Geographies of Time and Resistance - Resistance and Time

Constructive Resistance: Repetitions, Emotions, and Time - Mona Lilja 2021

Geographies of Time and Resistance
Resistance and Time

Time is a difficult notion to conceptualize. Within the scholarship of social sciences, it is often seen as social practices that is represented and replicated (see e.g. Ikuko 1997; Nowotny 1992; Shimada 1995; Lilja et al. 2019). But time is not just a category or the rhythmicity of the physical environment that we organize ourselves according to during our lifetime—every day we are involved in a material world with a temporal core (Hörning et al. 1999; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). Barbara Adam states, “Time is about god and the universe, life and death, knowledge practices and the human condition. The relationship to time is at the very root of what makes us human” (Adam 2006, 119).

In one way “time,” then, refers to everyday biological processes such as birth and the aging of things and bodies, which proceed moment by moment. On the other hand, we constantly do time when we organize, understand, and spend time. How we do time could, at least partly, be addressed in terms of temporalities, which can be used to illustrate different perceptions of time periods and how time is organized, not at least in relation to future and the past (cf. Amin 2014; Dinshaw 2007).

The enactment of temporalities is, to some extent, performative; that is, bodies act out temporalities, which they contribute to establish. Given this, various kinds of repetitions and the constant remaking of patterns matter. In the assemblage of natureculture, different temporalities are produced as a form of constructive resistance and contribute to forming existing and emerging realities (Åsberg 2013). And, as with other forms of political struggles, resistance and power are bound to each other.

In this chapter, previous research within the field will be reviewed and different theoretical themes will be outlined, which could inspire more in-depth (empirical) studies of temporal resistance. These themes are quite different from one another, thereby highlighting the different qualities of temporal, but constructive, resistance and the different time-related issues that they tackle. Overall, the themes give an initial overview of the field of temporal resistance and they include the following: (1) memories as a tool for resistance; (2) time-transcending communities of resistance; (3) deceleration as resistance; and (4) utopias, futures, and other time ruptures. These themes are discussed from different theoretical perspectives that underpin the argumentation, and I also draw upon a few empirical examples in order to reveal why the concept of time incites a discussion on power and resistance.


As implied above, time and temporalities enmesh in relations of power. Foucault has shown that control of time (and space) is fundamental to disciplinary power (see the forthcoming chapter). Likewise, Barbara Adam displays how the governing of time means having power over social actions, subjective experiences, and subjectivities. Adam describes this control as follows:

The control of time [. . .] includes the slowing down of processes, the re-arrangement of past, present and culture, the re-ordering of sequence, and the transformation of rhythmicity into a rationalized beat. (Adam 2003, 69)

Mechanical clock time is a modern way to conceptualize and organize time that historically became institutionalized with the emergence of an industrialized capitalist society (Adam 1990). Currently, precarious workers respond to new expectations and an accelerated tempo under neoliberal conditions. In this, the instruments of governing interact with conditions of economic exploitation and modes of subjectivation (Lorey 2011, 2015).

The governing of time is to be seen as a temporal, biopolitical form of governing. Different political interventions, such as the “introduction activities” for newly arrived migrants or “parental leave,” structure and organize our time. Computerized administrative systems work to control, coordinate, and regulate a wide variety of time concepts (clock time, travel time, working time, etc.). Administrative online systems have also generated a whole range of new metaphors for time, such as timeless, virtual, and instantaneous time (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). In addition, different temporalities and governing through time entangle in spaces (work places, prisons, countries, etc.) and matter (soil, bodies, etc.). To make these kinds of entanglements visible, Barbara Adam usefully coined the word “timescapes,” which denotes heterogeneous times and how they are set up in relation to space (Adam 2003; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). Kath Weston’s use of the concept of “spacetime” is also to be seen as a way to theoretically underpin the connections within temporal spatial contexts (Weston 2002).

The language of political stakeholders and different development agencies is sometimes marked by temporal discourses that, among other things, describe different populations as belonging to different times. Time itself becomes a metaphor for cultural difference (Fabian 1983; Martin 2016). “Modern time”—among other kinds of time—implies hierarchies, unevenly distributed values, and the primitiveness and “backwardness” of “the other.” There is a temporal distance between the Global South and the more “modern” parts of the worlds.

