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Struggling with Time: Investigating Coupling Constraints

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The time-geographic concept of coupling constraints defining when and for how long persons have to be corporeally present at a given physical location can help transportation researchers to understand better how people combining employment and domestic responsibilities coordinate and negotiate everyday trips and activities. While the usefulness of the concept has long been recognized, operationalizing the 'when' dimension of coupling constraints in empirical research remains difficult. The paper reviews previous measurement approaches and introduces a complementary perspective that evolves around the time-space of arrival—a time span appropriate for arrival at a given destination—and that draws on insights from human geography, sociology, and psychology. A central element of the proposed perspective is the attention to different types of time. It is shown that conceiving of clock-time as time per se may fail to account for the multitude of temporal factors that matter to parents', and especially mothers', coping with coupling constraints. Another important facet of the perspective concerns the complexity of boundaries between acceptable or appropriate and unacceptable or inappropriate arrival times. These and other characteristics of time-spaces of arrival are illustrated using in-depth interviews and a stated adaptation exercise informed by cumulative prospect theory centring on employed parents' trips to collect their children from childcare services and elementary schools in the Utrecht region of the Netherlands.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Human Geography and Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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