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Urban time: rules for living

I have spent over thirty years working in London, trying to understand the nature of urban experience. Sometimes I’ve done so from a supposedly ‘objective’ social science perspective: facts and figures.


Steve Latham


At other times, the touchy-feely way of understanding the mode of living in the city, from the inner, very subjective, point of view, seems to open up more vistas of comprehension.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a column “Living time’s arrow”, which explored the feeling of time, speeded up, accelerated, which characterises, descends, on the mind of the city-dweller.

This threatened to get a bit abstract; sometimes reflection on reality, becomes separated from action, as we enter the stratosphere of theory.

So, someone asked whether there were any implications? Of course, it wasn’t that kind of piece, but a rumination, a riff, on ideas.

Nevertheless, it’s a good question. What are the practical implications of living time’s arrow amidst the hotted up, fast-tracked?

Rupert Sheldrake, the philosopher, refers to a ‘field of force’ or morphological resonance, so that while we live in one city-field, a geographical area, it also contains many contiguous locales.

Hence, as we traverse the city, we switch from one code to another. We perform a kind of heteroglossia between tribes across the disparate lived-experience communities.

Postcode boundaries delimit adults as well as kids. But these borders also express lifestyle patterns, based on class and cultural identities and markers, of consumption and educational patternings.

The deterritorialization of late capitalist global movements is complemented and corrected, by a reterriorialisation, identified by Gils Deleuze, founded on plural, diverse, multiplicitous, belonging.

Meet people from other communities in London, it’s like a series of discrete moving circles, wheels-within-wheels, of relationships, suddenly interlocking.

This happens at weddings, funerals, and child dedication ceremonies, where acquaintances invite us into (what phenomenologists call) their ‘life-world’.

Suddenly we’re made aware, without exotic foreign travel, of a whole other way of being: other, different – an ontological discovery.

Navigating through customs incomprehensible to us, we are thrown into uncertainty, anxiety, or fascination, wonder. This requires adaptive behavior.

James Gleick’s book, “Faster”, details the way this increased through today’s globalized, urbanised, technological, society. We are forced to confront the other, daily.

In the morning, we meet a Somalian shop-keeper; in the afternoon, an Arab council worker; and in the evening, a Congolese bus-driver; before arriving home to meet our partner from another country.

At each step, we encounter the need to negotiate, not only spatial, but also temporal, dislocations which, depending on our response, can attract or repel us.

This demands flexibility, availability; a constant re-adaptation. We are always entering the flow, diving in fully clothed.

It requires openness to the other, the different; a continuous re-orientation. It’s unsettling, but something we need to feel happy with.

We have to welcome the new; talking and listening to people, to learn their lives. It’s all very vague and fuzzy.

Far from any set of specific recommendations, it involves a mental stance, a positionality of affect, emotion.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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