Week 3: Thinking About Time and Space
“Their social idiom is a bovine idiom”
Idiom: A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not
deducible from those of the individual words (eg. raining cats and dogs”);
-A form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people “he
had a feeling for phrase and idiom”;
-The dialect of a people or part of a country
-A characteristic mode of expression
The Nuer tend to define all social processes and relationships in terms of
cattle. Nor is Nuer interest in cattle confined to their practical and social
functions. The over-emphasis on cattle is thus strikingly shown in
language---whatever the subject of speech it is expressed in terms of cattle
as the superlative value of Nuer life.
The Nuer are willing to fight for their cattle: Cattle were the primary source
of friction with the colonial government.
Raiding for cattle was a condition that shaped their character, economy, and
Clay soils, flat, thinly wooded, high grasses, heavy rainfalls followed by
draught—a severe ecology suitable to transhumant adaptation of the
Pg 55, E-P asks “To what extent are the Nuer controlled by their
environment as herdsmen, fishermen and gardeners?”
- The herds and environment shape mode of life.
- Land is better suited to herding than agriculture - Climate necessitates nomadic movement
o Floods-head to higher grounds
o Draughts-head to flood plains seeking water for cattle.
o Fire grasses to promote new shoots of grass
o Small herds –splitting up - prevents over-grazing during the
Camps and villages
Villages protect against floods and mosquitoes-practice
agriculture, millet farming, corn and beans.
Camps- fishing – herding
Time and Space
Concepts of time and space are values – but one of many possible
responses. Our humanity lies in this sort of variability – our
adaptations are not simply organic and or instinctual – they are
mediated by cultural practices: Creative, learned socially- they belong
to structural principles which belong to a different order of reality.
WE ARE CULTURAL
What gives us “common sense” is society, our shared understanding
of the world based on what we have been taught.
So stop, visualize. Draw a map of Nuer land, and then add in the temporal,
cyclical, annual activities.
(Two students went to the chalkboard. One visualized the rainy
season, one the dry season)
Diet well balanced, but there is no surplus, thus a high value on
sharing. The division of labour directly related to social relations.
** Ecology influences social relations but does not over-determine all
aspects of social life in a simple fashion.
P 94: E-P “partly dependent on it and partly existing in its own right’ Ecological Time – An annual cycle based on our yearly activities:
dependent on environment and livelihood.
Tot-Rains Ruon – Draught
March-Sept Sept- March
Clear land-Plant Fishing
Elders harvest Youth fish and take herds
Fire the bush
E-P “It is the activities themselves, chiefly of an economic kind,
which are basic to the system and furnish most of its units and
notations, and the passage of time is perceived in the relation of
activities to one another”. (102).
104. E-P “There is a point at which we can say that time concepts
cease to be determined by ecological factors and become more
determined by interrelations, being no longer a reflection of man’s
dependence on nature, but a reflection of the interaction of social
Because people measure time according to events of significance to
that group: TIME IS RELATIVE TO STRUCTURAL SPACE,
• Humans have kinship because it’s a way of reproducing
• Religion is a way of dealing with the unknown
• Structural functionalism is the first move into a more complex
idea of human societies
o What are the constitutional parts of a society and how d