artificial convention that underlies our cus­
tom of serving soup before, rather than after, serving meat.5 (The


Chapter One

Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of serving all dishes simultaneously
ought to remind us that the institutionalization of temporally seg­
regated “courses” in meals is in itself purely conventional!) Simi­
larly, even though the sequential rigidity of many routine bureau­
cratic procedures is usually based upon sound organizational ra­
tionales, it is by no means natural and inevitable. Under various
circumstances, the sequential structure of these procedures may
very well be altered. Given the symbolic significance of temporal
priority in general,6 it is only natural that many socially based ir­
reversibilities are purely symbolic in nature. This is quite evident in
the case of the sequential rigidity that is built into weddings, com­
mencement ceremonies, and even formal introductions and patterns
of name ordering among authors of scientific papers.7
A cross-specific comparison of courtship rituals highlights the
fundamental distinction between naturally based and socially based
sequential rigidity, and serves to demonstrate where nature ends
and social convention begins. The courtship ceremonies of water
salamanders or sticklebacks, for example, generally consist of bio­
logically determined “reaction chains” wherein each link in the
chain functions as a necessary “releaser” of the mate’s next move.8
Ritualized fanning by the male, for instance, is indispensable for
“releasing” the female’s entrance to the nest and must, therefore,
precede it.
A substantial amount of sequential rigidity is built into human
courtship rituals as well. Consider, for example, the temporal rela­
tions among stages such as “necking,” “petting,” and actual sexual
intercourse. There may be some variability in the duration of these
stages or in their temporal location vis-à-vis the first date, the onset
of “going steady,” the engagement, and the wedding.9 And yet, the
irreversibility of their sequential ordering vis-à-vis one another is
quite well established. In other words, there are generally agreedupon norms regarding which stage in the courtship ritual ought to
precede or follow others.10 According to Ray Birdwhistell, it is quite
to delineate some twenty-four steps between the initial tactile
contact between the young male and female and the coitional act.
These steps and countersteps had a coercive order. For instance,
a boy taking the girl’s hand must await a counterpressure on his

Temporal Regularity


hand before beginning the finger intertwine. The move and
countermove, ideally, must take place before he “casually” and
tentatively puts his arm around her shoulders. And each of these
contacts should take place before the initial kiss.11
Those who deviate from the prescribed norm of proper sequence
are commonly referred to as being “fast” or “slow.” Note that, within
the context of courtship, these terms refer primarily to sequential
ordering, rather than to duration:
The boy or girl is called “slow” or “fast” in terms of the
appropriate ordering of the steps, not in terms of the length of
time taken at each stage. Skipping steps or reversing their order
is “fast.” Insistence on ignoring the prompting to move to the
next step is “slow.”12
The considerable normative significance of the notions of “fast” and
“slow” is quite evident from the negative sanctions that are usually
attached to each of those deviations from the prescribed norm of
“proper sequence.” It also accounts for the overwhelming feeling of
“bad taste” which often accompanies the act of deviating from that
And yet, this sequential rigidity is, to a large extent, conventional
and by no means inevitable. A “move” or “step” such as the initial
kiss does not really have to be preceded by a finger intertwine in
order to be carried out. Furthermore, in various sexual relationships
it is omitted altogether! The “proper sequences” which underlie
popular normative notions such as “too fast” or “too slow” in human
courtship are of an almost purely nonbiological, symbolic signifi­
cance. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they often vary not
only across cultures, but also across historical periods as well as agegroups within cultures.
F ixed D urations

A second facet of the temporal regularity which prevails in modern
life is the fact that numerous events are associated with relatively
fixed durations on a regular basis. In a way, as I shall demonstrate in
the next chapter, most of the timetables and schedules we use would
not have been possible were it not for the durational rigidification


Chapter One

of so many events and activities in our daily life. As Alvin Toffler
has pointed out, “In adult behavior, virtually all we do, from mailing
an envelope to making love, is premised upon certain spoken or
unspoken assumptions about duration.”13 Thus, most college train­
ing programs, for example, are rigidly forced into four-year periods,
many therapeutic sessions are defined as fifty-minute “hours,” and
various warranties expire six months from the date of purchase.
Even our music has been characterized, in contradistinction to non­
Western music, as durationally rigid.14
Durational rigidity is often technologically or biologically deter­
mined. Consider, for example, the duration of a Paris-Rome flight
or a pregnancy period. The durational rigidity of “determinate time
tracks”15 such as jail sentences, military service, presidential terms,
vacations, classes in school, and appointments, however, is almost
entirely conventional. Its conventional basis is quite evident from
the fact that the durations of these “time tracks” are usually defined
in terms of “rounded off” time periods, such as fifteen years (jail
sentences), two weeks (vacations), or thirty minutes (appoint­
ments). They are also essentially alterable, as might be indicated by
practices such as cutting down various training programs during
wartime or extending an appointment by an extra couple of minutes.
And yet, despite the fairly obvious conventionality of their as­
sociation to events, the fixed durations of the latter are very often
commonly regarded as intrinsic to them. For example, even though
it has never been stated anywhere that entertainment events ought to
last about two hours, the fact that they generally do would probably
lead most of us to feel cheated if a movie or a concert for which we
had bought a full-price ticket lasted only ten minutes! This notion
of “only” suggests that we have fairly well defined ideas of what the
“proper” durations of events are, and even though these are hardly
ever formally and explicitly specified, they are nevertheless regarded
as normatively binding. Consider, for example, the symbolic over­
tones of acts such as leaving “too early” or, on the other hand, stay­
ing “too long.” (The same is also true of behavior patterns such as
being engaged for “too long” without getting married.) The notion
of “overstaying”16 is particularly interesting. That even very close
friends are sometimes said to have stayed “too long” seems to in­
dicate that normative notions— and, consequently, actual patterns—

Temporal Regularity


of durational rigidity do exist even in the relatively unstructured
realm of informal relations.
S tandard Tem poral Locations

Durational rigidity is closely related to a third facet of temporal
regularity, namely, the standardization of the temporal location of
numerous events and activities in our daily life. The fact that a
particular class is to last an hour, for example, is quite inseparable
from the fact that it is routinely scheduled for 2:00 p .m . and an­
other class is routinely scheduled for 3:00 p .m . in the same room.
(The standardization of the temporal location of activities and
events is very often also related to the rigidification of their se­
quential structure. If local television news, for example, is routinely
scheduled for 6:00 p .m . and national news for 6:30 p .m ., the for­
mer will necessarily always precede the latter.)
The standardization of temporal location presupposes scheduling,
a typically Western phenomenon which involves moving away “from
the natural or casual sense of time toward a sense of time as sched­
ule.”17 Unlike many non-Western civilizations, where events and
activities are temporally located in a relatively spontaneous manner,
we tend to “schedule” them, that is, routinely fix them at particular
prearranged, and often standard, points in time— at particular
hours, on particular days of the week, in particular parts of the
year, or even in particular periods within one’s life career. Whereas,
in many non-Western civilizations, it is human activity that regu­
lates the calendar,18 in the modern West it is the calendar (along
with the schedule) that regulates human activity!
In general, most of our routine daily activities are scheduled in
a fairly rigid manner for particular times of the day and for par­
ticular days of the week. Thus, we usually eat not necessarily when
we are hungry, but, rather, during officially designated eating periods
such as “lunchtime” or “dinner time.” Similarly, we usually go to
bed not necessarily when we get tired, but, rather, when it gets
“late.” Cleaning one’s home is another activity which typically takes
place not necessarily when things get dirty, but, rather, on particular
days of the week that are designated as “cleaning days” in a standard


