Time Geography: Torsten Hagerstrand's Works

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  • 0:08 Time Geography
  • 1:03 Past Decisions
  • 2:08 Capability Constraints
  • 3:07 Coupling Constraints
  • 4:00 Authority Constraints
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain time geography and the works of Torsten Hagerstrand. In doing so, it will highlight the effect of past decisions as well as capability, coupling, and authority constraints.

Time Geography

I'm guessing today's lesson on time geography and its developer, Torsten Hagerstrand, will be rather unfamiliar to most of us. Making things a bit more difficult, the concept of time geography is rather abstract and a bit hard to grasp. For this reason, we're going to keep things rather simple, working to nail down the main thrust of the theory.

Stated very academically, time geography is a theory explaining spatial and time-based processes and events, such as interactions with others or interactions with the environment, that affect people's life paths. Stated very, very simply, it's a theory explaining how people live their lives and what causes them, or even forces them, to live the way they do. Due to its emphasis on how people live through time and space, it is sometimes also referred to as time-space geography.

Past Decisions

When discussing this idea of how people live through time and space, Hagerstrand argued that people do not lead unrestricted lives. In other words, we're not always free to do what we want to do. First, Hagerstrand asserted that we are all restricted by our past decisions. For instance, a 40-year-old woman may really want to be a prima ballerina in New York City, but the fact that she hung up her ballet shoes as a young child makes that impossible for it to happen now. In the same manner, a person who has been convicted of driving while intoxicated may desire to drive himself to work, but his past actions have him stuck riding the bus.

Moving away from how past decisions affect a person's life course, Hagerstrand also discussed what he would call present constraints on a person's life. When speaking of these constraints, he broke them down into capability constraints, coupling constraints, and authority constraints. For the remainder of our time, we'll discuss these constraints. Let's start with capability constraints.

Capability Constraints

A capability constraint is a limitation that is biological or due to nature. For this one, I can use my youngest daughter as an example. For some reason, she is enthralled with the idea of staying up all night. She just thinks it would be the coolest thing in the world. This past summer I gave her permission to live out this lifelong dream. However, at about 2am, her body betrayed her and sleep took over. Yes, she really desired to stay up to see the sun, but the physical limitations of her little body constrained her from doing it. According to time geography, my daughter experienced a capability constraint.

Bringing it more into the adult world, it could be argued that as we age, we face more and more capability constraints. For instance, my 98-year-old grandfather was a pilot and a very good one at that. However, not only can he no longer fly, his very poor eyesight restricts him from driving. In other words, he is constrained by his lack of physical capability.

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