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Time's square: deriving cultural theory from rubbish theory

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Starting with the hypothesis that duration (the standard idea of time that we associate with the steady tick-tock of a clock) can only exist if it is framed by something that is not duration--eternity or oblivion--it is possible to make sense of the fusing of time and space that is going on, both in acephalous societies in West Africa and in the more familiar dynamic categorizations of modern Western societies: secondhand, rubbish and antique, for instance. The same hypothesis also sheds some helpful light on problems over space and time in comtemporary physics. Forgetting, we now see, is a prerequisite for remembering, and worthlessness a prerequisite for value: insights that suggest we take a closer look at what is involved in the deceptively simple three-category dynamical system in which objects, once produced, have only two possible destinations--the museum or the rubbish dump. Such a dynamical system, it turns out, can give rise to shifts within the social totality across two fundamental dimensions--status and power--thereby generating many of the 'grand types' that have been discerned by social scientists: class and caste, for instance. But, if it is to do this, there must be at least four contending ways of organizing and justifying within that totality. Cultural Theory (the four ways of organizing and justifying) is thus revealed to be inherent in the seemingly much simpler rubbish theory the three-category dynamical system): a surprising outcome that has some intriguing implications.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1351161032000163557

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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