What Happened to the Week? An Interview with David Henkin

David Henkin

We take the seven-day week for granted, rarely asking what anchors it or what it does to us. Yet weeks are not dictated by the natural order. They are, in fact, an artificial construction of the modern world.

For this episode of the Matrix podcast, Julia Sizek interviewed David M. Henkin, the Margaret Byrne Professor of History, about his book, The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms that Make Us Who We Are. With meticulous archival research that draws on a wide array of sources — including newspapers, restaurant menus, theater schedules, marriage records, school curricula, folklore, housekeeping guides, courtroom testimony, and diaries — Henkin reveals how our current devotion to weekly rhythms emerged in the United States during the first half of the 19th century.

Reconstructing how weekly patterns insinuated themselves into the social practices and mental habits of Americans, Henkin argues that the week is more than just a regimen of rest days or breaks from work, but a dominant organizational principle of modern society. Ultimately, the seven-day week shapes our understanding and experience of time.

Excerpts from the interview are included below (with questions and responses edited).

Listen to this interview as a podcast below, or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts.



Podcast Transcript


Woman’s Voice: The Matrix Podcast is a production of Social Science Matrix, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of California Berkeley.

Julia Sizek: Hello, and welcome to the Matrix Podcast. We’re coming to you from the Ethnic Studies Changemaker Studio, our recording partner on campus.

Today, our guest is David Henkin, the Margaret Byrne professor of history. And we’re interviewing him about his new book, The Week, a History of the Unnatural Rhythms That Make Us Who We Are. The book traces the rise of the week in American consciousness, a topic that might be seem particularly relevant during the ongoing pandemic Blursday. Thanks for coming, David.

Henkin: Lovely to be here. Thank you.

Sizek: So let’s start out by just talking a little bit about the overview of what the week is like. What are the different ways that people have thought about the week?

Henkin: Well, I think the week does many things. The seven-day week does many things for us in the modern world, but we tend to focus exclusively on one of them and that’s the idea that we have a unit of time that divides weekdays and weekends and work from leisure, profane time from sacred time, or something like that. So the week creates two kinds of days.

But the week does other things too by its very structure. It divides the time into seven distinct heterogeneous units that are completely different. Every day is fundamentally different from the day that precedes it or follows it. And the names that we use for the days of the week suggest that, there’s Tuesday and there is Wednesday and there’s no numerical relationship between those two names. So it creates seven different kinds of days.

It also lumps time together for us in interesting ways. We talk about what we did this week, what we hope to get done next week. So the first use of time divides days into two, the second divides them into seven, the third divides them not at all, but lumps them together as one.

And then the one thing that I think the week does most conspicuously and powerfully for us in the modern world is it coordinates our schedules, it sequesters or regulates the timing of certain activities, especially activities that we try to do in conjunction with strangers. Those are four completely different uses of the technology of the week. They all have long histories, the last one I think has the shortest history, but in some ways has the most powerful or the most tenacious grip on our sense of the passing of time.

Sizek: Great so let’s get started and really just jump into one of the arguments that you make in the book, which is precisely about this stranger sociality. How do people begin to use the week for stranger sociality and why is the week convenient for that?

Henkin: OK, I mean, I think people have probably used the week in different societies for some purpose like that for a long time. The best example might be a market day where you want to only have a public market every so often and you want to make sure everyone can be there and everyone remembers when it is and it doesn’t conflict with other things. So that might be one model for it.

But I’m arguing in this book that it was really only in the early 19th century that large numbers of people began to have schedules that were different. One day of the week from another. The institutions that helped produce that were varied, they include things like mail schedules or newspaper schedules, they include school schedules, voluntary associations like fraternal orders or lodges, commercial entertainment like going to the theater, going to a baseball game.

The more people lived in large towns and cities, the more they were bound to patterns of mail delivery or periodical publication, the more likely they were to have regular activities that took place every seven days or that only took place on one day or another of the week.

Now, once they had that, that’s a self-perpetuating cycle because then you’ll begin to schedule other activities. So as not to conflict with them or to be memorable and convenient on the same calendar. And the weekly calendar began to be used to organize these regularly recurring activities typically that involved strangers or open to the public.

Sizek: Yeah, so typically when we think about the week now we often think about it in terms of the work week where we have the work week and then we have the weekend, if we are so lucky to have a weekend. But this is pointing to really a different way of thinking about the week that’s not based only in work.

