Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

In Sync: How Synchronisation and Mediation Produce Collective Times, Then and Now


Former 2018/2019 Social Sciences - Law


Living in a society means doing and experiencing things together. Collectives are formed by people performing similar or related actions at the same time, in sync, so to speak. Synchronised collective actions and experiences include political elections, sports events, demonstrations, parades, as well as other public rituals or performances; however, they are by no means limited to these kinds of spectacular happenings. On the contrary, all forms of social action are in some way or another based on collective and synchronised times. But these synchronised collective times do not exist in and by themselves. They are always the result of work, and this work crucially involves and employs a wide range of communicative genres carried by different media.

This discovery of the link between synchronisation and mediation represents the starting point of the project In Sync, as well as its research goal: During its stay at CAS, the project aims to explore and explain how social collectives are constituted through mediated synchronisation, by which different and often conflicting time frames and temporal regimes are adjusted and adapted in order to form a collective and shared time. This work of synchronisation takes place within or across social and cultural contexts by means of a set of media, both printed and electronic, both analogue and digital. The close connection between synchronisation and mediation will be studied both across time, from the 18th century until today, and across space, in different cultural and geographic contexts. Broadly situated within the interpretive humanities and social sciences, the project is interdisciplinary, with an emphasis on cultural/conceptual history, media studies, and ethnography.

An international group of researchers from Scandinavia, the US, and Germany will be hosted by CAS during the 2018/19 academic year, complemented by associated junior researchers. A wider range of researchers will also be drawn on during a kickoff seminar and final conference, as well as an ongoing research seminar. Research outcomes will be published via publications that include a themed section of the journal Theory and Society, and a volume in Berghahn's interdisciplinary book series Time and the World. The project leaders also aim to host seminars with non-profit Norwegian actors and write op-eds in national newspapers.

End Report

The main achievement of the project was to develop a new and innovative format for doing interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences. What the project offered at the outset, was in many ways similar to the set up for an experiment: A number of hypotheses and conceptual tools were tested in a series of different ‘controlled environments’, which in our case meant sets of historical materials, including texts, things, visual representations etc. We wanted to figure out how these materials could be explored in their own right, and at the same time, how they could be linked to each other, in the ways they produce collective times by use of media.

On the most general and abstract level, it would be fair to say that the most significant and valuable achievement of the project was to find ways of completing this experiment, in a way that had major impact both on the exploration of the different case studies and for the overarching questions of the project. In our weekly seminars, punctuated by expanded workshops and conferences, and accompanied by constant writing on the part of all the participants, the experiment produced findings, which the individual members of the project, but also luckily, the project as a collective will continue to work on for years to come. To have this effect on the work and career of a group of scholars is probably the best a project such as InSync can strive for. This part of the project will be documented in the common book project, titled Infrastructures of Time, that we started working on towards in the spring of 2019, when we could meaningfully gauge where our experiment was taking us.

Our main hypothesis when embarking upon this project, was that in the production of shared social times in different historical contexts, media come to play a significant, even decisive role, to the extent that without understanding the changes in media technologies and formats we will be at a loss at understanding how the times we live by come into being. In inter-disciplinary terms, we wanted to investigate how historical methods, focusing on textual and non-textual source material, could be combined with media analytical approaches to study the production of social time. In theoretical and conceptual terms, we wanted to explore the uses and applicability of the concept of “synchronization”, of people, behaviours, things, and technologies being “in sync” or “out of sync”, in order to understand how the time governing societies take shape.

Our first main finding through all the empirical and theoretical work that we completed, in seminars, workshops, and in writing at our desks, was that the role of media in the production of shared synchronized time was even more pervasive than we thought. In other words, we discovered a continuity in the ways social times come into being. By framing all the different representations in terms of media and mediation, we were able to study the long lines of what we ended up referring to as “the work of synchronization”.

Our second main finding did indeed have to do with the idea of work. To produce and sustain shared synchronized time in a society, small or large, involves a large amount of work, on the part of the people who take an interest in the existence and operation of a particular form of time: textual work, technological work, visual work etc. And where there is work, effort, and resources there is also power, competition, and even violence, which came to the fore in several of our case studies, studying mining on Greenland, engineering in Holland, or the representation of aging women in popular culture.

Our third main finding is a conceptual one. In order to organize, categorize, and hierarchize the forms of synchronization that we could observe in our historical material, we needed to start thinking about scale. About how time is scaled and indeed scalable – from the extremely long and slow times of geology to the extremely imperceptibly short times of computing, and indeed everything in-between. What we could observe was how conflicts between different times often coincided with conflicts between different time-scales, and how problems of synchronization often arose from the fact that the times to be synchronized operated on different levels.

Finally, our fourth main finding – which was probably also an effect of the larger social and historical context of our year at CAS – had to do with nature, and changing natures. There was no way the research group could close itself off from the on-going discussion of climate change. The Anthropocene, and humans as a geological agent – to the extent that times of nature, or as we call it in the Toppforsk-project Lifetimes, which is the continuation of CAS, became much more dominant in our thinking about mediation and synchronization than we might have imagined at the outset. On all levels, we became aware of how the production of collective social and political times often engaged, and supressed or excluded, the times of nature, and indeed, how nature itself, in terms or the tide and the weather, could function as a timekeeper that we ignore at our peril.

The year at CAS was only the first of a five-year Toppforsk project entitled Lifetimes: A Natural History of the Present. It is financed by the Norwegian Research Council and the University of Oslo, and led by professor Helge Jordheim. It gives us the opportunity to keep reaping the rich rewards of our ten months at CAS in the years to come. We would also like to mention that CAS fellow Bodhidsattva Chattopadhyay, who used the CAS year to explore the temporalities of science fiction, has now been awarded an ERC Starting Grant with his project Cofutures: Pathways to Possible Presents, whose temporal themes are directly linked to those of his CAS sojourn.


  • Bjordal, Sine Halkjelsvik
    PhD Candidate University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Borgesius, Leonoor Zuiderveen
    PhD Candidate University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Bowker, Geoffrey
    Professor University of California, Irvine 2018/2019
  • Chattopadhyay, Bodhisattva
    Researcher University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Ericson, Staffan
    Associate Professor Södertörn University 2018/2019
  • Eriksen, Thomas Hylland
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Faldalen, Jon Inge
    Lecturer University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Hölscher, Lucian
    Professor Em. Ruhr-University Bochum 2018/2019
  • Issa, Rana
    Assistant Professor American University of Beirut 2018/2019
  • Jacobsen, Stine Alling
    PhD Candidate University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019
  • Jerslev, Anne
    Professor University of Copenhagen 2018/2019
  • Ling, Rich
    Professor Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 2018/2019
  • Peters, John Durham
    Professor Yale University 2018/2019
  • Tanaka, Stefan
    Professor University of California, San Diego 2018/2019
  • Wigen, Einar
    Associate Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 2018/2019

Previous events


Group leader

  • Helge Jordheim

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2018/2019
  • Espen Ytreberg

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2018/2019