PERSONAL TIME CAPITAL IN THE DIGITAL SOCIETY: AN ALTERNATIVE LOOK AT SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AMONG THREE GENERATIONS OF HIGHLY SKILLED PROFESSIONALS IN ESTONIA.

Author:Kalmus, Veronika
  1. Introduction

    Waves of social transformation and technological innovation have entailed profound changes in various dimensions of temporality, particularly social and personal time. A significant turn in such developments was proposed by theorists of the information society interested in fundamental changes in spatial and temporal organization of the world induced by the penetration of digital technologies in all spheres of the global network society (e.g. Castells 1996). More recent theoretical elaborations have focused on problems related to acceleration of social time, time-space compression and (de)synchronization, offering models and critical insights concerning social, psychological and political implications of the speeding up of these processes, reaching beyond the capacity of human control and self-regulation (e.g. Muckenberger 2011, Rosa 2013). Specifically, a critical sociological perspective stresses that the increasing pace of technological advancements contributes to a climate of 'social acceleration' (Rosa 2013), from which different social groups may benefit to a different extent (Wajcman 2015). Moreover, individual variation in technological skills, networking capabilities and adaptation to the increasing complexity and pace of life may create new forms of social stratification. For example, Vihalemm and Lauristin (2017) have introduced a time-bound social stratification model based on two dimensions of agency: 1) the capability of converting 'individual time capital' into other types of capital, as conceptualized by Preda (2013); 2) the capability of coping with societal changes and social acceleration. Furthermore, their empirical analysis has demonstrated that 'time-use capability'--the efficiency of converting individual time capital into economic, social, cultural, symbolic and human capital, and vice versa--has implications on individuals' quality of life and well-being, including health (Vihalemm and Lauristin 2017).

    We presume, firstly, that the emerging issues of time-based social stratification and 'time justice' (Muckenberger 2011) evoke cultural negotiations of time use and potential power struggles over unequal distribution of time capital, first and foremost, within the institutional contents, which serve as a motor of, while being most affected by, technological and social innovations and the intensification of the speeding-up processes. This paper, therefore, focuses on a particular social segment--highly educated professionals who are often among the first to experience rapid technological changes and the increasing acceleration of work life. We will look more specifically into educational and academic sphere, on which the shifting and often contentious global social and technological changes put ever new demands (Allmer 2018).

    Our study, by combining theoretical insights from sociology, media and communication studies and critical university studies, aims to offer a quantitative description of highly educated professionals as more or less successfully coping with technological and social acceleration in terms of time-use capability. Further, we endeavour to provide a qualitative understanding of time and acceleration related subjective experiences and perceptions of professionals employed in the field of research and education.

    Secondly, we assume that generational and life-course related features play a significant role in determining how highly educated professionals as social actors deal with new temporal pressures and challenges. Our study takes the point of departure in the generation theory by Mannheim (1952 [1927/1928]) and the concept of 'generational time' introduced by Corsten (1999). According to these conceptual benchmarks, a social generation comes into actuality when the people united by 'their time' share certain 'basic intentions' and/or 'principles of construction', which "serve as a framework of orientation towards their collective opportunity structure of experienced events" (Corsten 1999: 255). Further, according to Mannheim, the young are always the first age cohort to experience new social conditions during their formative years: they have 'fresh contacts' with the emerging phenomena, enabling the young generation to negotiate their ways while adjusting to a new social context. To test these theoretical assumptions, we pay special attention to age / generation as a social category both in quantitative and qualitative analysis.

    Estonia serves as a highly suitable case for our analytic purposes: technological advancement, particularly digitalization, has been a government priority and one of the central symbols of the rapidly changing society, leading to a widely held perception of the country as one of the leading e-states (Runnel et al. 2009). Paradoxically, however, Estonia still lacks a comprehensive policy perspective on work-related problems brought along by digital technologies. For example, discussions on psychosocial health risks associated with workplace digitalization have only recently been initiated on the policy level. (1) Furthermore, as a post-socialist country in the northeast of Europe, Estonia recently experienced radical political and social changes, and is still undergoing intense and partly conflicting transformational processes (Lauristin and Vihalemm 2009).

  2. The speeding-up of social time

    Our study focuses on practices and perceptions related to one of the main dimensions of the life-world (Schutz and Luckmann 1974)--time; seen in this paper as the individual positioning in the sequence of events, and from the perspective of subjective experiences and social interactions. At the societal level, we understand time as a set of imaginaries that different groups have (Vihalemm et al. forthcoming). For some, time accelerates, for others, not so substantially; some are more eager to initiate changes, others try to slow down any changes of an existing process.

    A suitable conceptual connection between different approaches to temporal changes is Rosa's (2013) interpretation of modernity. Rosa defines the contemporary reality by increasing speed, high rates of innovation, and perpetual movement towards 'progress'. He and co-authors (2017) state that the normal mode of any modern society is active and changing: "it needs (material) growth, (technological) augmentation and high rates of (cultural) innovation in order to reproduce its structure and to preserve the socioeconomic and political status quo in terms of its functionality and its basic institutional and distributional order" (Rosa et al. 2017: 54, emphasis in original). Their critique signals that such dynamic stability is rather shaky, involving constant expansion and accumulation to maintain competitiveness. The so-called escalatory logic thus stands on economic, cultural, and social acceleration, feeding these 'self-propelling processes' of change. The consequences, according to Rosa (2013: 71-80) are technical acceleration (the advancement and adoption of new technologies) and the general speeding-up of the pace of life. Rosa (2013: 152) points out a paradox: it is expected that technological development favours faster and smoother completion of tasks and frees time for other activities. The result is often the opposite: the norm of acceleration urges people to take the maximum out of every opportunity in life, to do more things in a faster way--often simultaneously. Taking the advantage of the increased place-and-time flexibility may lead to fragmentation and shortage of time (Zherebin et al. 2015). Therefore, from the cultural and social perspective, acceleration manifests itself in the ever-growing complexity of relationships and processes, creating contradictory effects in society.

  3. Acceleration in neoliberal academia

    The implications of social acceleration are visible in different institutional contexts. Academia, usually seen "as intellectual space and community of scholars, rather than workplace" (Allmer 2018: 49), has, under the current logic of global capitalism, become driven by the idea of market efficiency. Such developments, ascribed to the neoliberal rationality, have evoked a new wave of academic criticism--critical university studies (Williams 2012). In this counter-discourse, various causes and effects are explored: globalization, innovation, corporatization, academic labour, structural inequalities, and professional values. In particular, the primacy of the project-based operational logic has charged academics with consistent individual responsibility to struggle for research funds, being as productive as possible. Such a phenomenon has been conceptualised as 'projectification' (Cicmil et al. 2016, Hodgson and Cicmil 2006), referring to the logic of dividing large tasks into smaller units--short-term projects--to control, measure and evaluate the results and worthwhileness of the whole endeavour more effectively. Lindgren and Packendorff (2006: 112) define projectification as a multi-faceted concept under the management discourse legitimating project-based work as "a task-specific and time-limited form of working". The dominance of marketization under the prevailing conditions of capitalism (Nies and Sauer 2018: 60), closely and causally linked to projectification, create new forms of power governed by measuring and audits, indicators and algorithms (Shore and Wright 2015) as well as the subjective feeling of the accelerating life on a personal as well as professional level. When discussing the changing situation in the field of education and science, Davies and Petersen (2005: 77) even state that "universities and individual academics are made into entrepreneurs", generating a "risk of undermining the very source of knowledge production that they are intended to promote".

    The changing structures of time in academia (Vostal 2016) have a complex relationship with the knowledge production that takes place in the context of digitalization, making...

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