DR LISA BARAITSER

TIME WITHOUT QUALITIES
MID-CAREER FELLOW: OCTOBER 2014 – SEPTEMBER 2015
Lisa Baraitser

Lisa’s first degree was in Medical Science and Psychology, followed by a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a PhD in Psychology. Since taking up an academic position, she has developed research interests in gender and sexuality, motherhood and the maternal, feminist theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophies of ethics, affects, materiality, temporality and event.

Her ISRF project seeks to understand the relation between time and social belonging now that the fantasy of a progressive future has collapsed. It challenges the common-sense view that time is a backdrop to social life, and proposes time as a vital way in which social life is organized, regulated, produced, felt and experienced.

Abstract

The pop anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ that accompanied Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997 belongs to era in which the unfolding of a progressive future could still be confidently assumed. We currently live, however, with narratives of the ‘end times’ characterized by a continuous capitalist present that heads towards various catastrophic futures – climate change, conflict, resource scarcity and economic austerity for the planetary majority. This project seeks to understand the relation between time and social belonging now that the fantasy of a progressive future has collapsed. It challenges the common-sense view that time is a backdrop to social life, and proposes time as a vital way in which social life is organized, regulated, produced, felt and experienced. Through different temporal orchestrations, social bonds are precariously carved out and sustained. Many social groups in wealthy nations now live with receding expectations of fulfilling work, durable intimacy, and dependable forms of welfare brought about by neoliberal economic policies of the last four decades. Yet social projects involving forms of care, belonging and communality do persist, often through an alternative relation to time. Investigating these practices of belonging generates new ways of understanding the ‘time of our times’. The research involves a psychosocial analysis of a diverse range of cultural objects. These works are chosen because they do not simply propose ‘slowness’ as a deliberate attempt to counteract the speed of modernity, but involve forms of suspended time. The project tracks the temporality, for instance, of care in the context of both mothering and dying, and relations that develop in the stilled time of incarceration or waiting for political change. It aims to build new theoretical concepts for how time facilitates social belonging, making visible multiple ways time is lived and endured in the ‘end times’.

The Research Idea

The broad context for the project is the post-Fordist obsession with speed, productivity, creativity, flexibility, and the marketing of time at the center of the political economy. These, and other temporal meta-narratives of capitalism constitute what has been called ‘the tyranny of real time’ in which all time – work, social, leisure, family, ‘quality’, or unemployed time – is penetrated by the logic of capital (Wright 2009, Zizek 2010, Harvey 2010). The thesis of this project is that set against this, we can identify a series of practices, anomalous in relation to the core economy, which become meaningful through alternative relations to time. These involve persistence, endurance, maintenance, delay, staying, and waiting. Their temporalities are dissonant to capitalist time in that they are not simply slow (counterbalancing the speed of modernity), but involve time that is stuck, deliberately ‘non-productive’ or suspended. The thesis is that these temporalities are necessary for the survival of affective sociality in neoliberal times, and are lived within the ‘seams of capitalism’ (Povinelli, 2011) in painful yet sustainable ways. Through a psychosocial investigation of a range of artistic, cultural and theoretical texts that pays close attention to affective experience, the research aims to elucidate the relation between belonging and obdurate time in the absence of the certainty of a flourishing now, a generative past or a progressive future. This will lead to new theories for understanding how social, relational and affective bonds that can be maintained through different ways of living time.

