Although the concept of a group often brings to mind spatial connotations, such as the different neighborhoods of a city or the "turfs" of street gangs, groups can also be understood as temporal systems. Members of work groups, for instance, cross the temporal boundary between family and work when they "punch in" at the company time clock. They are reminded of the pressures of group existence through such exhortations as "don't waste time" and "time is money." Mothers attempting to get all family members to the dinner table for a shared meal are attempting to reaffirm family solidarity through establishing the centrality of family time boundaries. It is the group that creates "time to get serious," "born-again experiences," the pressures of deadlines, and the daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal flows of activities. As Emile Durkheim observed in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, it "is the rhythm of social life which is at the basis of the category of time."

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. has 365 steps, representing every day of the year.

Pitirim Sorokin (Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time, 1943) noted how human life is an persistent competition for time by various social activities and their often conflicting motives and objectives. With Robert Merton, he illustrated the significance of associating a group activity or event with a temporal setting, thereby reaffirming the centrality of the group to the individuals who observe its temporal demands as well as coordinating activities that promote group solidarity and/or productivity. "They arise from the round of group life, are largely determined by the routine of religious activity and the occupational order of the day, are essentially a product of social interaction" ("Social Time: A Methodological and Functional Analysis," The American Journal of Sociology, 1937:621).

And what conceptual scheme is to be used for analyzing these temporal patternings of social life? Consider the following elements that Robert Lauer (Temporal Man) and others have focused on:


It's hard to believe that only about a century ago most towns in this country had their own time. The hands of the clock in the town square would be synchronized with cosmos, "high noon" being established when the sun being at its highest point for the day. But owing to technological innovations (particularly the railroads, whose schedules of arrival and departure times required greater temporal uniformity) and enhanced interdependencies between social members, "standard time" emerged. This replacement of local time- reckoning with supralocal standards of time marked a fundamental change in our relationship to time: human activity was to be increasingly oriented to social as opposed to natural times.  Take a look at WebExhibits Calendars Through the Ages  for "the fascinating history of the human endeavor to organize our lives in accordance with the sun and stars," and Simon K. Chung's Chronology for an illustrated history of the clock in the West.


The day that starts bad, ends bad.
--Old Mexican saying

Even though human activities have become increasingly divorced from the natural rhythm of day and night, society still often specifies that certain things should be done during certain times of the day. Consider, for instance, our temporal socializations during the school day. Students are taught that certain subject matters are to be studied during specific times of the day. "Johnny, put away those crayons! Art time is over and math time has begun." Querie: Are there certain times of the day when we are best able to do math, social studies, music or art? Consider looking at the mean grades given to students who take the same course with the same instructor but at different times of the day.

Individuals vary considerably in terms of their preferred times of the day. During the Fall and Spring terms of the 1986-87 academic year, Trinity University undergraduates (n=166) were asked: "In general, do you consider yourself to be a `morning person' (11% so identified themselves), an `afternoon person' (17%), an `evening person' (41%) or a `night owl' (41%). Majors in the arts, humanities and social sciences were significantly more likely to be "night people" than those majoring in business, economics, and the natural sciences.

For your "Trivial Pursuit" files: Why is midday called "noon"? Fasting Christians were permitted centuries ago a snack at the ninth hour after sunrise, a time called "Nones," usually occurred around 3 p.m. But the most devout got hungry and had an early snack. In the 12th century, such fudging stabilized at midday and became "noon."


In "Night as Frontier" (American Sociological Review,43,1979:3-22), Murray Melbin developed the parallels between the colonization of space and the colonialization of time, night-time that is. "Many of the factors that stimulated expansion into the dark are the same as those that led to expansion across the land. ...Demand push operates when over-population and crowding begin to impel people toward new areas. That push is complemented by supply pull, the lure of the untapped resources in areas beyond established areas."


Do you know why it's hotter in the summer than in the winter? Because in the summer we have an extra hour of daylight, which we take away in the winter.


Debates over daylight savings time continue around the world. Widespread opposition in Mexico, for instance, postponed its nation-wide implementation until 1996. Many viewed such alteration of their time as a exercise of centralized power. When Colorado first experimented with Daylight Savings Time newspapers were filled with hostile letters to the editor. One person complained that the government had no business fiddling with "God's time" and hinted that the principle of separation of church and state had been violated. Another griped how the extra hour of sunlight was burning up her yard (Chance, Paul. 1988. "Got a Minute?" Psychology Today Nov.:59-60).

Blame our "Spring forward, Fall back" ritual on the Brits. Although Benjamin Franklin toyed with the idea in a 1784 essay, credit is generally given to William Willett, a British builder and astronomer, who campaigned in 1907. Willet suggested that the clock be moved ahead by 80 minutes in four 20-minute increments during the spring and summer months. The benefits, he reasoned, would be extra time for recreation, less crime, and higher energy savings as people would use less fuel for lighting. But it took world war to finally put the time change into practice, and even then it didn't stick. Congress adopted year-round daylight-saving time for a two-year trial period that began Jan. 6, 1974. But it only lasted one season, once again a victim of public complaints. From 1975,the number of months falling to daylight-saving time was reduced until 1987, when Congress passed an amendment to the Uniform Time Act that made daylight-saving time run a full seven months.


