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Les Bonnes Feuilles du PIRVILLES

Lines of sociological analysis of times policies in the city

Paper presented at the conference “Urban Temporalities”, Paris 17-18/01-1997.
Carmen Belloni

Texte intégral

1. Innovative elements

1.1. The city

1Interest in the city as a subject of study: the city is defined as an administrative and government unit, a morphological unit, a unit of identification.

2Definition of the city as a social entity: the city not only as an administrative and/or planning unit, but also as the result of the needs and behaviours of inhabitants and of city users.

3Analytical definition of the population: the citizens not as an undifferentiated unit, but as a plurality of actors characterized by different needs, different images of the city, different expectations, etc.

4Reconsideration of functions, restrictions and opportunities: the city is reinterpreted in the light of standpoints that are not “central” (male-adult-worker) in relation to functions, such as that of women, as subjects forced to reconcile productive and nurturing functions, or children, non-productive subjects, non-independent, spatially constricted, and the elderly, non-productive, partially dependent.

5Determination of the elementary unit of the city: the reference unit is “cittizensized”,~ that is, such as can be included in the sphere of perception and interactions (the ideal-typical city in this sense are the small and medium sized town ; the metropolis is seen as the sum of units with such characteristics.

1.2. Time

6Time: time is taken as a privileged variable in setting up the analysis on the city and the related policy proposals ; time in daily life is given particular consideration.

7Time and social equality: time used in organizing daily life is an indicator of inequalities (in particular gender inequalities) present in the city ; the hours of services (in particular of public ones) are an indicator of the dysfunction and lack of liveability of the city.

8Private time/public time: the analysis of behaviours and of daily needs brings to light the extent and conformation of times - including commitment and work times - that subjects and families must deal with, and that are usually invisible; on the contrary, in the light of this situation, their social relevance and the need to target public policies are recognized.

9Systemic integration of times and spaces: time and space are considered to be closely interlinked, to the extent that particular configurations of one dimension influence the other, and are able to direct subjects' behaviours as well as their choices ; in Consequence any intervention taken by the local government must also be evaluated in terms of times and time-tables, and vice versa.

10Flexibility: in opposition to the rigidity of the time-tables that regulate institutions and organizations, to which subjects must adapt the organization of their lives, the principle of flexibility is proposed, in terms of negotiations starting from needs.

1.3. Local government - public administration - citizens

11Visibility and importance of local power: the municipal administration, strengthened on the decision-making plane and on that of stability, and tending to acquire increasing independence, re-launches a “strong” idea of belonging to the city, aiming at elements of identification and livableness, often translated into a “project for the city”.

12Planning approach to policies: the different interventions on times and time-tables respond to, and are integrated with, a social project for the city - drawn up after consideration of its particular “vocations”, whether traditional or to be developed.

13Improving relations between public administration and citizens: the aim is to lessen the distance between public power and daily life, so that citizens take part in the decisions, and to increase knowledge of their needs. This change of approach involves three fields of commitment.

14Increased efficiency of services (also redefining the functions and responsibility of public employees), which is the critical factor on which the credibility of the institution rests, and which makes possible the citizens' trust.

15Potentiating communication, which becomes the unavoidable channel on which the relationship is founded, bringing communications technology into line with the segment of the population to whom it is targeted, and in any case making extensive recourse to computer technologies.

16Soliciting the citizens' participation, so as to replace the passive attitude towards public decisions, social services etc. with a propositive approach and with involvement.

17Local characterization of legislation: the great originality of these policies lies in the adhesion to a general trend founded on the citizens' re-appropriation of their own time as a move towards making the city more liveable, which nevertheless takes different concrete forms depending on the specific local situation.

2. Risks

2.1. Time

18Weakening social rhythms: an excessive potentiation of the flexibility might cause the loss of those rhythms that give identity to the city and that produce a regulation that subjects and social groups can easily assimilate; in particular, the day/night, work-day/day-off, activity/rest alternations might be lost.

19Anxiety-producing conditions: the increase in flexibility, the consequent interruption in the flow of social time, the non-uniform determination of urban rhythms, face the citizens with the need to make continuous choices and subject them to overload of responsibility that may generate anxiety.

2.2. Social actors

20Contrast of interests: the gaining of flexibility and the attention given to differentiated time-related needs involve a clash between contrasting interests, and in particular throw light on the conflict of interests between suppliers of services and users.

21Subordination of policies to the most active pressure groups: the organization of the daily life in the city, coming to be influenced to a tangible extent by the reflection on times and time-tables, risks being redefined in an imbalanced way on

22the basis of the needs of particular segments of the population (in this case, favouring the position of women of central age, within family groups).

2.3. Public administration

23Reduction of the drive to potentiate some services: an excessive insistence on the co-participation of citizens in the management of certain needs (such as for example in the time banks) may decrease the local administration's commitment to potentiate some service structures.

24Standardization of interventions and policies: the creation of a market related to the demand/supply of time policies for the city may generate policy proposals that do not respect specific local characteristics or needs relating to particular segments of the population.

25Loss of specific local features: the eventuality of an increased formalization of intervention policies within a national system of regulations may risk loss of vitality of proposals and interventions, no longer sustained by local drives and specific situations.

3. Deficiencies, delays

3.1. Local/globaI

26Closed local attitudes: since the proposals arise within the context of local problems, rarely is it possible to link them to more general and external contexts, indeed, they have been characterized just as the revival of local policies, arising from the needs of the day-to-day situation.

27Poor integration between local initiatives: except in very few cases there is only a weak thrust to put in place integrated interventions, including at a super-municipal level, to address problems concerning contiguous areas and neighbouring towns, or to coordinate initiatives taken separately.

3.2. Social actors

28Little attention to multi-culturalism: since the Western culture and the family are given most attention, other strongly time-related approaches and needs of different social actors are given little consideration. These may include members of other cultures, subjects not belonging to family groups, etc.

29Lack of interest for city user’s: the population that is the subject of policies is that of the citizens, whereas in general, except in very few cases, the problems of the populations who use the city for limited periods or on an occasional basis are not taken into consideration.

30Little dialogue with other institutional actors: the commitment is particularly concentrated on potentiating the communications axis between citizens (including through various non-professional and professional associations) and the local administration, whereas attempts to put in place stable links of collaboration with institutional actors, such as the university or local business communities, are poorly developed or non-existent.

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Carmen Belloni, « Lines of sociological analysis of times policies in the city », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Dossiers, mis en ligne le 12 avril 1996, consulté le 13 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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