Historiographically, what are the ways that historians think about this division of either week or weekend and it being based on either work or leisure or other activities? I think historians haven’t really thought too much about the weekly calendar at all, but to the extent that they really have focused exclusively on this question of the work week.

And most commonly, they’ve studied the ways in which organized labor or organized capital have sought to control or regulate the length pace even the timing of the workweek, or they have pointed out a very important phenomenon, which is the Industrial Revolution brought about a hardening of the boundaries between work and leisure rather than having leisure bleed into Monday or having work bleed into Saturday or Sunday. Industrialization tended to harden those boundaries.

And I would add that that’s something industrial that the week has done for centuries, even for millennia it from its biblical origins, the concept of a Sabbath is essentially an industrial one which says there’s a time for work and a time for not for rest or time for not work. So that’s how historians have written about it.

I think historians have not paid much attention curiously to the role of leisure in organizing the weekdays. They have paid attention to the role of leisure in giving special meaning to Sunday.

And great debates over how one should spend one’s Sunday whether it should be in church or whether it could involve going to the theater, whether it must not involve alcohol, whether it can involve sex, whether the mail can be delivered. I mean, big debates as how to behave on Sunday are featured very prominently in the historiography of 19th century America. But historians for the most part, have not really noticed that people’s lives have these other rhythms too.

Sizek: Yeah, so let’s discuss how you figured out how to notice the ways that people structure their lives around the week. What were the sources that you’re drawing upon to come to your conclusions about how the week is shifting and changing?

Henkin: So I say there are two kinds of sources. The first kind, a little bit more boring, but phenomenally important, which is just look at any newspaper, any city directory, or anyone’s account of their lives and you suddenly realize how many activities they engage in that are pegged to the week.

Say you’re reading about someone’s life going to musical societies, or going to temperance lectures, or going to an anti-slavery organization and you notice that they’re naming them for the days of the week or at least you’re noticing that they’re organizing by the week. It’s not very hard to see that. It’s glaring at you in plain view. But if you don’t ask the question then you won’t actually start.

So newspapers typically came out once a week. Which day of the week did they come out on? Was it the same? Did it vary? I mean, things like that. These don’t require a huge amount of digging, it just requires asking the question.

And you can basically ask that question to almost every public document from the first half of the 19th century in the United States, and especially to the extent that those documents register life in an urban or semi-urban society, they will create this thick catalog of weekly activities, or weekly obligations, or weekly habits.

Sizek: Yeah, so that’s one of the sources, this public facing source of the newspaper. You also look at diaries. What are some of the insights that you can get from diaries? And how does the practice of diary making change between the period of time that you’re looking at?

Henkin: OK, so that the second set of sources, which I think is the more interesting one is, well, first of all, they also help us with the first thing, they also do tell us whether people went to French class on a Wednesday or not.

But the cool thing that they do, and I would put in this category principally diaries, but also correspondence, and other kinds of recollections varying from memoir to courtroom testimony where people narrate their own experiences, those are fascinating because you can not only see what they did, but how they remembered or sometimes failed to remember what day of the week it was, how they used the seven-day calendar not only to organize their activities, but to organize their memory of their activities.

And one of the things I came to be especially impressed by during the course of my research for this book was the link between the week and memory. So we can use diaries as the main example because that’s probably the single source type that I immersed myself in most deeply.

And with diaries, they are not hard to find. They are everywhere. They’re published. They’re unpublished. They are manuscript. They are often typescript or typed up. Some of them are pre-formatted. Some of them are blank books. So the challenge there was just to spend years and years just looking at as many of them as I could and then thinking about the various kinds of archival biases that I needed to overcome to make sure that I was looking at a broad range of diaries.

Diary keeping is a very old activity. I would say it became a mass practice in the United States in the early 19th century. In New England, it was somewhat widely practiced even in the 18th century, but became much more so in the 19th century. And the 19th century also saw the rise of the pre-formatted diary book.

It had been introduced as a consumer good in the United States in the 1770s, but totally bombed. No one really wanted such a thing. Instead, people used almanacs. And almanacs was a principal standard format of calendar, Calendar as a material artifact.

Almanacs are interesting because they’re organized around the month and they tend to focus on naturally observable things like the weather, lunations, things like that. And people didn’t really see any need for a pocket diary where you could write stuff in.

But by the 1820s, these were suddenly quite popular. They became mass consumer goods. And typically, they arranged days in different ways, but the most common format was six days to a spread, sometimes they were seven. But one way or another I would say it they were circaseptan in the sense that they arrayed a period of about seven days in view.