The Focus

We are currently seeing dramatic changes in the ways we imagine and experience time – this effects how we organize and experience social life. Violent conflict, climate change, resource scarcity, economic instability, and vast social inequalities has led to narratives of the ‘end times’ (Zizek, 2010). This contrasts sharply with the idea of progressive futures that underpinned modernist and post-modernist social imaginaries. At the same time the present in the contemporary West is increasingly experienced as ‘non-stop inertia’ (Southwood, 2011). Precarious living conditions require constant mobility and flexibility to deal with perpetual crisis. Some argue that all time is now qualified as ‘work time’, even when we are unemployed, or spending ‘quality time’ with one another (Wright, 2009), and time is valued only in as far as it services capital. We therefore need new theoretical models for understanding the current relationship between time and social bonds. This project aims to make visible social projects concerning different forms of care and belonging that can tell us about multiple and diverse ways in which time sustains belonging. When a political prisoner spends an entire life in solitary confinement and from his cell works with a social artist to imagine a future home; when a mother sustains an emotional relation to a child who has died; when an artist spends a decade cataloguing his own family’s endurance of abject poverty, new relations between time and belonging emerge, along with renewed understandings of the ‘time of our times’.

Background

Recent research emerging across a variety of critical fields has engaged with time and temporality. This ‘temporal turn’ highlights diverse ways time is lived and experienced, how time structures social formations and power relations, and how relations to time produce alternative socialities. Queer studies has focused on disrupting normative timelines of birth, growth, reproduction, wealth accumulation, death (Edelman, 2004, Halberstam, 2008, Freeman, 2011). Marginalized time schemes that do not conform to dominant patterns of living are seen to reveal and produce hidden intimate and relational experiences. In post-colonial studies melancholia – the refusal to mourn and move on from historical injustice – has emerged as a major temporal organizing principle to understand post and neocolonial social formations (Khanna, 2006). Feminist scholarship has proposed we re-think the timescales of collective practices such as mothering for a politics of communality (Federici, 2010). Much of this scholarship, however, relies on temporal forms such as rupture, event, or disruption to conceptualize interventions into the continuous present. These belong to an era of imagining unfolding progressive futures in which social change could be conceptualized as an interruption in this flow. This project proposes that suspended temporalities that emerge from practices of waiting, staying, enduring, maintaining, persisting and delaying are vital for understanding the sustainability of social bonds in current economic conditions.

Theory & Evidence Base

This project develops a unique psychosocial temporal perspective, giving primacy to anxiety, fantasy, and attachment in social projects of endurance whilst challenging dominant temporal narratives of the end times, and developing new theoretical understandings of temporality and belonging. It draws on a rich history of research and practice in the area of ‘relational aesthetics’, social art, or what is simply termed ‘social practice’ in order to investigate collective practices of making that involve endurance, maintenance, persistence, waiting, staying and delay. Theoretically it knits phenomenology, psychoanalysis, feminism and queer theory to generate accounts of relational and temporal subjectivities through bringing together the work of Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Jean Laplanche, Jalal Toufic, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Bracha Ettinger, Elizabeth Freeman, Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth A. Povinelli. The evidence base includes drawing together research on under and unemployed time (Adkins 2012, Southwood, 2011); families and communities over time (Crow, 2008, Bastian, 2013); motherhood, time and the comercialization of intimate life (Kristeva, 1986, Hoschschild, 2003); psychoanalytic studies of time (Green, 2002, Perelberg, 2008); and research on incarceration and chronophobia (the fear of time passing). The theory and evidence-base therefore challenges traditional approaches in sociology and social theory by insisting on the importance of affect and temporality in social life, thinking the social and psychic together.

Methodology

I will work on an archive of cultural texts including literature, poetry, social art, manifestos, political memoirs and theoretical works, in order to investigate how time is lived ‘without its flow’. The rationale for the choice of cultural texts is based on whether they shed light on the maintenance of social projects of endurance in neoliberal times. Indicative texts are: Merle Laderman Ukele’s early feminist ‘Maintenance Manifesto’ (1968); author Denise Riley’s Time Lived Without its Flow (2011); Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (2003); the collaborative art project, The House that Herman Built, by artist Jackie Sumel and political prisoner Herman Wallace who spent 41 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, USA; and English photographer Richard Billingham’s photo book Ray’s a Laugh (1996). These cultural objects will be mined for what they reveal about time and belonging, alongside an investigation of theoretical temporal concepts including messianic time, duration, repetition, temporal drag, après-coup, and anachronism. The research includes visits to libraries and archives, interviews with artists and writers, and analysis of secondary scholarship and literature. It will include one trip to the US to interview Merle Laderman Ukele and Jackie Sumel, and to visit the proposed site for The House that Herman Built in New Orleans, and trips within the UK to visit other artists and writers, archives and libraries.

