Time, ties, transactions: temporality and relational work in economic exchange

Theory and Society (forthcoming) [DOI: 10.1007/s11186-024-09552-9]

This paper explores the intersection of time and relational economic sociology. Building on Viviana Zelizer’s relational framework, I argue that analyzing the temporal dimensions of exchange provides insight into how social ties gain meaning through economic practices. The paper shows time’s dual role as both an organizing structure bounding action, and a dynamic element that actors leverage to shape transactional contexts. As structure, time offers culturally-available templates like schedules and rhythms that facilitate coordination and signify predictable social meanings befitting particular relational categories. Yet time also constitutes relational work itself; strategic timing, duration, pacing, and sequencing of interactions signal context, manage expectations, and sustain bonds amidst entanglements. Synchronization through temporal agency prevents mismatches between transactions and social contexts that could strain ties. This agency in time ranges from passive adherence to dominant structures to active assertions of power resistance, enabling both domination and defiance across economic contexts. Analyzing shared temporal infrastructure within circuits of commerce further illuminates how actors distinguish those spheres of exchange at various scale from the impersonal market. Ultimately, incorporating temporality strengthens relational economic sociology by identifying a key mechanism through which practices of exchange become relationally meaningful.

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