So it conditioned people to thinking about their lives in chunks of time that were much smaller than a month, but also bigger than a day. And that’s one definition of what a week is. The other thing they did is that they marked every day and date so that they became calendars in that sense, calendars you could consult to see what day of the week it is or what date it was. So that’s one thing that changed.

But even if you look at blank book diaries, they become much, much more common during this period. And you can see it quite clearly when events like the Civil War. By the time soldiers go to the Civil War there’s a huge amount of diary keeping. And because it is the Civil War, there’s a huge amount of diary preserving.

Preservation bias is probably the most significant distortion between the practice of diary keeping and the archive of the diary. Preservation on many levels, does someone save her own diary? Do family members preserve it? Does someone see fit to donate it to a historical society? Does historical society see fit to catalog it, preserve it make it available? So there are all kinds of those biases.

The Civil War is a nice one because there’s a huge amount of preservation. So you get a broad sense of what people might be keeping diaries. And the answer is that all sorts of people kept diaries.

There are a couple of demographic categories that I found especially common, very young women, girls at school teenage girls, and then young men slightly older in their 20s, especially native born Protestant middle class men who see diary keeping as part of their own formation, part of the formation of their masculinity, part of their formation of their respectability, and part of the cultivation of the sorts of skills of writing, accounting, and moral reflection that are thought to be essential to middle class identity and middle class formation in the 19th century. So those would be a couple of examples. But really lots and lots of people keep diaries of wildly varying sorts

Sizek: Yeah, so let’s– I want to understand just how people decide to keep diaries, why diaries rise as a form that people are really interested in pursuing. You mentioned middle class ideals, but can you give us a sense of literacy rates, how people may or may not be able to have access to keeping their own diaries during this time that you’re looking at?

Henkin: Yeah, I mean, again, I do tend to think often the limitation is really on the preservation side rather than the production side. But with that disclaimer I would say literacy is a tricky thing because literacy rates were extraordinarily high during this period for free people. They were extraordinarily low for enslaved people and that’s very significant to the ideology and the history of the category of literacy.

But focusing on the freed people, yeah, so lots of– most places and most times they are under research in this book. You can imagine about 90% of people know how to sign their name. But that’s an odd proxy for the kinds of literate practice that you might be thinking about.

It overstates it because you can sign your name without really having the skill to produce a reflective diary or even keep meaningful accounts. On the other hand, you could not be able to sign your name because you don’t know how to write and still be able to read. OK, but for purposes of diary keeping I don’t think that the principal obstacle to keeping a diary was inability to write.

I think those people who really could not keep a diary or did not keep a diary is because either they didn’t have the leisure time or leisure space to do so or because they saw no material or even symbolic benefits to be gained by doing so.

But a couple of things– I mean, I mentioned middle class and that’s a big one. Mass education is also– mass education provides opportunities, inducements, and in some ways also motivations to think of writing about yourself as a meaningful activity. That’s a big one. Mass education is really a phenomenon or an innovation of the time period that I’m writing about.

There is also accounting of various kinds. Not just accounting for people who intend to become clerks, but accounting on the farm, accounting an increasingly commercial society even for people of fairly modest means.

And then another big one is Protestantism, which not only was responsible for the very high literacy rates in the United States before 1850, but also Protestantism, especially Puritanism bequeathed a set of injunctions to examine oneself that the practice of keeping a diary fulfilled.

So one way to think about it is that there were not only various kinds of social and economic motivations to keeping a diary and cultivating the skills that a diary demanded, but there were also religious spiritual ones for lots of Protestants and especially in New England who thought that examining your life and talking about how quickly time is passing by is part of being pious, or part of producing evidence of your salvation, or things like that.

So there are all kinds of things that made diary keeping more popular anyway, but it was extraordinarily popular. Even boring diaries wind up by the dozens in every single historical society in the United States. And even just the published diary archive is so massive that it would be impossible for anyone to not just not to master it, but even to make very precise generalizations about who did and who didn’t keep a diary. It’s just so big.

So that’s bad news for historians of the diary, I think. It’s just not just an embarrassment of riches but actually a methodological obstacle of riches. But for historians who are trying to see whether a certain self-consciousness was common and what it looked like. I think it’s actually a good thing.

So that was convenient for me because I wasn’t looking to figure out what percentage of diarists knew whether it was Tuesday. I was trying to see what common obstacles, just knowing that it was Tuesday, might arise. Or when people didn’t know what day or date it was, which one was right which one was wrong? So having lots and lots of diaries to look at was helpful to draw those kinds of conclusions. I’d say the same thing about memoir, personal correspondence, and again, courtroom testimony.