Output

The results will be disseminated by means of publication, conference presentations, and a two-day symposium organized around the research outputs at the end of the research cycle. The project will lead to 3 journal articles, one on the temporality of maintaining the lives of others for Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies; a second on social and political projects concerned with endurance for New Formations, and a third will give a theoretical review of theories of the relation between time, capitalism and new obdurate temporalities in late liberalism for Theory, Culture and Society. These papers will form the backbone of a proposed book, Time Without Qualities aimed at the new Palgrave Psychosocial Studies Series. The papers will be presented at the Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society Conference and the British Sociological Association Conference. A two-day symposium on time and belonging will be organized at Birkbeck at the end of the research cycle aimed at those working on temporality, social theory and psychosocial studies.

Relevance

This is interdisciplinary project works at the interface between psychosocial studies, and new studies of temporality. It addresses a pressing need to map out alternative temporal imaginaries to ‘end times’ narratives and understand the significance of social projects that propose different ways of understanding affective sociality than those produced through notions of ‘rupture’ or ‘event’. This approach gathers together both theoretical concepts about different ways of living time, and empirical data drawn from cultural work on care and maintenance, experiences of incarceration, and ‘waiting’ for political change. Time has long been the domain of philosophy – phenomenology has significantly engaged with the source of time, time’s passing and our relation to time once regained (i.e. memory). However, investigating how time organizes the socius is a new departure for social research, which has only recently begun to recognize and investigate time as a structuring factor in affective belonging and to find ways of conceptualizing and describing lived temporality. This project works across a number of different bodies of thought and practice, aiming at theoretical and methodological innovation to address the real-life problem of how we understand our changed relation to time, and its effects on social belonging.

During 2014/15 I undertook an interdisciplinary research project, Time Without Qualities through the generous support of an ISRF Mid-Career Fellowship. The project was situated at the interface between psychosocial studies, and new studies of temporality. It sought to address a pressing need to map out alternative temporal imaginaries to ‘end times’ narratives that dominate contemporary discussions of the ‘the time of our times’ and to understand the significance of social projects that propose different ways of understanding affective sociality than those produced through notions of ‘rupture’ or ‘event’.
My approach was to bring together philosophical, psychoanalytic and critical theoretical concepts about different ways of living time, with cultural, literary and historical work on a range of temporal tropes – staying, waiting, maintaining, delaying, persisting, enduring – in order to try to understand the persistence of elongated and suspended temporalities in lives that can feel frenetic and time-starved. The project, in particular, was concerned with the temporalities of practices of care, and involved an investigation of cultural and literary objects concerning, for instance, caring for children and the elderly, experiences of caring about those who live in permanent conditions of incarceration, and the ‘waiting’ that is part of political change that attempts to take care of the future.

Methods

  • Conceptual scholarly work in areas of philosophy, psychoanalysis, critical theory and feminist & queer literature on ‘suspended’ time.
  • Interviews in the US with the performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles and the social artist Jackie Sumell, and interviews in the UK with the poet Denise Riley and the artist Barbara Loftus.
  • Analysis of a range of literary, artistic and cultural outputs including works by Richard Billingham, Jackie Sumell, Denise Riley, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Barbara Loftus, Luisa Passerini, and Artur ‘Bispo’ Rosario.

After the end of the award period, I developed a new research project with Dr. Laura Salisbury (English and Medicine, University of Exeter) on ‘waiting times’ in relation to healthcare in the NHS. The project seeks to move discussions about waiting in healthcare contexts away from the management of waiting lists, and instead open up cultural, historical, philosophical and psychosocial understandings of the place of waiting in contemporary life, through a focus on temporal practices embedded in care. This work directly emerges from the ISRF award for Time Without Qualities, which has provided the theoretical and conceptual underpinning for the Waiting Times project and was essential for the securing of further funding.

Publications

Upcoming

Baraitser, L., (In Press) Enduring Time: Gender, Care, Temporality. London: Bloomsbury.

A major new sole-authored monograph currently in press, to be published in early 2017.

Published

Baraitser, L., & Riley, D. (2016). Lisa Baraitser in Conversation with Denise Riley. Studies in the Maternal, 8(1).

Baraitser, L. (2015). Temporal drag: Transdisciplinarity and the ‘case’of psychosocial studies. Theory, Culture & Society, 32(5-6), 207-231.

Psychosocial studies is a putatively ‘new’ or emerging field concerned with the irreducible relation between psychic and social life. Genealogically, it attempts to re-suture a tentative relation between mind and social world, individual and mass, internality and externality, norm and subject, and the human and non-human, through gathering up and re-animating largely forgotten debates that have played out across a range of other disciplinary spaces. If, as I argue, the central tenets, concepts and questions for psychosocial studies emerge out of a re-appropriation of what have become anachronistic or ‘useless’ concepts in other fields – ‘the unconscious’, for instance, in the discipline of psychology – then we need to think about transdisciplinarity not just in spatial terms (that is, in terms of the movement across disciplinary borders) but also in temporal terms. This may involve engaging with theoretical ‘embarrassments’, one of which – the notion of ‘psychic reality’ – I explore here.

Baraitser, L. (2015). Touching time: maintenance, endurance, care.Psychosocial Imaginaries: Perspectives on Temporality, Subjectivities and Activism, 21.

Baraitser, L. (2015). Psychoanalysis and feminism and…. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 20(2), 151-159.

In response to the 40-year anniversary of the publication of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism I trace the impact of this work on my thinking about sexual difference at four tender points over the course of my career. Through the addition of the conjunction ‘and’, and an ellipsis to the title Psychoanalysis and Feminism, I chart a cascade of questions and debates to which Mitchell’s original thesis has given rise. I figure Psychoanalysis and Feminism as itself a helpful symptom in feminist and queer debates about the development and transmission of sexual difference in psychic life.

Baraitser, L. (2014). Time and Again: Repetition, Maternity and the Non-Reproductive. Studies in the Maternal, 6(1).

Baraitser, L. (2014). Duration, skin, and the ageing subject. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 15(3), 228-234.

I read Lynne Segal’s book Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing (2013) as a radical account of subjectivity in which, drawing on Freud, she proposes that what is lost, and therefore constitutive of the subject of old age, is time itself. This temporalization of subjectivity allows us to see more clearly the relation between time and materiality and more specifically between time, subject, and skin. I respond to Segal’s powerful work with some comments on Henri Bergson and Didier Anzieu.

Talks & Lectures

2015

Keynote: The Fabric: Social Reproduction, Women’s History and Art. University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art, 14th June

Keynote: Unpunctual Encounters/Bottom NaturesCGP London. 2nd May.

Invited Speaker: AHRC Network Seminar: Modernism’s Chronic Conditions: University of Exeter, April 17th.

Panelist: Time Tricking, Association for Social Anthropologists Conference, University of Exeter, April, 13th-16th.

Keynote: On a (m)other’s watch. Goldsmiths, University of London. April 11th.

2014

Invited speaker, ESRC seminar series on Psychological Governance. Re-theorizing ‘behaviour change’: Objects, Affects, Practices. University of Durham 15/16th December 2014.

Invited speaker, Visualizing From Memory, University of East London, November 2014. Late Memory: Mothering, Delay and the Virtual Past.

Panelist: European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies Conference, Helsinki, September 2014. Waiting Time and Slow Endurance: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Utopianism.

