Temporal Orientations in Life Stories

A Narrative Approach to the Ethnography of Historicity



This article draws on ethnographic material from life stories and nonfiction literature and is complemented by fieldwork vignettes. The material is used to discuss how experiences of connections and disconnections between past and present, self and intergenerational relationships, relate to temporal orientations (Bryant and Knight 2019). In the narratives, traces of two salient paradigms framing the temporality of the present, which represent antithetical ways of dealing with connections between the past, present and future, are identified. These traces are found in expressions such as ‘timelessness’, ‘beauty’, ‘now’, and ‘silences’, but also more negatively, as ‘depression’, ‘hauntings’, ‘pain’, and ‘time collapse’. I argue that the two paradigms (‘presentism’ and ‘presence’) coexist, and that they are partly in conflict with each other.
Traces of temporality in life stories provide us with keys to understand how temporal orientations, and their related horizons of expectation (Koselleck 1985) may also contribute to shape life trajectories. By explicating how narrators grapple with experiences of temporal disruption and how they try to come to terms with their experiences by seeing them as parts of larger societal events, aspects of the mechanisms whereby dominant modes of thinking become established are made visible to us (Scarry 2022). The merit in this kind of exploration for the ethnography of historicity (Palmié and Stewart 2019), lies in its potential for showing us how future life scenarios are impacted by the ways in which people deal with past events and affect their potential futures.

Keywords: Temporal orientations, presentism, presence, historicity, life stories, self, intergenerational relationships.




How to Cite

Hoëm, I. (2024). Temporal Orientations in Life Stories: A Narrative Approach to the Ethnography of Historicity. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 48(2), 50–66. https://doi.org/10.30676/jfas.131276