Time and Power in Organizations
Earlier this month, I facilitated a workshop at the University of Geneva on the theme "Time and Power in Organizations". The aim of this short training session was to bring the participants (e.g., school managers and school leaders) to critically reflect on the temporal dimensions of their everyday practice. The main goal was to bring them to take some distance with their daily conflicting experience with time (e.g., stress related to the burden of e-mails, conflicting agendas) to interpret it not only as a matter of 'time management', but also as a key expression of the power dynamics they experience on a daily basis (with students, teachers, colleagues and the hierarchy) and a locus for developing their own agency.
Experiencing temporal constraints
Our discussion was mostly based on the descriptions of participants' experience of "temporal constraints" (Alhadeff-Jones, 2017). Such an experience suggests that one's activity may be experienced as confined, bounded, restricted or put under tension due to the influence of specific rhythms, such as physical and natural ones (e.g., alternance day-night, seasons), biological ones (e.g., digestion, sleep), psychological ones (e.g., recurring moods or behaviors), or social rhythms (e.g., routines, programs, calendars implemented by an institution or a group of people).
Identifying rhythmic patterns of activity
As we were navigating the temporal tensions experienced by those professionals, the strategic importance of identifying rhythmic patterns of activity was emerging. Thus, our conversation evolved from the initial identification of conflicts existing for instance between the school calendar (August to June), the administrative calendar (January to December) and the political calendar (pluri-annual), to a more detailed analysis of situations involving regular patterns of activities, such as agressive behaviors between children.
The Christmas tree syndrome
At some point, the discussion revolved around what a participant nick-named the "Christmas tree syndrome" which he referred to the significant tensions that raise between children toward the end of the year, and often result in violent behaviors at school. From a rhythmical perspective, this syndrome demonstrates the cumulative effects associated with heterogeneous rhythms (physiological, cultural, financial, school-related, and natural-environmental) participating to a specific momentum toward the Christmas period, as experienced in school:
Increased tiredness building up at the eve of the vacation period;
Raising tensions emerging within some families regarding the economical burden of Christmas;
Increased rivalry between children at school regarding specific gifts expectations;
Disappointment among some students who received weak results at the end of the first grading period;
Changes in weather (e.g., snow) affecting moods and behaviors.
The awareness demonstrated by some of those professionals regarding the recurrence of this 'syndrome' constitutes a first step to envision the prevention of agressive behaviors from a rhythmic perspective. When discussed, phenomena such as tiredness, economical disparities, rivalries between children, school results, or environmental influences do not appear as 'revolutionary' dimensions to consider. They are part of the everyday life in schools. However, when considered through their rhythmic features and the fact that they display cumulative effects, they demonstrate another dimension: they are inscribed in a specific temporality. Such a fact is congruent with existing research in chronopsychology (e.g., Testu, 2008), showing for instance that behaviors such as bullying evolve through specific rhythms.
Anticipation and regulation of rhythmic behaviors as empowering strategies
What appears at first as an unavoidable feature of the end-of-the-year period can also be interpreted as the consequence of a movement that evolves through time and that can be therefore anticipated and regulated. Sure, nobody can control rain or snow, and their physiological effects on children's body and mind. Economical disparities, exhaustion and family dynamics seem also out of reach for school practitioners. Similarly, the definition of the grading periods is a matter of policy that cannot be changed by teachers or managers. Taken separately, each of those phenomena does not systematically burst into violent behaviors. Violence may occur when there is a cumul of tensions at a specific time of the year.
If the experience of violence constitutes a crucial expression of power dynamics in school, then the rhythmic awareness of how it may evolve through time constitutes a critical instrument for school management and empowerment. Because such temporalities are known and because their effects can be anticipated, their understanding constitutes a key resource to consider when violence prevention becomes a matter of reflection within an organization. They may become explicit topics of conversation and even raise discussions between teachers and students.
Work remains to be done in order to conceive how such a rhythmic awareness can be promoted and how it relates to other aspects of life in schools.
What about your own rhythmic awareness?
Are you aware of specific rhythmic patterns of activity that determine your professional life and responsibilities? What are they? When do they occur? What kinds of rhythm do they involve? How do you learn to anticipate them? Can they be regulated?
Are you aware of references or articles around the topic of violence prevention and temporality?
Feel free to post your comments below and share your experience and knowledge around this topic.