Chapter One

Consider also the temporally rigid structure of work, a phenome­
non which will be further explored in the last chapter. As Wilbert
Moore has pointed out,
For the primitive food gatherer or peasant cultivator time as such
is not economically valued. He pursues a particular task or set
of tasks steadily, except as he is interrupted by darkness or
fatigue, until the work is completed, and then may spend a
variable period “doing nothing” until the next endeavor is
We, on the other hand, usually go to work not necessarily when we
feel like it or when there is an urgent necessity, but, ràther, at
certain normatively prescribed standard hours. Furthermore, even
our hours of rest are determined by “the rigid requirements of the
urban schedule.”20 We usually rest not necessarily when we are
tired, but, rather, during officially designated rest periods such as
lunch breaks and weekends.
The association of social activities and events with some standard
temporal locations is by no means a mere empirical coincidence.
Very often it is a normative prescription as well. After all, children
do not necessarily go to bed at a certain standard hour because they
want to, but, rather, because they have to. Fixing the temporal loca­
tion of events entails a broadly conceived norm of “punctuality,”
which involves assigning a deviant character to the acts of being
“early” or “late.” Being late for work, for example, might entail
some loss in one’s social reputation. In various social circles, the
same is also true of men and— even more so— women who are
“late” in getting married. On the other hand— yet for precisely the
same reason— one would be particularly careful about keeping one’s
children from launching their drinking, smoking, or sexual careers
“too early.” Both cases indicate some deep respect for the norms of
“proper” timing that derive from what Julius Roth has identified as
“career timetables.”21
Generally speaking, we have relatively fixed notions of what con­
stitutes “the proper time.” It is almost inconceivable, for example,
that an event such as a dance would be scheduled for the morning
(even on non-working days). However, we ought to realize that the
basis for locating— or abstaining from locating— certain activities

Temporal Regularity


and events at particular time periods is, very often, purely conven­
tional. To appreciate the fundamental difference between naturally
determined and socially based standard temporal locations of activi­
ties and events, contrast, for example, the reasons for sowing in the
spring or hunting during the daytime with the reasons which under­
lie routines such as going to church on Sunday or to college around
the age of eighteen. As Murray Wax has noted,
societies that live according to casual time recognize adolescence
by the appearance of the appropriate social and physiological
manifestations. . . . societies that perceive time as a schedule
grant this status according to time-serving— so many years of
school or training.22
The artificial nature of social scheduling is also evident from the
sheer fact that so many events in our daily life are scheduled for
“rounded off” times such as “on the hour.” A dinner that is sched­
uled for 8 :19 p .m ., for example, is almost inconceivable. Note also
how we teach our children, especially during the summer, that bed­
time is determined by the clock alone and that it may very well be
“late” even when there is still light outside. It should be pointed out,
in this regard, that we probably would have never felt the need to
invent daylight saving time were it not for the fact that our standard
wake-up time is dictated by the clock rather than by the sun! The
conventionality of the standard temporal locations of so many activi­
ties and events in our life is even more evident when contrasted with
the way in which the same events and activities are temporally lo­
cated not only in other civilizations, but also in the worlds of some
segments of our own society which are not as strictly governed by
the clock and the schedule— presocialized infants, the retired aged,
the unemployed,23 and bohemia.
Uniform R ates of R ecurrence

In the particular case of recurrent activity patterns, the standard­
ization of the temporal location of activities and events also entails
uniform rates of recurrence, that is, some fairly rigid rhythmicity.
That a particular seminar is routinely scheduled for Wednesdays
necessarily implies also that it is being held regularly on a weekly


Chapter One

basis. That Christmas always falls on 25 December necessarily im­
plies also that it is celebrated regularly on an annual basis. Along the
same lines, official meetings and conferences that are routinely
scheduled for 2:00 p .m . or for the first day of the month essentially
recur regularly on a daily or monthly basis, respectively. Such pe­
riodic patterns are regular not only in a social sense, as when families
space their reunions in accordance with routines such as “every
wedding or funeral,” but also in a strictly mathematical sense, as
when the reunion takes place “every Memorial Day” (that is, every
year). In other words, in such periodic patterns, the time intervals
during which sequences of recurring successions of social activities
are completed are mathematically equal.
The sociological concern with periodic recurrence is analogous
to the concern, in the physical and life sciences, with regularly recur­
rent patterns such as the revolution of the earth around the sun and
its rotation on its own axis, or the various rhythms in accordance
with which sleep, hunger, ovulation, and body temperature are tem­
porally structured. It began with Emile Durkheim’s, Henri Hubert’s,
and Marcel Mauss’s pioneer explorations of the “rhythm of collec­
tive life,” and was further consolidated by Pitirim Sorokin’s analyses
of “sociocultural rhythms and periodicities.” Since then, sociologists
have identified various “social cycles”— classic examples of which
are the day, the week, and the year—that are responsible for the
rhythmic structure of social life.24
The rhythmicity imposed on social life by the temporal spacing
of numerous recurrent activities and events at mathematically regu­
lar intervals is by no means characteristic of formal organization
alone, and is identifiable not only at the macrosocial level, as the
above-mentioned studies and works might suggest. It is also possible
to identify uniform rates of recurrence of periodic activities at the
microsocial level and within relatively unstructured domains such
as that of informal relations. Furthermore, these are not only em­
pirical patterns, but actual normative prescriptions as well. The nor­
mative overtones of notions such as “too often” or “hardly ever”
suggest that even the temporal spacing of visits, telephone calls, and
letters exchanged among friends— a most useful indicator of what
Durkheim considered to be the “moral density” of social relations25
— is by no means “casual” and is quite often governed by some regu­
lar “proper” tempi.26