Populations are exposed to certain technologies of power, which produce memories that, among other things, motivate a particular neoliberal way of life. Commemorative events, memorial sites, as well as institutions are used by political authorities to construct memories of the past as well as the present. Or in other words, we are normalized through biopolitical methods in order to live the “official story” of the past and the present (Lilja 2016; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). Still, both individual memories and the governing of these memories are an outcome of the contestations of multiple actors, meanings, and values (Hughes 2005).


As concluded above, clock time and different temporalities are to be seen as sovereign and biopolitical tools that are used to govern. As a consequence, dominant temporalities are repeatedly challenged by multiple strategies of temporal resistance. One example of this is heterosexual norms, which are sustained in the intersection of natureculture and have been generating subversive counter-discourses. “Family time” implies a timetable that accompanies the practice of child rearing, embraces the normative scheduling of daily life (early to bed, early to rise), and is governed by an imagined set of children’s needs. Different heterosexual norms, like how to raise children, pass through families from one generation to the next (Halberstam 2010; Martin 2016). Harvey asserts that because we experience time as some form of natural progression, we fail to realize or notice its constructions and how concepts like “family time,” “reproduction time,” and the “biological clock” carry temporalities, which are assigned different sets of values (Harvey 1990). The highly gendered and temporal scripts of “getting married,” “going to work,” and “having children” seem to dominate people’s lives. There is a linearity in how economic development, national progress, and heterosexual reproduction are comprehended and practiced. In fact, “from the perspective of queer theory, modern time can be understood as straight time” (Martin 2016, 9).

The concept of queer time can be interpreted as a critique of the careful social and much gendered scripts that guide the populations in most parts of the world. The conceptualizing of queer temporalities involves the deconstruction of temporal norms such as Lee Edelman’s critique of a “reproductive futurism.” Heterosexual norms are replaced with temporal alternatives, such as living in the “now” with no “past or future” (Edelman 2004). Overall, queer theorists seek to “recover those aspects of time—anachronism, backwardness, non-maturation, and non-futurity—that are traditionally discounted by modernity” (Martin 2016). According to Martin, queer temporality offers us a possibility to resist “modern time” by reimagining the categories of the past, present, and future. It also provides us with the possibility to reconsider how the past, present, and future might imaginatively, and sometimes unexpectedly, interact (Martin 2016). This is a form of constructive resistance, where new temporalities are produced in contexts of power. Still, as pinpointed in the introduction, resistance often combines noncooperative aims with constructive aims: it is a sliding scale and different resistance forms contain both but to different degrees.

In the remainder of this chapter, different theoretical themes will be elaborated, which suggests different subversive temporalities. The overall conclusion is that the wrenching, adding to and hybridizing of different temporalities, can be understood as practices of constructive resistance. Below, this will be exemplified by subversive memorizing, decelerations, time-ruptures, and emotional, time-bridging communities. By addressing these themes, this chapter, which is conceptual and synthetic in nature, addresses some of the major debates about time, temporality, and resistance.

Memories as a Tool for Resistance

Dominant temporalities are implemented and advanced as biopolitical tools for running societies and governing citizens. In addition, connections are made between the past, the present, and the future in order to legitimize power or to construct the future in “suitable” ways. Here, memories come to play an important role. Maria Stern expresses, “Memory (and thus remembering stories) are as much a part of the present as they are a part of the past. They are also shaped by expectations for the future” (Stern 2005, 62). Jenny Edkins (2003) concludes in her book Trauma and the Memory of Politics that “memory is a performative practice, and inevitably social.” Barbara Misztal agrees that remembering is mainly a collective practice:

social in origin and influenced by dominant discourses (. . .) Although it is the individual who remembers, remembering is more than a personal act, as even the most personal memories are embedded in social context and shaped by social factors that make social remembering possible, such as language, rituals, and commemoration practices. (Misztal 2005)

Memories are powerful tools that entangle in different emotions, and their material-semiotic character may create rage and desires for revenge, and be a threat to national cohesion and peace. The production of counter-memories is also to be seen as a strategy of constructive resistance.

Among others, various materialities and “forgotten” historical sequences can be brought in and used to question the symbolic order (Lilja 2008). This idea has been developed by Michael Landzelius, who promotes the idea of commemorative “dis(re)membering” as a tool for a critical, non-essentialist reconfiguration of memorial landscapes and dominant official narratives of the past. Objects of the past should be mobilized as disinheritance assemblages for critical and subversive purposes in order to make the “past implode into the present and across spatial scales in ways unsettling fundamental social imaginary significations” (Landzelius 2003). Thus, material objects could be used to negotiate current discourses of the past. Once again, this displays how matter can be utilized to impact on our discourses, and thereby emerge as an important means of constructive resistance.