In his The Seven Day Circle: The History and the Meaning of the Week, Eviatar Zerubavel develops how the history of the week is a story involving religion, holy numbers, planets, and astrology--hence our shortened labels for Saturn Day, Sun Day, and Moon Day (see the story of the origin of the seven-day week from Bill Hollon and from the National Institute of Standards and Technology). Some numbers are considered desirable, lucky, or holy in many nations. The number seven is one of these. This is one reason why there are seven days in the week (in fact, in many languages the word for week is synonymous with the word for seven).

Much of our lives is centered and structured around a weekly pattern. Indeed, as Pitirim Sorokin observed, the week is "one of the most important points in our `orientation' in time and social reality." As children, we learn the meaning of the weekend before we learn the meaning of a month. There are clear phenomenological differences between Friday time and Monday time; we are not biologically hardwired nor naturally triggered to feel knotted stomachs on Sunday evenings. When Trinity University students were asked what their favorite day of the week was, 25% said Thursdays, 37% said Fridays and 22% Saturdays.

Is it not the case that each day of the week has evolved to have its own "flavor"? (see Global Psychics page on superstitions associated with each week day) I've often thought about how early Boomers may have been socialized toward such weekday distinctions. Consider, for instance, the lessons of one of their most popular after-school television programs, "The Mickey Mouse Club." Do you remember how the days went?

Among the weekly rhythms (and myths of daily differences) we find:

Certainly one driving force behind these weekly cycles is the rhythm of working (or "week") days and days of the weekend. Speaking of manmade times that have come to accrue a sense of "naturalness" and to compartmentalize a very clear set of "appropriate" social activities, the weekend is one of the most obvious.

Yet this special time for familial, religious, leisure, and consumptive activities is a historically-recent creation. According to Witold Rybczynski in Waiting for the Weekend, the Oxford English Dictionary finds the earliest recorded use of the word in an 1879 English magazine. Battles over the precise meaning of this time continue. Through the eighteenth century when the workweek concluded on Saturday evenings, not only was Sunday the only weekly "day off" but was to be a day of moral restraint (no merriment please) and religious ritual. This was the legacy of the Reformation and Puritanism; Sunday was the weekly holy day, a time designed to displace Catholicism's numerous saints' and religious festival days. But then there is the fact that work time and play time was more blurred in the past, unlike their strict segregation nowadays. The workplace featured a number of recreational activities. Rybczynski notes how trade guilds often organized their own outings and singing and drinking clubs.

In 1926, Henry Ford closed all of his factories on Saturdays--not to increase time for moral reflection or personal development but to increase consumption. But it was not until the Great Depression that the two-day weekend became firmly fixed, and that was to remedy the shortage of jobs.


Another Month Ends All Targets Met All Systems Working All Customers Satisfied All Staff Eager and Enthusiastic All Pigs Fed and Ready to Fly. --Entry in Weekly Schedule of New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Like the days of the week, each month has a rich folklore tradition of associated beliefs shaping the course of human activity. Take a look at the Les tres riches heures du Duc de Berry at the Paris Webmuseum. Each month has its own portrait featuring the activities of the peasants and aristocracy. Is it not interesting how varied the monthly activities are even for the peasants, especially compared with nearly indistinguishable monthly activities of the contemporary post-industrial "peasants" working in fast food franchises and malls?

For events associated with each day of the month in addition to material on Black, Women's, and Lesbian and Gay History Months click here.

As portions of the day and week have taken on their own separate meanings and activities, so too do we see differing rhythms of the month (even though they are generally less significant to our lives than the seasons in which they are grouped). There are, for example, times of the month to pay bills or to summarize economic activities of the previous four weeks.


In examining the natural rhythms of life,, a number of seasonally-related phenomena were observed, such as:

What annual social rhythms can you think of that cannot be accounted for by biometeorological factors?


Here we consider such rhythms as the liberal-conservative cycles studied by political scientists, the boom-bust cycles detected by economists, the rural-urban migration cycles measured by demographers, and the cycles of nostalgia and utopianism analyzed by sociologists.

The Longwave and Social Cycles Resource Centre
Wm. Murray's Time Page
US Economy: Business Cycle Indicators
The Coming Collapse
Foundation For The Study Of Cycles


In Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century: Vol. III The Perspective of the World, Fernand Braudel develops the various endless periodic movements shaping human life. The combination of these movement forms what he calls the conjuncture, affecting economics, politics, demographics, crime, artistic movements, and popular culture. Of these he writes:

These conjunctures, just like the tide, carry on their backs the shorter movements of more short-term waves. Each can be studied during its upward trend, peak and crisis, and downward trend, and then how its phase synchronizes with the other social movements.

For instance, historians have observed how economic declines can encourage cultural explosions. In describing the creative surges spawned by the collapse of cultures, Harold Innis writes:

With a weakening of protection of organized force, scholars put forth greater efforts and in a sense the flowering of the culture comes before its collapse. Minerva's owl begins its flight in the gathering dusk not only from classical Greece but in turn from Alexandria, from Rome, from Constantinople, from the publican cities of Italy, from France, from Holland, and from Germany (Innis, 1951:5).

In speaking of the surge of creativity in war-ravaged Lebanon, Charles Rizk, president of Lebanon's state-run television system, reflected in 1982: "A political shock is always pregnant with cultural achievement. When simply walking down the street becomes a matter of life and death, people start to ask themselves very fundamental questions. And what is culture if not expressions of man's questioning himself about his ultimate destiny"?


So how are these various rhythms experienced by the individual?