Temporal Regularity


As Sorokin so convincingly demonstrated, many of the rhythms
that govern social life are entirely conventional.27 Most striking in
this regard is the rhythmicity associated with time units such as the
hour or the week. Given the artificial basis of those time units, such
rhythmicity is obviously artificial as well. Consider, for example,
the temporal organization of the administration of medications in
hospitals.28 Despite its strong biological basis, the fact that medica­
tion times are routinely spaced at regular “rounded off” intervals
such as four or six hours— rather than, say, at intervals of five hours
and thirty eight minutes— is indicative of its conventionality. Even
more suggestive of the fact that we are actually dealing here with a
sociotemporal phenomenon rather than with physiotemporal or
biotemporal patterns are temporal regularities that are associated
with the seven-day week, a cycle which is undoubtedly a purely
conventional artifact. As I shall demonstrate in the fourth chapter,
this cycle, which governs and regulates so much of our everyday life,
actually represents man’s first successful attempt to establish a social
rhythmicity that is based upon an entirely artificial regularity.
Let us turn now to the daily, monthly, and annual rhythms of
social life. First of all, we ought to remember that the calendar day,
month, and year are slightly modified versions— and, therefore,
only approximations— of their original astronomical models. Fur­
thermore, even if they did precisely correspond to them in actuality,
it is still social convention alone that ties the temporal structure of
news broadcasts to the daily cycle, the temporal organization of
business activity to the monthly cycle, and the professional mobility
of young physicians to the annual cycle.
Much of our social life is temporally structured in accordance
with “mechanical time,” which is quite independent of “the rhythm
of man’s organic impulses and needs.”29 In other words, we are
increasingly detaching ourselves from “organic and functional pe­
riodicity,” which is dictated by nature, and replacing it by “me­
chanical periodicity,” which is dictated by the schedule, the calendar,
and the clock.30 To fully appreciate the artificial basis of social
rhythmicity, note that, not only is it so often quite independent of
natural rhythmicity, but it sometimes even conflicts with it. It is
certainly not an awareness of our internal biological rhythmicity,
for example, that leads us to work for five days and then rest for two.
Such discrepancies between organic and mechanical periodicity ob-


Chapter One

viously entail certain risks. As Kevin Lynch has pointed out, “As
men free themselves from submission to the external cycles of na­
ture, relying more often on self-created and variable social cycles,
they increasingly risk internal disruption.”31 Note for example, that
our bodies are internally regulated by natural rhythms that are
called “circadian rhythms” because they correspond only very
roughly to our twenty-four-hour calendar days. And yet, we rou­
tinely impose on them a twenty-four-hour rhythmicity, which derives
from the organization of our life in accordance with daily schedules
that adhere to clock time, which involves twenty-four-hour cycles.
That we are so often sleepy upon getting up yet wide awake around
bedtime may well be the price we have to pay for that. Furthermore,
according to Lewis Mumford,
a population trained to keep to a mechanical time routine at
whatever sacrifice to health, convenience, and organic felicity may
well suffer from the strain of that discipline and find life impos­
sible without the most strenuous compensations. The fact that
sexual intercourse in a modern city is limited, for workers in all
grades and departments, to the fatigued hours of the day may add
to the efficiency of the working life only by a too-heavy sacrifice
in personal and organic relations.32
Tem p oral R egularity— the C ognitive D im ension

The temporal regularity of our social world has some very significant
cognitive implications. In allowing us to have certain expectations
regarding the temporal structure of our environment, it certainly
helps us considerably to develop some sense of orderliness. By
providing us with a highly reliable repertoire of what is expected,
likely, or unlikely to take place within certain temporal boundaries,
it adds a strong touch of predictability to the world around us, thus
enhancing our cognitive well-being. Temporal irregularity, on the
other hand, contributes considerably to the development of a strong
sense of uncertainty. As Bruno Bettelheim has noted, regarding life
in the concentration camp, “Thus the endless ‘anonymity’ of time
was another factor destructive to personality, while the ability to
organize time was a strengthening influence. It permitted some ini­
tiative, some planning.”33 Dorothy Nelkin has noted the very same
phenomenon with regard to migrant labor.34

Temporal Regularity


Consider, for example, the case of durational rigidity. As Alvin
Toffler has pointed out,
Man’s perception of time is closely linked with his internal
rhythms. But his responses to time are culturally conditioned.
Part of this conditioning consists of building up within the child
a series of expectations about the duration of events, processes
or relationships. Indeed, one of the most important forms of
knowledge that we impart to a child is a knowledge of how long
things last. This knowledge is taught in subtle, informal and often
unconscious ways. Yet without a rich set of socially appropriate
durational expectancies, no individual could function success­
fully. . . . The child soon learns that “mealtime” is neither a
one-minute nor a five-hour affair, but that it ordinarily lasts from
fifteen minutes to an hour. He learns that going to a movie lasts
two to four hours, but that a visit with the pediatrician seldom lasts
more than one. He learns that the school day ordinarily lasts
six hours.35
Much of the predictability which is built into modem life depends
on such “durational expectancies.”36 Only on the basis of my knowl­
edge that an appointment I have scheduled for 9:15 will not last
more than forty-five minutes can I be certain that I shall be able to
make a class which is scheduled for 10:00!
The cognitive indispensability of temporal regularity is generally
true not only of durational rigidity. Much of our daily planning
presupposes certain expectations regarding the regularity of the
temporal location and the rate of recurrence of events. Railroads,
airlines, radio, and television, for example, could not have func­
tioned as effectively were it not for the invention of the timetable,
one of the most conspicuous products of temporal regularity. Along
the same lines, it would have probably also been much more diffi­
cult for us to budget our expenses were we to be uncertain as to how
often we would get paid.
In general, it would have been almost impossible to plan our lives
were we to be totally in the dark as to what might take place when,
how often, in what order, and how long. In order to appreciate the
extent to which temporal regularity enhances predictability— and
thus planning in general— note also the considerable efforts made
by people who regard themselves as potential targets for kidnapers
and assassins to avoid, as much as possible, any temporally regular


Chapter One

life patterns. They know that they cannot afford to have too many
routines, since these might provide those who follow them with clear
expectations upon which to base their planning. On the other hand
— and yet for the very same reason— temporal regularity helps us
to attain some peace of mind regarding our environment. As Elijah
Anderson, for example, has noted with respect to social groups that
are formed around bars, “When group members see a person going
to work every day and coming to Jelly’s at a regular time, they can
begin to place some trust in him.”37
It is a well-known fact that regular physiotemporal and biotem­
poral patterns provide us with such a high degree of predictability
that we can use our natural environment in itself as a fairly reliable
clock or calendar. It is quite easy, for example, to tell the time of
day by reference to the position of the sun in the sky. In a similar
fashion, many of us can easily tell the season— if not the actual
month— by referring to the temperature, the color of the leaves, the
birds and animals around, the flowers that blossom, or even our
allergy symptoms. Societies that use lunar or lunisolar calendars can
also tell the approximate date by the phase of the moon.
Is this not true of regular soc/otemporal patterns as well? Given
its considerable temporal regularity, cannot social life in itself func­
tion as a clock or a calendar which is as reliable as any natural clock
or calendar? I believe that it can and that, indeed, it very often
actually does. One of the implications of the highly regular temporal
profile of so many social events is that we carry in our minds a sort
of “temporal map” which consists of all our expectations regarding
the sequential order, duration, temporal location, and rate of recur­
rence of events in our everyday life. Given this “map,” it is quite
often relatively easy to tell the time by simply referring to our
social environment!
Let us examine first one particular social environment which high­
lights many of the characteristics of what I would like to call “clock­
work environments”— the hospital. Much of the daily life within that
environment is systematically structured in accordance with the
clock and the calendar.38 Most of the activities and events in hos­
pital life— admissions, discharges, tests, operations, the adminis­
tration of medications, meals, rounds, conferences, clinic appoint­
ments, family visits, and so on— are systematically regulated by
fairly rigid schedules. As I shall show in the last chapter, it is also

