Time, like space, is usually conceived of as a basic category of human existence. Yet, being the least real of all characteristics of reality, time itself is hard to define and to treat. The theory of absolute space and time, once dominant in the West under the influence of physicists like Newton, has long been discredited. How exactly and with what consequences concepts of time and temporalities are developed, effectuated, discussed, dismissed or altered, is contingent on the respective social group and its conditions. In other words: human beings arrange time according to certain beliefs and preferences; people are ‘brewers of time’.
In recent years, Latin American scholars have made contributions to this line of enquiry, pointing out that it is the worlds, societies and individual lives that are temporal. From within their regional experience of diversity, therefore, it is preferable to speak of different temporalities to investigate people’s understanding of time. Human beings perceive time in terms of temporalities, according to their cultural contexts.
The new overseas arena of human interaction forced Europeans and indigenous people alike to adopt new concepts of time. In the Americas, sophisticated systems for counting time and predicting the future based on calendars had been in use for millennia, including for the political purpose of imposing visions of history and the future on subordinates. Following conquest and colonization, indigenous concepts of time clashed with the Europeans’ intention to synchronize time according to their colonial understanding and interests. Inferences about a ‘cyclical’ conception of time, for instance, tended to emphasize a relative ‘backward’, ‘static’ or ‘motionless’ idea of temporalities among indigenous groups in comparison with the West’s understanding of itself as dynamic and progressive. Only recently has attention been given to the immanent concern for the future, as expressed, for example, in the rituals for the Aztec goddess Cihuacoatl (‘Snake-Woman’) as ‘The Great Mother of the Future’. The task remains to scrutinize critically the assumed differences in temporalities, divided into quantitative (metric) concepts of time in Western societies and qualitative concepts of time in indigenous groups, which are believed to connect the measuring of time closely to human action, events or specific meanings assigned to certain days yet to come.
The IRTG focuses on aspirations and anticipations of people in Latin America, establishing three research dimensions: