The social definition of time for university students

Tim f. Liao, Joshua Beckman, Emily Marzolph, Caitlin Riederer, Jeffrey Sayler, Leah Schmelkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In today's world, universities, in particular those in the West, have increasingly become networked, informationalized, and commercialized, and tend to operate on a clock or chronologic time like a business or corporation, though their demands on individuals are often in real or chronoscopic time terms. In light of the increasing demand in time by the university as corporation, we study in this article a neglected aspect of such a modern university: the social meaning of time for university students. To achieve our goal, we chose a Midwestern public university as our research site ’ a major American research university of about 40,000 students ’ and conducted field observations through photography and interviews during the 2009 fall semester. The research setting provided a good opportunity to observe a wide range of categories of time experienced by students. In the article we established a typology of six theoretically informed and empirically observable categories of time ’ scheduled time, compressed time, timeless time, endless time, wasted time, and time as goal. Our analysis through visual means demonstrates how these six types of time operate and how they are embedded in social situations and social structure. For individual students, scheduled time can confine and structure the other time categories, and it reflects the institutional demand expressed in corporate time by the modern university as corporation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-151
Number of pages33
JournalTime & Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Organization
  • photography
  • schedule
  • time
  • typology
  • university

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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