Temporal Regularity


schedules that define the temporal boundaries of staff’s presence at
the hospital, as well as those of their professional duties and respon­
sibilities there.
Given all this, it should come as no surprise that, within the hos­
pital environment, people can often tell the time, without referring
to a clock, by simply observing what goes on around them at any
given moment. When patients are served lunch, for example, they
know that it must be around noon. Along the same lines, they can
usually tell the approximate time of day by routine daily events
such as the doctors’ morning round, the administration of medica­
tions, the arrival of newspapers, the departure of visitors, and so on.
All this presupposes, and would have been impossible without, the
temporally rigid structuring of hospital life.
As we shall see in chapter 5, most occupational roles in bureau­
cratic organizations such as the modern hospital are “activated”
only within certain temporal boundaries. This also has some very
interesting cognitive implications. Those familiar with hospital rou­
tines know, for example, that they are most likely to find particular
nurses in the hospital only within the temporal boundaries of their
shifts, or that they are quite unlikely to find particular physicians
there beyond a certain hour, unless it happens to be their night on
duty. These temporally regular patterns of staff’s presence at the
hospital are taken for granted not only by other staff members, their
friends, and their families, but by patients as well. Several years ago,
when doing fieldwork in a hospital ward, I on^e engaged in a con­
versation with a particular patient around 1:00 a.m . T wo days
later, around noon, he asked me how come he had not seen me
there on the following night. Although prior to that first night he
had always seen me there only during the daytime, he probably must
have assumed that, like nurses (with whom he used to see me), I
had gone to nights. Being accustomed to the temporally regular
structure of staff’s presence on his ward, it probably did not even
occur to him that my own presence there might have been tem­
porally irregular (as it actually was)!
In short, hospital staff members are often associated—in the
minds of other staff members as well as patients— not only with par­
ticular occupational roles, but also with the particular “time slots”39
they cover. The temporal aspects of the role of “night nurse,” for
example, are by no means secondary to its occupational aspects.


Chapter One

In fact, for all practical purposes, night nurses are relevant as nurses
only within the boundaries of the coverage time slot which is defined
as “night.” That hospital staff are very often referred to, and even
introduced, in terms such as “the evening nurse,” “the night resi­
dent,” or “the day people” is indicative of the centrality of the time
slot within which they work in the hospital to their relevance to
others within that social milieu. Those who work permanently on a
particular shift may even be identified by that time slot as if they
were inseparable from it. I once heard a nurse referring to an evening
nursing technician as “the 4-to-12 Bill”! (Quite similarly, in my
daughter’s nursery school, children who do not stay for the after­
noon program and, thus, leave regularly at 1:00 p .m . are generally
referred to, by the other children, as “one o’clock kids.” )
Within this context, it is not hard to see how hospital staff get
to function as timepieces. Many a patient can tell the approximate
time of day by simply noting which staff members are around. The
actual presence of a particular evening nurse on their unit, for ex­
ample, might indicate to patients that the day shift has already ended
or is about to end, that is, that it is approximately 4:00 p .m . In Dal­
ton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, a blind and deaf patient miracu­
lously manages to keep track of the passage of time by learning to dis­
tinguish among the vibrations of the footsteps of the various nurses
on his ward, as well as by noting when certain events such as the
changing of his bedclothes take place.40 Such cognitive adjustment
presupposes the overall temporal regularity of that social milieu.
I have used the particular example of hospital life because it
highlights some of the major characteristics of “clockwork environ­
ments” in general. However, the hospital is obviously only one of
many such environments. Consider, for example, the railroad world.
As Henry David Thoreau reflected, upon the introduction of the rail­
way system to New England,
I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling
that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular . . . .
The startings and arrivals of the cars are now the epochs in the
village day. They go and come with such regularity and precision,
and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their
clocks by them, and thus one well-conducted institution regulates
a whole country.41

Temporal Regularity


Generally speaking, most of us are able to tell the approximate
time of day without having to refer to our watches or to clocks. We
do that by simply attending to various cues in our social environ­
ment, such as particular television programs, the arrival of mail,
rush-hour traffic jams, and so on. Given the highly regular temporal
structuring of our social life, we tend to use such cues as fairly
reliable timepieces.
Even more indicative of the considerable temporal regularity of
our social world is the way in which we can tell what day it is with­
out referring to a calendar. Here we are definitely within the realm
of soc/otemporality, since the weekly cycle is a purely conventional
artifact. We very often use our natural environment in order to tell
what season or time of day it is. However, only our social environ­
ment can be of any help to us when we try to figure out what day it is.
As F. H. Colson pointed out, counting the days of the week is a
form of time reckoning which is not anchored in nature and, thus, “if
once lost by a single lapse would be lost forever.”42 This problem
has always intrigued the Jews, who— as we shall see in the fourth
chapter—were the first to have regulated their entire social life in
accordance with the weekly cycle. In the Talmud, there is a lengthy
discussion about what a Jew ought to do in case of losing count of
the days of the week.43 There is also a Talmudic story about seven
maidens given by the Persian king Ahasuerus to his Jewish queen
Esther, to help her keep count of the days of the week.44 The terrible
panic of a Jew who lost count of the days of the week is nicely de­
picted in Sholem Asch’s short story “Losing Count of the Days.”45
Jews have bequeathed such fears to non-Jewish Sabbatarians as
well. Making sure that he would never lose count of the days of the
week was one of Robinson Crusoe’s first concerns:
After I had been there about Ten or Twelve days, it came into my
Thoughts, that I should lose my Reckoning of Time for want of
Books and Pen and Ink, and should even forget the Sabbath
Days from the working Days; but to prevent this I cut it with my
Knife upon a large Post, in Capital Letters, and making it into
a great Cross I set it up on the Shore where I first landed, viz.
I came on Shore here on the 30th of Sept. 1659. Upon the Sides
of this square Post I cut every Day a Notch with my Knife, and
every seventh Notch was as long again as the rest, and every


Chapter One

first Day of the Month as long again as that long one, and thus
I kept my Kalander, or weekly, monthly, and yearly Reckoning
of Time.46
Such measures were necessary only because Robinson Crusoe was
far away from civilization. That applies also to the hypothetical
subject of the Talmudic discussion about losing count of the days
of the week. Likewise, both Queen Esther and the hero of Asch’s
story were Jews who tried to adhere to the weekly cycle of Jewish
religious life in a purely non-Jewish environment. When in their
own “normal” environment, Jews never have any problem knowing
what day it is. For example, as Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth
Herzog noted, given the fact that, in Jewish communities, most of the
cleaning work takes place toward the Sabbath, it is said that, “By
the smell of the street water. . . . you can tell what day of the week
it is.”47
Today such a state of affairs is by no means characteristic of
Jewish communities alone. F. H. Colson made this very clear:
How do we ourselves remember the days of the week? The
obvious answer is that something happens on one or more of
them. If by some means or other we lose count in the course of
the week, Sunday is unmistakable, even if personally we have no
religious feeling about the day. So, too, school half-holiday or
early-closing days force themselves on the notice of those who
are not directly affected by them. But if nothing happens it is
very doubtful whether a week-sequence could maintain, much
less establish, itself.48
In occurring regularly in accordance with the weekly cycle, nu­
merous events in our everyday life also function as cues which help
us figure out what day it is. A nice example of that is provided by
Hans Christian Andersen in his children’s story “The Roses and
the Sparrows” :
On Sunday mornings early the young wife came out, gathered a
handful of the most beautiful roses, and put them in a glass of
water, which she placed on a side table. “I see now that it is
Sunday,” said the husband as he kissed his little wife.49
Along the same lines, consider also the following social events: a
political meeting that is held routinely on Mondays; a television

