ECPR General Conference
University of Wrocław, Wrocław
4 - 7 September 2019

It’s About Time: Temporality and Complexity in Public Policy

Policy Analysis
Political Theory
Decision Making
Policy Change
Section Number
Section Chairs
Holger Strassheim
University of Bielefeld
Marlon Barbehön
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Section Co-Chair
Johanna Kuhlmann
Universität Bremen


The significance of time in the social world has preoccupied philosophy and social theory for centuries and goes back at least to Aristotle’s Physics. In modern social theory, such heterogeneous thinkers as Bergson, Schütz, Mead, Giddens, Deleuze, or Luhmann, all in their own specific way, have shown that time cannot be reduced to a natural force flowing independently from anything else, but is to be seen as conjoined with human action. These thinkers challenge the deeply rooted Newtonian conception of a linear clock time, and instead highlight that time in the social world is both a technique and a product of puzzling, powering and meaning-making practices. Time, in this conception, is the continuous emergence of novelty, as expressed in Bergson’s famous image of time as ‘durée’. At the heart of these different strands lies the recognition that the world is, in the words of social theorist William Connolly, ‘a world of becoming’: a world which is not determined by a natural ‘flow of time’, but which is contingent upon the concurrence of complex open systems, both human and non-human, that intersect in hard to predict ways spawning unpredictable emergent outcomes.

The corresponding question for political science is what kind of governance and policy (analysis) is required if we take the emergent, open, evolving, interconnected, ambiguous, and unpredictable nature of the world seriously. Acknowledging the inevitability of an emergent reality compels politicians, administrators and professionals to rethink the fundamental parameters of their respective disciplines, bringing themes such as time, complexity, agency, interconnectedness, relationality, participatory democracy, ethics and practice into new creative assemblages of collective action. In political science in general and policy analysis in particular, we are thus in need of research which focuses on how temporalities and social and political realities emerge interdependently. To substantially investigate the intersection of temporality, complexity and policy practices, a systematic dialogue is required which brings together the conceptual repertoire and empirical insights of interpretive scholarship with time-centred social theory in order to understand the complexity of our world. It is this overarching aim the proposed section wants to address.

We invite panels and papers that enable us to rethink the above challenges and any of the associated themes as they figure in the human sciences in general and in policy analysis in particular. For example,
- What are the possibilities and challenges of the broad field of time-centred social theory for conceptualising the policy process?
- What does it mean for policy analysis that time cannot be reduced to a natural and objective force flowing independently from anything else, but is to be seen as a product of puzzling, powering and meaning-making practices?
- What is the role of practice in harnessing complexity and emergent time? What strategies do practitioners use to navigate the continuous emergence of novelty?
- How can time be fruitfully integrated into joint inquiry to understand the past, shape the present, and imagine the future?
- How do we research and what are the consequences of the rhythms of (democratic) political order for collective action?
- What are the modes of governing in time, by time and of time (i.e. time as medium, resource and object of governing)?
- How do we conceptualize and analyse the political constitution, coordination, conflicts and consequences of temporal orders and timescapes?
- How do we research and act on the sources and challenges of acceleration and (de)synchronization across levels, sectors and areas of governing?
- What kind of democratic governance fits a world becoming?
- How does an ethics that honours interconnectedness and emergent quality look like and how can it inform joint inquiry and collective action?

The key questions given above are derived from core themes of current research on time and temporality in public policy analysis. Based on these core questions potential panels could focus on - but are not limited to - the following topics:
- Time-centred social theory and the policy process: concepts and theoretical challenges.
- Puzzling, powering and meaning-making: the role of practice in an emergent world.
- Rhythms and temporal implications of democracy and democratic deliberation.
- Governing and administration in time, by time and of time.
- Ordering time: temporal orders and timescapes in policy practice.
- Changes in political time: acceleration and (de-)synchronization.
- Rearticulating the past, expanding the present, colonizing the future: practices and consequences of anticipatory governance.
- Ethics, norms and values in a world of becoming.

Thus, the section would in principle appeal to all theoretical and methodological strands within (interpretive) policy analysis (including STS and related fields) and provide the room for bringing together the different strands around the notions of temporality and complexity. Although we certainly welcome panels and papers on methods, the above questions cast a wider conceptual net than just methodology. A focus on methods often functions as a denial of the challenges that a world of becoming sets the (human) sciences. In Charles Taylor’s phrase, we must try to move “beyond epistemology”. Methods panels and papers thus must have a conceptual ‘edge’ that clearly fits the thematic of the section.

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"To govern is to choose" - Duc de Lévis

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