Time, like space, is considered to be a basic category of human existence. Yet, as the least tangible of all aspects of reality, it is hard to define and to come to terms with. The theory of absolute space and time that once dominated in the West under the influence of physicists like Newton is no longer credible. We now understand that concepts of time and temporalities – and how they 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; we are ‘brewers of time’.
In recent years, Latin American scholars have made significant contributions to this line of enquiry. Recognising that worlds, societies and individual lives are temporal, it is preferable when investigating people’s understanding of time to speak of different temporalities from within regional experiences of diversity. In short: human beings perceive time in terms of temporalities according to their cultural contexts.
Globalisation meant new arenas of interaction for European and indigenous peoples alike, forcing them to adopt new concepts of time. In the Americas, sophisticated calendar-based systems for keeping track of time and predicting the future had been used for millennia, including for the political purpose of imposing visions of history and the future on subordinates. In the wake of conquest and colonization, indigenous concepts of time clashed with the Europeans’ intention to synchronize time according to their understanding and interests. Inferences about ‘cyclical’ conception of time, for instance, tended to emphasize the relative ‘backward’, ‘static’ or ‘motionless’ idea of temporalities among indigenous groups in contrast to the West’s self-understanding of its own progressive linearity and dynamism. Only recently have researchers examined the immanent concern for the future in Latin America, 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 critically scrutinize the assumed differences in temporalities. These are divided into quantitative (metric) concepts of time in Western societies and qualitative concepts of time in indigenous groups, which are generally believed to closely connect the measuring of time to human action, events or specific meanings assigned to certain futurities.
To better grasp the aspirations and anticipations of people in Latin America, the IRTG has established three research dimensions: