Cover: A Time for Every Purpose: Law and the Balance of Life, from Harvard University PressCover: A Time for Every Purpose in HARDCOVER

A Time for Every Purpose

Law and the Balance of Life

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Product Details


$29.50 • £23.95 • €26.50

ISBN 9780674009103

Publication Date: 10/18/2002


240 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches


What do blue laws, daylight savings time, the 40-hour work week, and the compulsory school year have in common? In A Time for Every Purpose Todd Rakoff argues that this patchwork of laws shapes how we think about time. Unfortunately, he says, they no longer do a very good job of ensuring people can balance their work and personal lives. As Rakoff shows in this curious little book, the modern construction of time doesn’t have a very long history… Offering realistic suggestions for fixing these time imbalances proves more difficult than merely detailing the problem. Rakoff reasonably says the law must create more mechanisms to balance work time and other responsibilities.—Seth Stern, The Christian Science Monitor

Todd Rakoff argues that temporal ‘rhythms’ like daylight savings time are important for society. Whether by cultural tradition or by law, establishing boundaries to activities, such as the five-day work week vs. the weekend, or the nine-month school year allowed by summer vacation, helps people give structure and meaning to their lives… Rakoff has no quarrels with basic rules such as time zones, he warns the reader that it’s a mistake to let ‘dominant social forces,’ namely big business, always determine how time is allocated.—J. Williams Gibson, The Dallas Morning News

A first-ever book about the law’s regulation of time. Rakoff investigates a number of for-instances—such as the creation of time zones, Sunday closing laws, the length of the work week, school attendance—and argues that the weakening regulation of time has lessened communal solidarity and made more elusive the goal of a balanced life.Harvard Magazine

Though we usually take time schedules, calendars, and even how we measure time as givens, Rakoff explores the variety of social choices involved in regulating time—and the risk that some choices will no longer be available, as 24/7 replaces the rhythms separating work and home, week and weekend, and secular and religious time. Crucially, this illuminating and original book demonstrates that the problem with time is not that there is not enough of it; but rather that there are not enough structures to permit coordination with others. The book thereby reveals the deep truth that collective rules, rather than individual license, construct the conditions of freedom. Make time to read it!—Martha Minow, author of Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence

Rakoff’s argument makes sense. His book is a significant contribution to our understanding of community and solidarity in the modern world.—Edward L. Rubin, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Examining the intricate relations between the laws of nature and society, A Time for Every Purpose helps shed some light on the legal (and therefore inevitably conventional) underpinnings of the way we structure time. A most welcome contribution of legal scholarship to the sociology of time.—Eviatar Zerubavel, author of The Seven-Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week and Time Maps: The Social Shape of the Past

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“Predictive Policing” and Racial Profiling

While technology used in policing has improved, it hasn’t progressed, says Khalil Gibran Muhammad, if racial biases are built into those new technologies. This excerpt from his book, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, shows that for the reform called for by the current protests against systemic racism and racially-biased policing to be fulfilled, the police—especially those at the top—will need to change their pre-programmed views on race and the way they see the Black citizens they are supposed to “serve and protect.”