Conference Paper: Psychoanalysis on Ice Conference. Iceland. Psychosocial Studies and the ‘case’ of Psychic Reality. October 2014

Conference Paper: Austerity Futures Conference, Goldsmiths, October 2014. The Time That we Have.

Wellcome Trust-Funded Project | 2015-16

Waiting Times: Waiting and Care in the Time of Modernity

After the end of the award period, I developed a research project with Laura Salisbury (English and Medicine, University of Exeter) on ‘waiting times’ in relation to healthcare in the NHS. The project seeks to move discussions about waiting in healthcare contexts away from the management of waiting lists, and instead open up cultural, historical, philosophical and psychosocial understandings of the place of waiting in contemporary life, through a focus on temporal practices embedded in care.

A Seed Award was secured from the Wellcome Trust, and an additional award from the Birkbeck-Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund to do the preliminary work on this project. During 2015/16 this has entailed two scoping studies on the history of waiting in the NHS, and on the temporalities of end of life care, a symposium on The Chronic, buy-out to write a joint research paper, that has led into an application to the Wellcome for a Collaborative Award that will be submitted in July 2016. This work directly emerges from the ISRF award for Time Without Qualities, which has provided the theoretical and conceptual underpinning for the Waiting Times project and was essential for the securing of further funding for the next project.

The outcomes of the Waiting Times preliminary work are:

  • A report on the history of managing waiting in the NHS, authored by Dr. Shaul Bar-Haim
  • A report on the temporalities of end of life care, authored by Dr. Gill Partington
  • A jointly authored paper by Lisa Baraitser and Shaul Bar-Haim on the history of waiting in the NHS (in preparation)
  • A jointly authored paper by Lisa Baraitser and Laura Salisbury that will be presented at the Association of Social Anthropologists conference in Durham, July 2016 and has been submitted to the journal Time and Society
  • A major research event that took place at Birkbeck in March 2016, entitled The Chronic: Temporality, Care and Health Research Symposium that involved presentations from 16 academics, artists, psychoanalysts and writers and an audience of 120, including many GPs and healthcare practitioners.
  • The building of the advisory team for the Waiting Times project
  • Networking activities which have resulted in securing the project partners for Waiting Times: The Tavistock NHS Trust, Wells Street Practice, Hackney, Wyndham House Surgery, Silverton and Hospiscare, Exeter.
  • The application for a Co-Investigator award to the Wellcome for Waiting Times that is being submitted on the 8th July.
  • The development of the project website: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/waitingtimes/

The Chronic: Temporality, Care and Health Research Symposium

The Chronic: Temporality, Care and Health Research Symposium

The idea of the chronic circumscribes illness and disease with particular temporal parameters. It designates a persistent or recurrent condition lasting three months or more, but beyond this specific diagnostic usage it operates to structure the time of healthcare in subtle yet far-reaching ways. Distinguishing the chronic from the acute is fundamental to medical practice, determining degrees of urgency, treatment types, and waiting times. While conditions such as dementia and cancer may be serious and often fatal, they are nevertheless characterised in terms of a kind of slowness. Chronic time is therefore complex and contradictory: For the sufferer it may entail states of on-going crisis and emergency, but simultaneously a stilled, arrested and even recursive time. There may be cycles of remission and relapse, uncertain prognosis, waiting for treatment, and simply waiting to see. ‘Time hangs heavy, yet there is so little of it’ as the dying cancer patient in Margaret Edson’s play, Wit, states. Chronic time may be simultaneously urgent and slow, both terminal and interminable.

This one-day symposium brought together invited speakers from a broad range of backgrounds and contexts to consider the complexities of the category ‘the chronic’ and its relation to healthcare. Through a series of short papers followed by roundtable discussion, it approached this topic from the perspective of health policy; psychosocial, temporal, performance and cultural studies; history; the postcolonial and transnational; and the literary.