Metronomic Society: Natural Rhythms and Human Timetables. Michael K. Young. Harvard University Press.

Metronomic Society: Natural Rhythms and Human Timetables Book Cover Metronomic Society: Natural Rhythms and Human Timetables
Michael K. Young
Harvard University Press
May 1988

In The Metronomic Society, one of the most imaginative sociologists working today advances the principle that society is held together by ceaseless cyclical oscillations embodied in individual and collective habits. People keep doing what they’ve done before, yet they welcome each day with its promise of a new beginning. Cyclical time keeps things the same by reproducing the past and gratifying the human aspiration for permanence, while linear time introduces novelty and keeps us from getting stale.

Michael Young looks at the diverse ways in which society thinks about and measures time, and at the ways concepts of time influence society’s patterns. He argues that the rhythms of human society are analogous to and (to some extent) a result of biological rhythms, and that we have done ourselves great harm by supplanting these natural rhythms with mechanical rhythms dictated by machinery and by bureaucrats using the tools of clock and calendar. He appeals for a new entente with the sun as the means of restoring more stability to people’s lives.

This book has much to say about how time-consciousness makes human beings uniquely human, and about how the plasticity of human behavior makes the modern world what it is. The whole is a rich extended meditation on time, memory, habit, custom, change, repetition, tradition, and the future. It is a delight to read – closely argued, elegantly written, full of wit and piquant details – and will appeal to general readers as well as to specialists in sociology, biology, anthropology, history, and philosophy.

Michael Young is Director of the Institute of Community Studies, London, and the author of The Rise of the Meritocracy and co-author of Family and Kinship in East London and The Symmetrical Family.