From Vigilance to Busyness: A Neo-Weberian Approach to Clock Time

Sociological Theory, 31(3) 243-266, 2013

25 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2014

Date Written: September 1, 2013


For many social scientists, clock time is seen as either a mechanism of economic power relations that reinforces social domination or a resource that facilitates individual market-oriented action. In this article I develop a neo-Weberian perspective that presents clock time as a moral institution that shapes social action in modernity through two "time disciplines": regularity and density. Where regularity supports a methodical life, density maintains a life of constant activity. The article traces the history of regularity and density between the fourth and twentieth centuries: from a "culture of vigilance," which originated in Benedictine monastic culture, to a "culture of busyness," which arose within Protestant and Renaissance culture. It shows that although we often think of busyness, time pressure, and burnout as contemporary problems, they have long been at the root of clock time culture. By extending Weber’s approach, the paper provides deeper insight into the fraught moral life of clock time in modernity.

Keywords: time, work, Weber, modernity

JEL Classification: J20, N33

Suggested Citation

Snyder, Benjamin H., From Vigilance to Busyness: A Neo-Weberian Approach to Clock Time (September 1, 2013). Sociological Theory, 31(3) 243-266, 2013, Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin H. Snyder (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington ( email )

P.O. Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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