Temporal Regularity


program that is shown regularly on Tuesdays; a sociology seminar
that meets regularly on Wednesdays; a piano lesson that is routinely
scheduled for Thursdays; a telephone call from a friend who regu­
larly calls on Fridays; a volleyball game that is regularly held on
Saturdays; a family dinner that always takes place on Sundays; and
so on. Such events help to orient us within the weekly cycle. When­
ever I wake up to the sound of a garbage truck, I know immediately
that it is Tuesday, because that is the regular garbage pick-up day.
Likewise, on Wednesday mornings, I know that it is Wednesday,
because I remember all the time that I have to teach later in the day.
One of the major contentions of cognitive psychology is that man
essentially perceives objects as some sort of “figures” against some
“ground.”50 Maurice Merleau-Ponty even went so far as to claim
that assigning meaning is essentially an act of differentiating figure
from ground, since the ground actually constitutes the context within
which the meaning of the figure is anchored.51 (This is also why the
same figure might have entirely different meanings when placed
against different grounds.) Any interpretive process of “defining a
situation” essentially presupposes a solid, reliable ground, against
which the situation can be perceived and assigned some meaning.
A “groundless” figure or situation cannot be defined in any way
which would make sense and is, therefore, totally meaningless.
The notion of “ground” has been incorporated into sociological
theory through Harold Garfinkel’s phenomenological explora­
tions of the “normalcy” of the world of everyday life.52 The cen­
trality of this notion to Garfinkel’s theory is quite evident from his
constant use of concepts such as “routine grounds” and “back­
ground expectancies,” both of which highlight the intricate relation­
ship between regular, routine patterns and expectations. Garfinkel
has demonstrated that the “normalcy” of our everyday life— which
is the basis of all our expectations from our social environment—
essentially presupposes a process of taking for granted some back­
ground features of familiar environments. These “background ex­
pectancies,” against which all social situations are perceived, are
the basis of all our standards regarding what is “normal.” Our
everyday life would not have been possible had we not internalized
a certain interpretive order. Obviously, we are usually unaware of
this order, because we tend to take it for granted.


Chapter One

I would like to demonstrate now that the taken-for-grantedness
of our “normal environments” is actually restricted to certain time
periods and does not transcend their boundaries. In other words, I
claim that time constitutes one of the major parameters of any
ground against which figures are perceived, and that, as a result of
this, determining whether a certain situation or event is “normal” or
not depends, to a large extent, on its temporal profile. In short, I
wish to bring into focus the temporal anchoring of normalcy, that is,
to demonstrate that the “normalcy” of our everyday life world is
temporally situated.
Any meaningful definition of a situation presupposes some “sen­
sible” configuration (gestalt) of figure and ground. We would,
therefore, expect that perceiving any “groundless” figure would
not make any sense. Given our strong basic need to “make sense”—
a need which has been repeatedly emphasized by Garfinkel and his
students as well as by cognitive psychologists53— we would also ex­
pect it to be cognitively intolerable. If time, indeed, constitutes one
of the major parameters of any ground against which we perceive
figures, we should not be surprised to find out that, in situations
whereby a figure is unaccompanied by a temporal ground, we have
a strong need to establish the latter. Without it, it is much more
difficult to perceive the figure in a way which would “make sense.”
To appreciate our strong cognitive need to associate social “fig­
ures” with some temporal grounds, consider the following instance.
Once, upon arriving at a colleague’s office, I was asked by her sec­
retary, who had never seen me before, “Are you her four o’clock
appointment?” By asking this “orientational” question, the secretary
tried to establish some temporal ground against which she might
perceive me— an otherwise “groundless” figure— in a way which
would make better “sense” to her. Consider also an instance
whereby a nurse, upon arriving at the emergency room around mid­
night to begin her night shift, asked the first intern she saw there,
“Are you leaving soon or do you stay here all night?” Usually in
that service, around midnight, two interns would be present—one
would leave an hour later, around 1:00 a.m ., while the other would
stay there for the rest of the night. We should view the nurse’s
question as an attempt to establish in her own mind which of the
two interns was working on the night shift that particular day. In

Temporal Regularity


other words, it was an attempt to place him in the temporal map in
her mind.
Far more cognitively disturbing than groundless figures, however,
are figures which are perceived against some ground other than their
“normal” ground. Without its “normal” ground, it is far more diffi­
cult to perceive a figure in a way which would “make sense.” Con­
sider, for example, our quite common inability to recognize on the
street persons that we encounter almost every day on the elevator
or at the cafeteria of the building where we work. This is what
psychologists call a “bad gestalt.”
The above case is an example of an incongruity between a fig­
ure and its spatial ground. However, that any incongruity between
figures and grounds is cognitively disturbing also applies to tem­
poral grounds. The presence of so many people and other objects in
our social environment passes as “normal” and is unnoticeable only
within certain temporal boundaries. Outside those boundaries, it
is by no means taken for granted. Thus, it is only around the months
of November, December, and January that the presence of Christ­
mas trees and Santa Clauses passes as “normal,” and it is only
around rush hours that we take long traffic jams for granted. Fur­
thermore, even though most of us are present at our working place
on a regular daily basis, our presence there at any time outside the
boundaries of what is commonly defined as our working hours
would not be taken for granted and would not pass as “normal.”
The temporal regularity of our everyday life world is definitely
among the major background expectancies which are at the basis
of the “normalcy” of our social environment. The fairly regular
temporal structure of our social life is responsible for the establish­
ment of some solid temporal ground against which the occurrence
of certain events and the presence of particular persons and objects
pass as “normal” and unnoticeable. The unexpected occurrence of
events and presence of persons and objects outside their usual tem­
poral niches tend to disrupt the implicit, taken-for-granted figureground configuration which our “normal environment” presup­
poses. (This is obviously much less so in social environments that
are more loosely structured from a temporal standpoint.) It results
in a chaotic incongruity between figure and ground, which entails the
loss of a meaningful way of anchoring our cognitive experiences. I


