[lbo-talk] Why Is America So Violent?

James Heartfield Heartfield at blueyonder.co.uk
Sat May 12 13:50:59 PDT 2007

Doug Henwood wrote:

> There was a thread about this a month or two ago - it's looking like
>the time crunch hypothesis is way overblown. Americans have quite a
>bit of leisure time - 4 or 5 hours a day.

And Joanna replied

"I'm really not sure about that. ...I was ...my mom ... my dad ...I now ... I work ...I also ...so, no, I don't get much leisure time, and I don't watch TV at all."

This sounds really snotty, but it is not meant to be, honest. But one of the things about time use studies is not only that they are averages, but also that people's subjective perception of the pressures on their time are quite at odds with their objective conditions. Now, let me start by saying, that Joanna is obviously not a thoughtless reporter of her own experience, but the questions come in as to whether one can extrapolate from that experience.

But also, many less thoughtful researchers, such as Madeleine Bunting (Willing Slaves, read Ricahrd Reeves review: http://www.newstatesman.com/200406280042 ) and Piero Basso [?] (Modern Times, Ancient Hours) have drawn all sorts of unsupportable conclusions about working hours and domestic work that are simply unsupported by the evidence. Many people when polled report that they experience much greater time pressures, but when we look at their hours worked, and time spent on domestic work, these are, on the average, rather less squeezed that their parents' generation.

The British Time Studies' expert Jonathan Gershuny has dwelt long on the problem of why people report much worse time pressures than they actually seem to experience. His answer is that leisure pursuits are more commodified, better crafted, more extensive, more numerous, and therefore more insistent in their claims on your time, simply creating another demand on you alongside paid work and domestic work. (Cross-national Changes in Time-use: some Sociological (Hi)stories Re-examined. Oriel Sullivan, Jonathan Gershuny, 2001)

There is however, another explanation, which I derive from David Wainwright's book Work Stress, which suggests that there is also a social trend that alters our subjective experience of work pressures. Wainwright says that we are subjectively more fragile, and experience pressures on time and performance much more acutely than our parents' generation. (Wainwright gives an extensive explanation of why this might be, dwelling on the diminution of social networks that help us deal with problems.) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Work-Stress-Making-Modern-Epidemic/dp/0335207073/ref=sr_1_1/202-1546206-3443818?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179002908&sr=8-1

I think this Wainwright's thesis gives a good explanation why the subjective experience of work pressure is more acute, while objectively conditions are better, rather than worse.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list