The Rhythm of the Night: Nocturnal Geographies

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The clocks have gone forward, the nights are getting lighter, and, as ever, there’s geography to be found in it all! Shaw’s (2015) paper considers the ways in which geographers and social scientists have engaged with the night as a ‘space-time’, illuminating some interesting approaches that geographers have used to theorise the ways in which we use the night.

This year is actually the 100th anniversary of ‘Daylight Saving Time’ (DST). DST was originally proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who argued the economic benefits of reducing the need for artificial lighting – then by candles – and making increased use of natural light. This idea was proposed in Britain by William Willett in 1907, who suggested moving the clocks forwards 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April and backwards on Sundays in September (Macphail, 2016 [online]). The first official clock-changing plan was introduced in Germany, in April 1916, and Britain followed suit, in May that year, passing the Summer Time Act of 1916. The first official day of British Summer Time was May 21st 1916 (Macphail, 2016 [online]). At the height of World War One, it was believed that by changing the clocks it would take the pressure off the economy and reduce domestic coal consumption (Macphail, 2016 [online]). However, in 1940, during World War Two, the clocks in Britain were not put back at the end of Summer and, until July 1945, Britain was two hours ahead of GMT, operating on British Double Summer Time (Telegraph, 2016 [online]).

 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are strong arguments both for and against DST. As well as suggesting that it saves energy and money, others argue that it increases tourism and encourages people to exercise outdoors (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). From a geographer’s point of view, therefore, it changes the ways in which we use space and time, leading to a more ‘productive’ use of natural daylight. Critics, however, argue that there is no conclusive proof that DST saves energy; whilst reducing lighting use, it may, in fact, increase our use of other electrical appliances and fuel. Thus, from an environmental point of view, Daylight Saving Time remains enigmatic.

Particular opposition to DST comes from Scotland and parts of northern England. In 2011, year-round daylight savings was suggested in Parliament but was not taken up (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). A YouGov poll that year showed that 53% of people in Britain supported permanently moving the clocks forward an hour (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). The Scottish, however, complained that they would be plunged into darkness in the mornings and, indeed, so would anyone north of Manchester (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). Others have suggested the clocks change at Hadrian’s Wall and not at Calais (Telegraph, 2016 [online]), showing the highly geographical nature of this debate.

As well as causing mild confusion and tiredness, some anti-DST arguments concentrate on potential negative impacts on the ways in which we use time and space. For instance, it has been suggested that darker mornings pose dangers to children walking to school, along with increasing car accidents and crime rates (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). Farmers are also largely against the darker mornings, having less daylight to get their morning tasks completed.

Whilst these arguments consider the ways in which we use daylight, Shaw’s (2015) paper discusses our conception of the night as a time-space, and how this affects our use of it. He argues that ways in which geographers understand the night are changing. Previously conceptualised as a frontier, creating a binary between night and day, or light and dark, the night used to be an empty unknown, inhabited by people looking to escape surveillance. The frontier metaphor, therefore, has often framed the night as dangerous and alluring, difficult to control, but providing possibilities for adventure. In contrast, Shaw (2015) argues that the frontier metaphor is being broken down. Capitalist society, he argues, has gradually expanded spatially and temporally, with diurnal activities expanding into the night. Nocturnal capitalism, Shaw (2015) states, has spread globally, with 24/7 opening, next-day delivery services, online shopping, and international business juggling with time-zones. For some, the night is a ‘contact zone’, a space of interaction, characterised by hybrid spaces such as 24-hour supermarkets and night clubs (Shaw, 2015). Such ‘twentyfoursevening’, therefore, blurs day and night, leading geographers to suggest that they are no longer binary opposites. The night, therefore, is a complex and fragmented time-space (Shaw, 2015).

Nocturnal infrastructure has also been at the centre of geographical concerns, interest being in the electrification and lighting of urban areas, and the ways in which light and dark affect the exploration, creation, and experience of space (Shaw, 2015). The use of artificial lighting, it was originally hoped, would counter forms of alienation, reduce crime, and increase safety. Micro-scale lighting of individual houses and communities is a further example of this, although there is limited evidence that street lighting does, in fact, have these intended consequences. As Shaw (2015) indicates, many alternative lifestyles have arisen that are lived and performed during night time, including graffiti artists, protestors, and political radicals. The contact-zone, thus, becomes a space for source of resistance. However, with the proliferation of sexual violence, prostitution, crime, drug-taking, and drinking culture during the night, the contact-zone is also a time-space to be survived, but also considered by some as a space of freedom.

The night, then, is far from black and white. Geographers have begun to approach it as a multifaceted space-time, rather than the binary opposite of daytime. By only studying daytime activities, we can only ever understand half of humanity, especially in a time when nocturnal capitalism is booming. As a subject of geographical research in its own right, it is hoped that by studying our use of the night, geographers can shed new light on the ways in which we use time and space.

 

books_iconShaw, R. (2015). “Night as Fragmenting Frontier: Understanding the Night that Remains in an era of 24/7”, Geography Compass, 9(12):637-647.

60-world2Macphail, C. (2016). “When do the clocks go forward in 2016? And why do we change to BST and should we?” The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

60-world2Staufenberg, J. (2016). “Daylight Saving Time: What is it and why do we have it?”, The Independent Online. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/daylight-saving-time-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-have-it-a6907621.html

60-world2The Telegraph. (2016). “Who uses Daylight Saving Time?”, The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

Leave a Reply or Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s