Chapter One

should add that our intolerance toward temporal anomalies not only
reflects the fairly rigid temporal structure of our social life, but also
helps to sustain it.
A most useful way of demonstrating the existence of a certain
phenomenon is to examine the implications and consequences of its
absence. As Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested,
if a rule has absolutely no exceptions, it is not recognized as a
rule or as anything else; it is then part of the background of
experience of which we tend to remain unconscious. Never having
experienced anything in contrast to it, we cannot isolate it and
formulate it as a rule until we so enlarge our experience and
expand our base of reference that we encounter an interruption
of its regularity. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of
not missing the water till the well runs dry, or not realizing that
we need air till we are choking.54
The obvious methodological implication of this is that investigating
the “pathological” might help us to discover, unveil, or simply bring
into focus the “normal,” which we usually take for granted and—
therefore— tend to ignore. This methodological principle was ap­
plied in a most successful fashion by Durkheim, who explored the
phenomena of criminality and suicide only for the purpose of bring­
ing social solidarity into focus. Likewise, it was Sigmund Freud’s
general concern with the “normal” personality that led him to study
psychopathological parapraxes. Along the same lines, it is Gregory
Bateson’s general concern with the normal way of framing experi­
ence that has led him to study the way schizophrenics reason, and it
is Garfinkel’s general concern with commonsensical reasoning that
has led him to examine misunderstandings in social interaction.55
In a similar manner, a useful way of sensitizing ourselves to the
existence of temporal regularity would be to examine the conse­
quences of its absence. Therefore, in order to solidify my argument
regarding the prevalence of temporal regularity in our social life, I
shall try to shed light on the disturbing cognitive implications of
temporal ^regularity. I shall focus particularly on “pathological”
situations which involve some cognitive incongruity between social
figures and temporal grounds. People’s responses to such anomalous
situations might tell us a lot about the “normal,” temporally regular
world in which we live.

Temporal Regularity


A key element to look for in such situations is surprise. It serves as
evidence of the existence of prior expectations, and these, in turn,
are indicative of some anticipated regularity. Given the temporally
regular patterns that— even though we usually take them for granted
and, therefore, ignore— regulate much of our social life, it is quite
understandable that we would have certain expectations regarding
the duration, sequential ordering, temporal location, and rate of
recurrence of many events in our environment. Consider, for ex­
ample, hypothetical situations such as when what we usually regard
as an appetizer is served only after the main dish, when guests who
have been invited over for the evening leave after “only” ten min­
utes without giving any account whatsoever, or when a mere ac­
quaintance keeps calling us every other day. Our obvious surprise
on such occasions would be indicative of the existence of some prior
expectations regarding the temporal profile of social situations and
events. Such expectations, in turn, are indicative of the temporal
regularity of “normal” social life.
Very often, when we perceive a certain figure against its “normal”
temporal ground, we may not even notice it, because the entire
gestalt passes as “normal.” However, we would most likely become
somewhat surprised, if not actually alarmed, were we to perceive
the very same figure against a “wrong” temporal ground. As Erving
Goffman has pointed out,
Points of access can easily become points of alarm. When the
doorbell rings at midday, housewives may feel a slight alarm, not
having expected any calls. During off-call times for the telephone
(say before nine in the morning and after ten at night for adult
members of the middle-class) a phone ringing may cause alarm.56
Something of this sort happens to the hero of Trumbo’s Johnny Got
His Gun, which I mentioned earlier:
And then an astonishing thing happened. One day toward the
middle of the year the nurse gave him a completely fresh change
of bed linen when he had received a change only the day before.
This had never happened before. Every third day he was changed
no sooner and no later. Yet here everything was upset and for
two days in a row he was getting the change. He felt all in a


Chapter One

It is certainly not the nature of the event itself that causes the
alarm in such situations. After all, what can be a more trivial event
than the ringing of a telephone or the changing of bed linen? What
seems to cause the alarm is clearly the peculiar, other than “normal”
temporal context of the event. In the Northern Hemisphere, for
example, we would most likely be intrigued by a snow blizzard in
August, not because snow blizzards in general are so unusual, but,
rather, because the association of snow with the month of August
as a temporal ground is so unusual. Along the same lines, we would
most likely be surprised to see a child going to school on Saturday,
not because the act itself is so strange, but, rather, because of its
unusual temporal location.
Note also that,
although one ordinarily thinks of alarming signs as occurrences,
the absence of an expected sign can serve the same function.
A parent who fails to receive a telephone call from a child can
be alarmed by the non-ringing of the bell.58
Given the fairly reliable temporal regularity of our social environ­
ment, we tend to build up certain expectations. If these expecta­
tions are not met, we are alarmed. Thus, we would most likely be
surprised, if not alarmed, were we to arrive at our local grocery
store on a regular weekday around 11:00 a.m . and find it closed.
We would most probably experience a similar bewilderment if
friends who always call us on our birthday suddenly did not call; if,
upon arriving at a regular weekly seminar, we saw an empty room;
if we were to turn on the television at the regular news time and the
news was not on the air; and so on.
When people encounter cognitively disturbing situations in which
there is some incongruity between a figure and its temporal ground
— that is, when a figure is seen out of context— it is not at all unusual
that they fail to even perceive the figure, because the entire gestalt
simply does not “make sense.” This obviously happens more often
to those of us who, in the course of a regular day or week, get to see
a great number of people, and each of them nearly always at the
same time. (When such patterns of temporal regularity are estab­
lished, we tend to relate to people and identify them primarily in
terms of particular time slots— as students in our Wednesday eve­
ning class, as those who commute with us on the 8:26 train every

Temporal Regularity


morning, and so on. In an outpatient hospital clinic, I once heard a
secretary telling a resident, “Your three o’clock is here.” ) In the
same way that we sometimes fail to recognize, upon seeing them on
the street, people that we see almost every day in the cafeteria of the
building where we work, we sometimes also fail to recognize, upon
seeing them in the evening, people whom we usually see only during
the day. A clinician once admitted to me that she sometimes fails to
recognize patients when she encounters them at the lobby of her
clinic at times other than those of their scheduled appointments with
her. The crucial variable here is obviously time, since that lobby is
the only place where she ever sees them.
Another typical response to situations where there is some cog­
nitive incongruity between figure and ground is to refer to some ex­
ternal point which might help to anchor the unfamiliar situation
within a more “reasonable” context where it would hopefully “make
more sense.” Many of those who listened to Orson Welles’s historic
radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, for example, typically
looked out of their windows or turned to other stations in order to
check whether the broadcast was real.59 This is also true when the
ground in question is a temporal one. At the onset of the October
1973 War, for example, many Israelis, upon hearing the sound of
cars in the streets, immediately turned on their radios, because the
configuration of that sound and the temporal ground of Yom Kip­
pur, which is typically dominated by almost utter silence outdoors,
was cognitively incongruous and, therefore, alarmed them.
Consider also the following incident, which I once observed in a
hospital. On one particular ward, the attending physician used to
routinely arrive at the unit only for his daily conference with his
house staff around 10:00 a.m . That conference always followed the
routine morning rounds, which the house staff usually completed
around 9:30 a.m . One day, the morning round was still not over a
few minutes past 10:00, when the resident and the intern saw their
attending physician arriving at the unit. Both of them manifested
the very same reaction: they immediately glanced at their watches,
so as to “solve” the cognitive incongruity that had been created
by the temporal coincidence of the morning round and the arrival of
the attending physician, two events which were “normally” seg­
regated in time.
During my fieldwork at the hospital, I also noticed numerous


