Colley, Helen (2011) Time, space and ethics: thinking through Marx. In: Summer Institute in Qualitative Research, 18th – 22nd July 2011, Manchester, UK. (Unpublished)

The first decade of the 21st century has brought neither ‘the end of history’, nor the creation of greater social justice. Instead, it has continued to produce sharp increases in social and economic inequalities, major crises in the capitalist system, and war across the globe. At home, the Con-Dem coalition government has embarked on a severe ‘austerity’ drive, warning that ‘life as we know it’ will change beyond recognition. It is no wonder that many activists and scholars around the world are returning to Marx’s original thought to understand these developments and potential responses to them. One immediate concern in times of austerity is the impact of drastic funding cutbacks on the ethics of practice in education and other human service work, creating tensions that are all too often lived as intolerable stresses by practitioners. This keynote lecture discusses Marxist understandings of time, perhaps best known in David Harvey’s work on time-space. In contrast to dominant philosophical notions of time as an external backdrop to human action, these ideas help us to see that time is generated by human practice rather than just a context for it. Moreover, time is generated in different registers which – under capitalism – inevitably compete, and are therefore deeply connected with ethics. Until now, Marxist theory on time has largely been applied in the male-dominated space of commodity production. However, it has great potential relevance in the predominantly female space of social reproduction work, such as education and other human services. Weaving together the threads of time, space and ethics, then, how can we understand possibilities of opening up time-spaces of resistance?