Temporal Injustices at Work and Democratic De-consolidation

Chi KWOK (Presenter)

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


In recent years, political theorists have been increasingly attentive to the unequal distribution of temporal resources among social groups. The growing talk of “work-life balance” indicates that the logic of utilizing time for production beyond human limits is a general phenomenon. But not all groups suffer from the time pressure equally. Robert Goodin et al. (2008) were among the first to point out that the distribution of “discretionary time”, time not spending on bodily, economic, and social necessities, varies significantly across different social groups in different regimes – people in liberal welfare regimes are suffering more than people in social democratic regimes. Nichole Shippen (2014) calls for the “decolonization of time” from the logic of capitalism. She argues that overwork is an innate logic of capitalism and the solution to which lies at the transformation of capitalism to a production system in which “the social use, meaning, organization, and experience of time” are governed by the needs of human beings rather than the needs of capital (Shippen, 2014, p.2). Echoing Goodin and Shippen, Julie Rose (2016) emphasizes that liberal proceduralists fail to see that time is not a specific good that can be compensated for by higher monetary reward, but a general good that is of its own importance for effectively realizing social and political freedom.

Nonetheless, these recent works, despite their importance in drawing our attention to the distinctive role of free time and the reduction of work time as a solution to overwork, have not sufficiently explored how common forms of temporal control, such as night work, weekend work, split shift, last-minute call-in and send-home, as well as flextime, impact employee’s well-being and freedom. This paper, building on the recent work of the normative time literature in political theory, argues that the patterning of free time is of equal significance to the quantity of free time. The paper problematizes the direct connection between freedom and free time, arguing that unless free time satisfies certain qualitative criteria, including (1) social rhythm, (2) time-consciousness, (3) certainty, and (4) continuity, it might not enhance workers’ freedom. By extension, the paper further argues that forms of temporal control that require workers to constantly work a non-standard schedule without due non-monetary forms of compensation are unjust in that these workers’ free time is much less valuable to them as compared to the free time of workers of standard schedule. Besides the value of free time, non-standard schedule also imposes serious health risk to workers and health-related negative spill-over effects on their free utilization free time. More importantly, from a democratic perspective, the growing trend of the non-standard schedule will erode what I call “democratic temporal infrastructure”, which provides the necessary temporal synchronization of individual schedules for collective actions, as the trend of non-standard schedule undermines potential bridging networks due to the rising uncertainties of individual schedules and increasing cost of temporal coordination.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2020
Event116th American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting and Exhibition : Democracy, Difference, and Destabilization - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 10 Sept 202013 Sept 2020


Conference116th American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting and Exhibition : Democracy, Difference, and Destabilization
Abbreviated title2020 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Francisco


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