Sizek: And it seems like you have I guess, as you said, an embarrassment of riches in terms of sources. How did you narrow down from this amazing wealth of sources that you could never conceivably consult all of them before writing your book? How did you pick which ones were more useful and to discern where to find diaries to consult?

Henkin: Yeah, I mean, I would say I did a few things that were arbitrary and probably unjustifiable, which was just when– diaries had really good handwriting or they were interesting I tended to have more patience with them and I’d be more likely to discover things. When diaries were word searchable, I tended to do a much more thorough job of figuring out what their Tuesdays or Wednesdays looked like.

But I mostly tried to control for some of those biases by spending a fair amount of time with manuscript unpublished ones. So I wasn’t only looking at the ones that someone saw fit to type up. And I also tried to both dig deep in New England where I knew the diaries would be most self-conscious and most prolix and also to get away from England.

So I went to North Carolina, I went to Tennessee, I went to Chicago, Oregon. I did a geographical range and I tried to cover a broad chronological range, yeah, again, and then just gave up with the project of counting.

Of course.

That seemed pointless at best, maybe even distorting, so yeah.

Sizek: Yeah, so I guess now that we’ve established the kinds of materials that you’re looking at, let’s talk about how you discerned whether or not the week was something that was present in their lives in these diaries. How did you figure out that they had some consciousness of the week in a diary?

Henkin: Well, I mean, for certain kinds of diaries there’s a basic thing. In a blank book diary, did they write down the name of the day? It may seem obvious that they would, but it’s not. There are lots of 18th century diaries of people who simply wrote down the numerical Gregorian date. So there’s that.

And then I did start at a certain point after a few years of trying to look at all the various ways in which they did or didn’t talk about their weeks. I started looking for misalignments or corrections, moments where they have something wrong.

Often you see that because they corrected their diaries, you see where they crossed it out. Occasionally, they’ll even comment on the fact that they had it wrong. But sometimes if you just– you get used to this and you look at diaries. You’re tracking the days and the dates and you suddenly notice that doesn’t work. So you go back and then figure out, when, where, and how did they get off track?

And overwhelmingly, they got off track on the date, which is only– which is not what I’m studying, but it does confirm that when people are lost, these two calendars are famously incompatible, the Gregorian month late and the seven days cycle. They travel together and they both have spread with Christianity and with European empire and global capitalism, but they’re not actually compatible calendars. So they do get misaligned.

And figuring out which one people are more confident and which one people are more accurate about tells us something about which one really governs their lives. This is something that we all experienced today.

In the United States if someone makes an appointment with you for a misaligned calendar day date, and then you realize, oh, they said we need to get together on Tuesday, February 27 and Tuesday isn’t February 27, your first instinct is to assume that they meant the Tuesday closest to 27 rather than the day of the week closest to Tuesday, closest to the 27.

So we get that most of us don’t instinctively know what date of the month it is, but do know what day of the week it is. So I was hoping and expecting to find that at some point that would start to see that and I did. Overwhelmingly, they’re wrong about the date and they’re right about the day.

When they were wrong about the day, sometimes they’re also wrong about the date, it was typically because they were dislodged from their routines, someone traveling in an underground cave in Kentucky, someone moving from his home near Albany to go work in New York City looking for a job.

Astonished to discover what day that was. It was Saturday or it was actually Friday I think. So the things of that sort. Someone takes a vacation to Saratoga and is not actually on his regular schedule. These are the occasions that people begin to make mistakes like that. So that’s what I was on the lookout for.

Sizek: Yeah, and that really points to the way that the week has become embedded in our daily routines, weekly routines, and also raises this other question about the smaller unit of time that historians have also focused on the hour.

So a lot of– I think earlier you mentioned how a lot of historians of industrial capitalism have focused on the work day, as well as the work week as being the focus. What do you think the insights that you have about the week have to bear against the focus on the hour in history?

Henkin: Well, you’re right that the hour is by far the time unit that has been of greatest interest not only to historians of labor, but to historians of time. One way to think about it is historians of time have been far more interested in the clock than the calendar. And I think that in many reasons for it, but in part because the clock is a mechanical device. And we tend to look for technologies of that sort to explain fundamental changes in temporal consciousness.

Whereas, calendars including the week don’t seem to be that kind of technology. And in fact, the week is not measured any more precisely really today than it was 100 years ago or even 500 years ago. So we don’t really look for the calendar except as a proxy for certain kinds of ideology.