Researchers, such as Landzelius, offer us the means to question various stable claims of memorial landscapes and dominant official narratives of the past. It is widely acknowledged that memories provide a means of resistance, but from different angles. Edkins, for example, approaches memories from an international relations (IR) perspective by suggesting that traumatic memories might provide specific openings for the resistance against state power (Edkins 2010, 101). Traumas, then, becomes the very incentive to question long-held beliefs and dominating discourses about centralized power, political identities, and sociopolitical orders. This resistance can be practiced individually, or by opposition groups who use the traumatic events and post-traumatic experiences to challenge political systems that produce violence, war, and genocide (Edkins 2003; Vertzberger 2005).

When negotiating dominant or state memories, different strategies are applied. For example, individual memories have been used by groups and communities to make (constructive) resistance through “memory work.” People who feel marginalized due to their race, gender, or sex remember moments of repression together in order to reveal and witness racist or sexist practices. Maria Jansson et al. (2008) state, for example, that:

We put forward memory work as a fruitful method (. . .) to understanding deeply naturalised power structures such as gender, nation, and sexuality. We show how different interpretative modes and practices in memory work may help us locate ruptures and ambivalences in the already known, and open up for understandings and interpretations that take us beyond the discursively given.

Overall, the constituting or (re)constructing of memories is to be seen as performative practices of resistance, which contribute to forming our emerging realities. This (re)constructing of memories could take place by drawing on both material artifacts and personal memories.

Time-Transcending Communities of Resistance

The past and the future are also important for the forming of resisting assemblies and communities of belonging. In part of Dinshaw’s analysis, she focuses on the possibility of touching across time—“collapsing time”—through affective contact between people now and then. By this, she wants to demonstrate the possibility of forming communities of resistance across time. By conceptualizing “queer historical touches,” she displays new possibilities of: “connected affectively with the past. I focused on the possibility of touching across time, collapsing time through affective contact between marginalized people now and then, and I suggested that with such queer historical touches we could form communities across time” (Dinshaw 2007, 178; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

The quote displays the possibility to embrace the people of the past, who are no longer physically present, in the present. One example here is different feminist movements that sometimes refer to memories of past struggles, such as the Suffragettes’ struggles for the right to vote in public elections. Over and above this, I suggest that also future bodies—that is, those that can be imagined but do not have physical form—contribute to the construction of contemporary communities. The concept of civil society is thereby “broadened” in order to understand how past and future bodies inform the very struggle of today’s communities (Dinshaw 2007; Lilja et al. 2015).

One illustration of the above is, thus, civil societies’ efforts to work against environmental degradation by embracing the past and the future. Many organizations work through and against time by illustrating terrifying scenarios of the future, which they hope will prompt resistance and motivate us to address some of the toughest problems we shall have to solve—namely, global warming. This can be exemplified by the homepage of Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which is an organization that began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969 and is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. The organization put science to work in order to fight different environmental problems. On their homepage, they describe a possible future under the effects of global warming (Lilja et al. 2015). Among other things, the risks for mass migration and security threats are emphasized:

Global warming is likely to increase the number of “climate refugees”—people who are forced to leave their homes because of drought, flooding, or other climate-related disasters. Mass movements of people and social disruption may lead to civil unrest, and might even spur military intervention and other unintended consequences. (Climate Hot Map 2011) 1

The usage of words such as “forced to leave their homes,” “civil unrest,” and “military intervention” on the homepage possibly nurtures both fear and empathy with the future inhabitants of our Earth. The website seems to suggest a touching across time through an affective contact between people of the future. Thus, the environmental movement encourages communities that are formed across time (Dinshaw 2007, 178; Lilja et al. 2015).