Chapter One

instances in which doctors and nurses glanced at the clock whenever
they saw one of their colleagues arriving at work or leaving for the
day. In part, this was done in order to make sure that the situation
“made sense” from a temporal standpoint. When faced with a cog­
nitive incongruity between a figure and its temporal ground, most of
us would probably glance at our watches so as to check whether our
identification of that ground was, indeed, correct.
Another typical response to such situations is to ask a question,
the answer to which might hopefully help to anchor them within a
more meaningful and “sensible” context. Consider for example, the
following instance. On her first day coming from a long rotation of
night work, a nurse was seen in the early afternoon by a colleague
from a different unit. The latter was very surprised to see her, since,
for the entire previous month, she had related to her only as a
“night person.” Her immediate response was to ask her, “Are you
on days now?” When hospital staff members are seen on the hospital
grounds at times other than their usual coverage time slots, they are
usually asked by others, “What are you doing here?” That question
is actually an elliptical form of the question “What are you doing
here now?” since those who ask it are not at all surprised to see their
colleagues at the hospital. Indeed, they usually see them only there!
Rather, they are surprised to see them there at that particular time,
which is outside the temporal boundaries of their “normal,” takenfor-granted presence at the hospital. During my fieldwork, I heard
the question “What are you doing here?” numerous times, in in­
stances such as the following: when an intern came in to the hospital
on his day off to pick up his paycheck; when a clerical supervisor
came in unexpectedly on a Saturday morning; when a day nurse who
had stayed overtime for the evening was seen around midnight by
the very same night nurse whom she had relieved earlier that morn­
ing; when an intern was still working an hour past the official end of
her night shift; and so on. When I first came in to the hospital on a
weekend or late at night, I too was asked that question. To appreci­
ate the^extent to which “normalcy” is temporally situated, note also
an instance in which a nurse asked an intern who was passing
through her unit what he was doing there. She probably never asked
him that same question only two months before that, when he spent
a full one-month rotation on that unit!
Most fascinating, however, is the way people resolve cognitive

Temporal Regularity


incongruities between figures and temporal grounds by treating the
figure as fixed and adjusting the ground so as to fit it. The following
instance is a classic example of such a response. A part-time secre­
tary who worked in my department on a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine once came in on a Thursday to do some personal
typing. Such an unusual configuration of figure and temporal ground
apparently confused one of my colleagues, who was quite surprised
to see her. As he himself admitted to me later, he managed to
resolve the cognitive disturbance caused by that only by way of
convincing himself that it was probably Wednesday rather than
Thursday! The logic he applied must have been, “If it’s Lucy, this
must be Wednesday.”
As I pointed out earlier, whereas the day and the year are essen­
tially based on natural cycles, the week is most clearly a purely arti­
ficial cycle. This implies, first of all, that only in our social, man­
made environment can we find any clues which might help us in
figuring out what day it is. We can quite easily tell whether it is
morning or evening, summer or winter, by simply referring to our
natural surroundings. Nothing in our natural environment, however,
can provide us with any clues as to whether it is Monday or Friday.
The conventionality of the weekly cycle also implies that, while we
are very unlikely to make any gross errors in reckoning the time of
day or the season, it is quite easy for us to err in identifying a man­
made temporal ground such as the day of the week, as my colleague
obviously did.
This theme was used by the Jewish writer Chaim Nachman Bialik
as the central focus of his humorous short story, “The Short Fri­
day.”60 In this story, a rabbi is caught on Sabbath Eve in the woods,
far away from his village. Despite the Jewish prohibition of travel­
ing during the Sabbath, he decides to travel on until he reaches the
closest inn, and spends the night on a bench there. The innkeeper,
who had gone to sleep prior to the rabbi’s arrival, is totally confused
when he finds him there in the morning: “At first Feivka thought
this must be illusion and some devil’s hocus-pocus. . . . It seemed
to Feivka that he must be crazy.. . . Am I drunk or mad? . . . There
must be a mistake here.”61 Given the fact that Jews— and especially
rabbis—would not normally travel during the Sabbath, Feivka is
obviously bewildered at having perceived a most unusual gestalt,
a rabbi who must have traveled on Sabbath Eve (since he certainly


Chapter One

was not there when the Sabbath entered). It is definitely neither the
figure nor its temporal ground by itself that confuses him. Rather,
it is the configuration of both of them together. And, indeed, he won­
ders to himself, “Sabbath— and the rabbi?”
Interestingly enough, the innkeeper’s solution to this cognitively
disturbing and intolerable incongruity is identical to that of my
aforementioned colleague. Firmly maintaining that no rabbi would
normally travel during the Sabbath, yet being unable to ignore the
presence of the figure (that is, the rabbi), he assumes that he prob­
ably must have made a mistake in identifying its temporal ground.
If the rabbi is here, it certainly cannot be Saturday. “Fancy getting
mixed up as to the days of the week,” he thinks to himself, assum­
ing that the rabbi who is lying asleep on his bench certainly must be
a more reliable calendar than his own memory.
Assuming, then, that it is not Saturday after all, Feivka becomes
worried that the rabbi will find out that he almost observed the
Sabbath on the wrong day. He therefore decides to transform their
immediate environment so that it will look like a regular week­
day (which he now assumes it is). While people cannot transform
their natural environment so that— outdoors, at least—nighttime
will appear as daytime and wintertime as summertime, they can
transform their sociocultural environment so that the Sabbath will
appear as a regular weekday. (In his film 36 Hours, George Seaton
has suggested that man can deliberately transform his social en­
vironment even to the point of making the 1940s appear as the
As we shall see in the fourth chapter, Jews have always made
particular efforts to make the Sabbath appear clearly distinct from
the regular weekdays. Anyone who is familiar with the Jewish cul­
ture can actually “see” the Sabbath: “Only by putting your head
inside the door, they say, just by sniffing the atmosphere of the
house, you can tell whether it is Sabbath or weekday.”62 Given this,
Feivka first tries to remove from the environment everything that
might be evidence of the Sabbath. He explicitly instructs his wife,
“Don’t keep as much as a sign of it.”
The moment Feivka realized what had happened, he dashed off
to remove all signs of Sabbath from the house before the rabbi
woke up and caught him. To begin with, he put away the brass
candlesticks, the remains of the Sabbath meal, and the white

Temporal Regularity


tablecloth. . . . And straightway the whole appearance of the
house was transformed. Sabbath departed and weekday arrived.63
Cultural items such as brass candlesticks, the white tablecloth, and
certain food simply had to be removed, since their presence would
certainly indicate to any Jew, in the most unambiguous manner,
that it was Saturday.
Not only does Feivka make the Sabbath leave, he also makes the
weekday arrive. That is accomplished by performing acts that would
never take place during the Sabbath. Thus, he starts up the fire,
stokes up the samovar with fuel so that it will begin to hum, arranges
for the sound of hammer and ax to be heard by having his hostler
chop wood and fix things with nails, orders his daughter to start
peeling potatoes, and winds his phylacteries around his arm while
repeating the morning prayers to their ordinary weekday tune. To
any Jew, any one of these components of the newly transformed
environment would indicate, in the most unambiguous manner, that
it is actually an ordinary weekday, that it simply cannot be Saturday.
The message of these acts is so clear that any verbal explanation is
totally unnecessary. When the rabbi finally wakes up, the entire
communication between him and the innkeeper is nonverbal and
consists of the visible and audible cues that he picks up— as Feivka
intended it to be— from his environment!
Feivka’s operation is quite successful. He manages to transform
the environment so that the Sabbath actually appears as an ordinary
weekday. As far as the rabbi can tell from looking at his surround­
ings, it is definitely not Saturday:
And where was the Sabbath? There was no sign or memory of
the Sabbath! Peasants, a weekday crowd. And a samovar was
boiling just over there.64
All this makes the rabbi feel, very much like Feivka felt a couple
of hours earlier, quite bewildered. He is faced with a delicate cogni­
tive incongruity that leaves him rather confused. On the one hand,
he remembers very well that when he went to sleep it was still Fri­
day night. On the other hand, his entire surrounding environment
indicates to him quite clearly that it is not Saturday, but, rather, an
ordinary weekday. The entire gestalt simply does not “make any
sense” to him.
Ironically enough, he arrives at a solution which is identical to the