They think about calendars as about religious models of festivity or nationalistic understandings of commemorative occasion. But they don’t look for the calendar as a real technology of time consciousness. And what the clock is, the clock lets people talk about how changing chronometric devices and changing availability of those chronometric devices produce different kinds of– but the other thing is that the hour is very much associated with punctuality and with discipline.

So the hour has a fascinating history. The 19th century is really also when large parts of the world began calculating ours the way we do today, which is to conceive of it as 60 minutes defined as 1/24 of a full daily cycle, which is not how most societies, including many western societies used to define, which they define it as 1/12 of the variable amount of daylight, which is very different. Those are non-equinoctial hours. They’re very useful.

So the hour stands not only for precision, but a little bit for alienation from nature. Now, when you write about the week, you realize that you’re looking at a unit of time that doesn’t fit into any of the big paradigms that have drawn our interest to the hour.

We’re interested in the hour because we think that pre-modern time was natural and observable. Modern time is not. It’s homogeneous, it’s arithmetically calculable, all these things, and it’s fundamentally alienated from nature. But the week is equally artificial. It’s not actually rooted in natural rhythms and it’s not confirmable or correctable by observable natural phenomena.

So it’s very rigid and artificial, but it’s also very, very old. So once you stop assuming that clock time is the way to look for the hallmarks of modernity, I think it opens up ways of being interested in the week. So yes, hours did change in some interesting ways during the modern world and especially the clash between non-equal and equal hourly timekeeping.

I think was a big mental shift in lots of parts of the world that only really embraced equinoctial hours in the last 150 years. But the week is different because the week wasn’t even a universal system of any kind in large parts of the world, including maybe most.

Obviously, East Asia did just fine without even thinking of the seven-day cycle as something that you needed to count, or as a universal social calendar, or as a timekeeping register of any kind.

So I wouldn’t say it makes the hour seem less important, but I think it actually– my research into the week makes me think of the hour as a less apt symbol for the difference between modern and pre-modern timekeeping. Because the week is fascinating, it’s a heterogeneous timekeeping system unlike– the big thing about the hour I think is its homogeneity. Its assertion that every identical span of time is interchangeable with substitutable with fungible with analogous to something like that, every other one.

And the homogeneity of time is a powerful feature of modern time keeping. Well, the seven-day week doesn’t do that at all. It says the opposite. It says no two days are alike. We speak about daily life, everyday life, the quotidian, but the week is this technology that resists that whole notion. It insists that no two consecutive days are substitutable for one another, that’s a fascinating thing.

So in that sense, it would seem to correspond with pre-modern notions of time and heterogeneity and festivity and the sorts of things that used to interest anthropologists about timekeeping and primitive societies. And yet it’s fundamentally modern and is only now in the last 100 years become a global timekeeping system and it is probably the timekeeping calendar to which most people in the world are most rigidly attached.

Sizek: Yeah, I think that’s so fascinating because it points to the limitations of a very technology-based history in which we say we have this amazing new technology, the clocktower, let’s investigate it and figure out what to do, whereas the week is something that is much more about, it is about the calendar that you keep, it’s not about the town square, which doesn’t raise a different flag on Mondays and a different flag on Tuesdays.

So I think it also raises this question about the way that the week has been seen to be subpar or irrational. So there have been a bunch of different projects to try to remake the week, try to make it into something that is more like a clocktower. What have some of those projects been?

Henkin: There have been a few. I would say the three big ones and they are quite big because they all represent an attack on the seven-day week from a very powerful and in many other respects successful revolutionary movement. The first would be the French Revolution, which sought to rationalize and standardize measurements of all kind and succeeded.

So many of the ways in which we measure things, especially outside the United States are a product of the French Revolution and its belief in an enlightened rationality. The French Revolution also had another gripe with the week apart from the fact that it’s awkward and irrational, which was the week seemed to be the fundamental anchor of the power of the Catholic Church in old regime France.

So the French revolutionaries created a new calendar. They not only renamed months and years, they also more radically introduced a 10-day week called the decade and it was fundamentally different from the seven-day week and it was a failed experiment.

I mean, I’ll talk a little bit about its failure in a moment I’ll give you the other two. So the next big one was the Soviet attack on the week. Soviets were I think mostly interested in continuous production in factories and they thought– but they also wanted to undermine the power of an established Christian church in that case, the Russian Orthodox church.