The “climate refugees”—who will be forced to leave their homes because of drought, flooding, or other climate-related disasters—are not all embodied, but some are rather to be seen as future “to be” bodies. By taking into account their (coming) pain, cross-temporal relationships are constructed, which demonstrates how the present is non-contemporaneous with itself. Such asynchronous relationships between the living and future bodies blur the boundaries between presence and absence, fiction and reality, idealism and materiality, present and past, as well as subject and object. What is particularly interesting is how we bring the stories of future subjects, or even nonliving yet-to-be subjects, into our lives and let them affect us and inform our lives in the “here-and-now.” As these configured, fictional stories come to live “within” us, the boundaries between the self and other, subject and object, and past and present are dissolved, and there are “multiple temporalities operating in the same moment” (Dinshaw 2013, 110; Lilja et al. 2015). The temporal strategy of emotionally connecting with future environmental refugees seems to spur an affective economy, where emotions come to circulate between bodies and signs, thereby motivating action and political subjectivities (Lilja 2016; Lilja et al. 2015). It is a form of constructive resistance, which produces communities of belonging, new relationships, and imaginaries of then and the future.

Deceleration as Resistance

Currently, in many parts of the world, prevailing perceptions of time are slowly changing. Rosa (2014) illustrates these changes by constructing an image of multiple forms of accelerations, which make the pace of life speed up. As time seems to flow faster and faster, our relationships with others and the material world become fluid and hard to understand. Technology—which is often goal-oriented and focused on rationality and efficiency, faster transport, faster communication, and more efficient production processes—is, however, contrasted by “slower” areas, such as culture, which cannot always be consumed at a faster rate. (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). Rosa (2014) believes that the pace will reach, or has already reached, the critical threshold where the perception of reality changes. This applies, in particular, to when experience and knowledge can no longer be used to plan or manage the expectations and new systems. The pace of change is faster than the ability to integrate the new, which can create an uncertainty (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

Technological acceleration affects social relationships and the temporality of personal life. Sped-up communication, via e-mails or social media, is one aspect of this type of acceleration (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). The demand to instantaneously respond to different letters, questions, and statements in electronical systems leads to our time being turned into an extended present; we must stay and live in “real time.” The requirement to constantly engage in multiple and often disparate activities, preferably simultaneously, and being constantly interrupted by new requirements, can create feelings of irritability, difficulty in concentrating, but also emotions such as shame when one fails to live up to the accelerated tempo. The increased number of experiences in every “now” blurs the borders between the past, present, and future. Current accelerations, impact on many lives and compose a form of power. The accelerated time creates modes of subjectivity and disciplined bodies. As I will further explore in the next-coming chapters, Foucault describe how using time more efficiently is also entangled in self-disciplinary processes (Foucault 1991, 154; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

Overall, acceleration can be seen as a part of the governing of working subjects who interact with modes of subjectivation. People discipline themselves to be able to adjust to the high speed of society: “speed in modernity is closely connected to the ideas of power and self-determination or autonomy, and hence, to the experience of freedom and even happiness. Thus, there clearly is a ’cultural motor’ behind the logic of acceleration” (Rosa 2010). This is described by Lauren Berlant, in her book Cruel Optimism (2011), where she connects the precarious with the cruel optimism, which appears as people are keeping up their attachment to unachievable fantasies of the “good life” (upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, etc.) despite evidence that the liberal-capitalist societies of today can no longer provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives correspond to these everyday norms. Thus, the self-disciplinary practices of speeding-up go hand in hand with the governing of capitalist regimes (Rosa 2010; Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

Rosa (2014) argues that to survive the contemporary time acceleration, some people create zones of strategic “deceleration”—for example, yoga, meditation, and retreats. However, these deceleration zones can also serve to govern people. Deceleration is, in some cases, a strategy through which people are able to discipline themselves and become capable of surviving the onrush of social processes. In addition, there are entire communities “stuck behind” global acceleration, which makes poverty and inequality connected to the organizing of time (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

However, not only do the modern subjects discipline themselves (ourselves) to the rules of the capitalist economy and “voluntarily” speed up and accelerate time, but different forms of resistance also emerge and develop from the increased tempo. As communicative and technological systems tend to increasingly govern people’s lives through acceleration in the pace of life, one resistance strategy is to decelerate the pace that has been created by the acceleration. To turn one’s e-mail off can be seen as a response against being governed by technological systems, which impacts on how time is spent (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). Displacement, in order to decelerate the acceleration, also takes place through counter-urbanization, such as migrating into “unpopular” rural areas, such as the Swedish, wooded and sparely populated county of Värmland. The escaping of people into the forest could be understood as resistance against the sped-up life-tempo in countries such as Germany or the Netherlands (Persson 2017). This form of deceleration—by escape—appears as a light version of the resistance of withdrawal that James Scott (2010) outlines in his book The Art of Not Being Governed. While withdrawal could be read as a noncooperative form of resistance, constructing a decelerated temporality is to be understood as a constructive form of resistance, which ruptures power-loaded temporal (accelerating) discourses and replaces them with other temporalities.