Chapter One

one arrived at earlier by the innkeeper. He decides not to rely on
his memory as a basis for identifying the temporal ground of the
figure that he perceives:
in that case I went on sleeping through the Sabbath and the night
of the departure of the Sabbath.65
The irony, of course, lies in the fact that the rabbi is totally un­
aware that it was his own presence at the inn that was responsible
for the entire confusion in the first place! It is also ironical that,
while it is actually Saturday, both Feivka and the rabbi mistake it
for some other day, and yet each one of them has a different day in
mind. While the rabbi concludes that he must have overslept through
the entire Sabbath and that it is already Sunday, the innkeeper must
conclude that it is some other day, both because of the availability of
Gentile labor and because he knows that he has not celebrated the
Sabbath yet.
Let me reiterate a point I made earlier with respect to Robinson
Crusoe, Queen Esther, and the hero of Asch’s story. All this could
have happened only in a setting such as Feivka’s inn— an isolated
Jewish enclave surrounded by an overwhelming Gentile environ­
ment. Feivka’s transformation of his environment would not have
been as easy and successful— nor would he or the rabbi have en­
countered such confusion in the first place— were the entire story
to take place in an exclusively Jewish environment. And, indeed, the
entire confusion is resolved and everything becomes clear at the
end of the story, in an extremely comic scene in which the rabbi ar­
rives—in his coach— at his own village, at the very moment that his
followers begin to leave the synagogue for a traditional leisurely
Sabbath stroll in the street!
It is quite ironical that the environment which the rabbi prefers
to his own memory as a reliable source of reference is essentially a
totally fabricated environment. That, of course, would not have
been possible were the weekly cycle to be anchored in nature. The
story highlights the social context within which much of our tem­
poral reference is anchored. The above confusion is inherent to
cycles such as the week, where one must rely exclusively on socio­
cultural cues. It would certainly not have arisen with regard to
cycles such as the day or the year, which are anchored in nature.


The Schedule
The first major institution that man invented in order to
establish and maintain temporal regularity was the calen­
dar. The calendar is primarily responsible for the creation
of most of the temporally regular patterns through which
nearly all societies, social institutions, and social groups
manage to introduce some orderliness into their lives. They
do that mainly by regulating the temporal location and the
rate of recurrence of socially significant collective events.
As Durkheim pointed out, “A calendar expresses the
rhythm of the collective activities, while at the same time
its function is to assure their regularity.”1
However, while the calendar has been primarily respon­
sible for the establishment and maintenance of temporal
regularity on an annual, monthly, and even weekly basis, it
certainly cannot promote temporal regularity at the level of
relatively microscopic temporal units such as the day and the
hour. That level of temporal regularity, which is so uniquely
characteristic of modern life, has become possible only with
the invention of another institution— the schedule.
The establishment of temporal regularity at a daily level
is quite an old idea. As early as two thousand years ago,
Jewish rabbis were already regulating individuals’ lives as
well as communal life through a strict daily schedule of
religious services. However, it is in the medieval Bene­
dictine monasteries that we find what most probably con­
stituted the original model for all modern Western sched­
ules. The earliest instance, in the West, of a rigid schedule
that imposed temporal regularity not only on a weekly or
daily basis, but at the level of the hour as well, is none other
than the medieval Benedictine “table of hours”— the hora31


Chapter Two

rium. Therefore, it is in the medieval Benedictine monasteries that
we ought to look for the genesis and source of diffusion of the par­
ticular type of temporal regularity that is so characteristic of modern
life, as well as of one of the most fundamental sociocultural institu­
tions in the modern West.
In order to appreciate the sociohistorical significance of the
monastic horarium, we must first realize how central a role the
Benedictine order played in the intellectual and economic shaping of
the modern West. Aiming at the complete “ordering” of Christian
life, the Benedictines came to be a major factor in promoting the
rationalization of life in the West.2
Of particular significance here was the temporal regularity intro­
duced by the Benedictines. As Harold A. Innis pointed out, “The
spread of monasticism and the use of bells to mark the periods of
the day and the place of religious services introduced regularity in
the life of the West.”3 It is because of the rigid temporal patterning
of monastic life that the monasteries are said to have “helped to
give the human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of
the machine.”4 It is because “his time is scheduled” that the monk
has been depicted by Reinhard Bendix as “the first ‘professional’
of Western civilization.”5
The common folk characterization of the monk is humorously
rendered in a famous French song:
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous, Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines, Sonnez les matines,
Din, din, don, Din, din, don.
The notion of temporal regularity has become almost synonymous
with monasticism. In the sentence “The public school routine was
still monastic in its severity,” for example,6 the word “monastic” is
used as an adjective which is suggestive of the rigidity of a schedule.
This is hardly surprising, since, as Dorn David Knowles, one of the
foremost authorities on medieval monasticism, pointed out, “The
life within the monastery is a common life of absolute regularity___
of unvarying routine.”7 The rigid temporal patterning of life is
among the fundamental essences of Western monasticism. Its prin­
cipal canon, The Rule of Saint Benedict, regards it as one of the

The Schedule


necessary foundations of a desirable social order and devotes several
chapters exclusively to the horarium. Most scholarly works on
Western monasticism regard the horarium as a key to a better un­
derstanding of the structure and meaning of everyday life in the
I shall therefore begin my exploration of the schedule by examin­
ing the Benedictine horarium. Admittedly, it probably differed in
its details from most modern schedules. And yet, it was most prob­
ably the original model for all of them and can serve as an idealtypical example of a generic schedule. An analytical examination
of its essential features would therefore be most useful for shedding
light on the fundamental principles which underlie any modern
The B enedictin e H orarium

Much of the life of a Christian person is structured along the annual
cycle, so it is quite understandable that this cycle helped introduce
some rhythmicity into the monastery. An annual rhythm of liturgical
activity, for example, was established through seasonal variations
such as the following:
From the sacred feast of Easter until Pentecost, let Alleluia be
said always both with the psalms and with the responsories. From
Pentecost until the beginning of Lent, let it be said every night
at Matins with the second six psalms only. On every Sunday out
of Lent, let Alleluia be said with the canticles