So they first went to a five-day week and then a six-day week and their weeks were not coordinated, that was the part that had to do with continuous production. In other words, I might have– my day off might be the way a hospital might or any other operation that seeks continuous production.

I have one day, but you, my father, or my best friend, or my wife might have another one. And I think that failed in part because of resistance to having a non-coordinated week it may also have failed because the seven-day was so entrenched as it was with France.

The third attack is less well-known, but represents American and European corporate capitalism. And the rational reforms favored by big businesses that largely succeeded in creating by World War I a system of time keeping that’s universal.

They gave us things like time zones. The idea that everyone within a certain range of longitude agrees on the mean similar time in that zone and they all observed the same one. International Dateline that says then you can divide the world into 24, such zones, and then also that the day officially ends and begins somewhere in the Pacific Ocean that’s antipodal to Greenwich, England.

Daylight Saving Time, the idea that you can manipulate the clock to for various social or economic benefits. All these things are a product of this what my colleague, Vanessa Ogle, calls the global transformation of time between 1880 and 1920 really fully ratified by the international community around and after World War I.

But the one thing that many of those same reformers wanted to do and failed to do was to tame the week by making it an even subdivision of months and especially of years. Now, that’s not a very big change. They’re not making the day, the week longer by 10 or shorter to five or six, they’re not making it non-coordinated.

All they’re doing is saying that at the end of every year there’ll be one day or two, if it’s a leap year, that are blank. Most proposals to tame the week as I would call it, or reform the week as they called it simply asked for one or two blank days at the end of the year, days that would have no weekly value.

And the purpose of this would be so that the cycle of weeks would be 364 days not 365 and therefore, divisible by 7. And therefore, every January 28 would be a Monday, let’s say. Actually I think every January 28 would have been a Sunday for them, but I forget anyway.

So it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but that too failed. The League of Nations took it up, considered it, rejected it. Many people assumed that this was the wave of the future, but instead it became had the fate of Esperanto, not the fate of time zones.

So these are three movements to try to change what is inconvenient about the week and they all fail. Meanwhile, the week is entering without much resistance all these societies that had never had one.

I mean, you said before that one of the reasons we don’t look at the calendar is because it doesn’t have flashy new innovations, but if I were a historian of Japan, which I’m not equipped to be, but I would really want to study.

What was the process, the cognitive process, the cultural process, the political process by which a society that had never counted continuous seven-day cycles suddenly began organizing not only its work life, but organizing life more generally around this complete innovation?

That’s a really new technology. I mean, it’s not flashy like the internet, but it is a technology and it was completely new in Japan. It’s a different question in the United States where the technology was quite old and was experienced as quite old and even thought to be built into the fabric of nature by lots of people, but nonetheless, was doing new things for new people without anyone really commenting on it.

Sizek: Yeah, so you mentioned that obviously your study is of the week in America and how the week becomes dominant here. But the week wasn’t universally practiced and it’s only very recently that this has become the case. What were some of the other ways that people were reckoning the changing of the days or the difference between days other than the week?

Henkin: All right, so almost every society that we can put this question to in the past counted days and counted something like a month and years also. So I think societies can do fine with that. There are examples of five-day cycles and eight-day cycles and seven-day cycles and also, sorry, and 10-day cycles and also seven-day cycles that are not cycles of work and rest.

But none of these formed a dominant social calendar in any of the societies that observed them and most of them were not actually continuous either. So it really depends how you define a week. Lots of societies have lumped days together for some purpose or given people patterns of day off or had patterns of festivity, but I haven’t really found anything seems quite like the modern week, but with a different length.

So I would say that the week as we understand it is a pretty distinctive historical phenomenon not just in its periodicity, not just in its seven-dayness, but in being a completely artificial, but continuously counted dominant social calendar.

Sizek: Well, on that note, the week is so singular and odd and magical and maybe also strange and unusual, but we have come to accept it as natural. On that note, thank you so much for coming.

Henkin: Thank you very much for having me.

Woman’s Voice: Thank you for listening. To learn more about Social Science Matrix, please visit matrix.berkeley.edu.



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Published March 21, 2022

A Visual Interview with Eric Stanley on “Atmospheres of Violence”

How should we understand violence against trans/queer people in relation to the promise of modern democracies? In their new book, "Atmospheres of Violence: Structuring Antagonisms and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable," Eric A. Stanley, Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, argues that anti-trans/queer violence is foundational to, and not an aberration of, western modernity. For this visual interview, Julia Sizek, Matrix Content Curator and a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology, asked Professor Stanley about their research, drawing upon images and videos referenced in the book.

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