Utopias, Futures, and Other Time Ruptures

Above, I have mapped some notions of temporal power and constructive resistance through the concepts of memorialization, deceleration, and time-transcending communities. In this section, I would like to suggest that time ruptures against hegemonic temporalities could also be invoked by “prefigurative” politics, which brings the future into the now.

The future does not exist, but we can access it by projecting the present onto it. One common logic is that what was true then is true now, and will probably be true in the future. That which stretches between the past and the present also forms our expectations of what will come. For example, Mikael Baaz (2016, 2017) discusses how historical images are projected onto the future. In addition, the future is then often imagined and constructed as a prolonged now. According to this rationality, the construction of the future often turns out to be a conservation of the present.

But the future can also be fabricated in a subversive, norm-changing way. As when the EU commission decided that it would ban disposable plastics that are not considered to be environmentally sustainable. Cutlery, plates, straws, and plastic sticks for balloons are some of the plastic products that are to be banned in the EU. However, cotton tips, cutlery, plates, straws, and balloons are not going to disappear. Instead, “They will only be made from other materials. You can still have picnic, drink cocktails or clean your ears, just as before” (according to EU commissioner Frans Timmermans at a press conference in Brussels). 2 Here, the future is reconstructed. New ideas (about the sea and sustainable development) are mixed with common habits (picnics and cocktails) are giving rise to new imaginaries of the future. A new image is projected onto the future. Such constructions cross discourses and between imageries, dissolve the boundaries between present and future, non-materiality, and materiality, as well as the very idea of the present as a singular, linear time line.

But constructive resistance, in this regard, is not only about constructing subversive visions of the future. Subjects build elements or whole worlds of a different imagined reality by embodying their aspired future and materializing that future in the present as a form of resistance, which is similar to a nutopia/nowtopia (Thörn 1997). The future is invoked in the present through prefigurative politics or constructive resistance and, in the same move, current time patterns are ruptured (Lilja et al. 2015; Epstein 2002; Young and Schwartz 2012; Yates 2015).


Some important patterns come to light in the crossroads between time, power, and resistance. As shown in this chapter, people are governed and disciplined in relation to different, and sometimes overlapping, ways of doing time, such as dominant temporalities, constructions of the past (memories) and the future, or by the accelerating or decelerating of time. Furthermore, clock time is often controlled by employers, which means that some have power over others’ time. However, these ways of governing are resisted by new constructions of time.

In this chapter, different strategies of temporal and constructive resistance have been displayed as follows: (1) memories as a tool for resistance; (2) time-transcending communities of resistance; (3) deceleration and acceleration as resistance; and (4) utopias and other times ruptures. These resistance practices, and the governance that they challenge, inform and direct our emerging realities through a multitude of scattered patterns.

First of all, dominant processes of memorizations are resisted by alternative memories, personal witnesses, and memory work. In addition, different materialities and “forgotten” historical sequences can be brought in and used to question memory regimes (Lilja 2008). “Dis(re)membering,” as a tool for questioning dominant official narratives of the past, is made possible as objects of the past are mobilized, which thereby unsettles fundamental social imaginaries (Landzelius 2003).

Secondly, power is challenged by representations of bodies in the past and in the future, which are used to form assemblies and become a base for resistance now. Deceased people of the past and people of the future contribute to the creation of the present in an alternative way. The affective contact between people now and in the future becomes the very motivation for people to start to care about the future. The creation of affective and emotional connections is molded by repetitions, as means of constructive resistance.

Thirdly, the ongoing acceleration (how many things we do by a unit of time) seems to run lives and informs how we comprehend the social order. Deceleration prevails as one of the most up-to-date resistance practices of today. Migration to “slower” areas (e.g., people moving from big towns in Germany to the Swedish forest), everyday practices of “laziness,” and other forms of administrative obstruction against technological systems are producing new “slower” way of life.

Finally, dominant temporalities are challenged by bringing the future into the now by practicing prefigurative politics. By embodying aspired visions, movements’ nowtopias prevail as a kind of time rupture, which still construct alternatives.





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