In literary theory and philosophy of language, the chronotope is how configurations of time and space are represented in language and discourse. The term was coined by Russian literary scholar M.M. Bakhtin who used it as a central element in his theory of meaning in language and literature. The term itself (Russian: Хронотоп), from Greek: χρόνος ("time") and τόπος ("space"), can be literally translated as "time-space." Bakhtin developed the term in his 1937 essay "Russian: Формы времени и хронотопа в романе", published in English as "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel." Here Bakhtin showed how different Greek literary genres operated with different configurations of time and space, which gave each genre its particular narrative character. For example, the chronotopic frame of the epic differed from that of the hero adventure or the comedy.
In the philosophy of language and philology, Bakhtin scholars Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist state that the chronotope is "a unit of analysis for studying language according to the ratio and characteristics of the temporal and spatial categories represented in that language". Specific chronotopes are said to correspond to particular genres, or relatively stable ways of speaking, which themselves represent particular worldviews or ideologies. To this extent, a chronotope is both a cognitive concept and a narrative feature of language.
In The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin defines the Chronotope:
We will give the name chronotope (literally, "time space") to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature. This term [space-time] is employed in mathematics, and was introduced as part of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The special meaning it has in relativity theory is not important for our purposes; we are borrowing it for literary criticism almost as a metaphor (almost, but not entirely). What counts for us is the fact that it expresses the inseparability of space and time (time as the fourth dimension of space). We understand the chronotope as a formally constitutive category of literature; we will not deal with the chronotope in other areas of culture.' In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope.
The chronotope in literature has an intrinsic generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic.
The distinctiveness of chronotopic analysis, in comparison to most other uses of time and space in language analysis, stems from the fact that neither time nor space is privileged by Bakhtin, they are utterly interdependent and they should be studied in this manner.
Linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso invoked "chronotopes" in discussing Western [Apache] stories linked with places. At least in the 1980s when Basso was writing about the stories, geographic features reminded the Western Apache of "the moral teachings of their history" by recalling to mind events that occurred there in important moral narratives. By merely mentioning "it happened at [the place called] 'men stand above here and there,'" storyteller Nick Thompson could remind locals of the dangers of joining "with outsiders against members of their own community." Geographic features in the Western Apache landscape are chronotopes, Basso says, in precisely the way Bakhtin defines the term when he says they are “points in the geography of a community where time and space intersect and fuse. Time takes on flesh and becomes visible for human contemplation; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time and history and the enduring character of a people. ...Chronotopes thus stand as monuments to the community itself, as symbols of it, as forces operating to shape its members' images of themselves” (1981:84, as cited by Basso 1984:44-45).
More recently chronotopicity has been adopted into the analysis of classroom events and conversations; for example, by Raymond Brown and Peter Renshaw in order to view "student participation in the classroom as a dynamic process constituted through the interaction of past experience, ongoing involvement, and yet-to-be-accomplished goals" (Brown&Renshaw 2006: 247-259). In their study, Kumpulainen, Mikkola, and Jaatinen (2013) examined the chronotopes, that is, the space–time configurations of elementary school students’ technology-mediated creative learning practices over a year long school musical project in a Finnish elementary school community. The findings of their study illuminate "blended practices appeared to break away from traditional learning practices, allowing students to navigate in different time zones, spaces, and places with diverse tools situated in their formal and informal lives" (Kumpulainen, Mikkola & Jaatinen, 2013, 53).
- Dentith, S. "Chronotope". The Literary Encyclopedia.
- Bakhtin, M. (1981). "Forms of time and of the chronotope in the novel". In The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: Univ. Texas Press. pp. 84–258.
M.M. Bakhtin,The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. , translated by Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press, 1981.
K. Basso, "Stalking with Stories: Names, Places, and Moral Narratives among the Western Apache," In E. Bruner, ed. Text, Play and Story. Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society, 1984.
Brown, R. & Renshaw, P. (2006) "Positioning Students as Actors and Authors: A Chronotopic Analysis of Collaborative Learning Activities" in Mind, Culture and Activity, Vol. 13(3) p. 247-259. 1984.
Kumpulainen, K., Mikkola, A., & Jaatinen, A-M. (2014). The chronotopes of technology-mediated creative learning practices in an elementary school community. 'Learning, Media and Technology, 39(1), 53-74.
Morson, Gary S. Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Renshaw, Peter; Renshaw, Peter (2006). "Positioning Students as Actors and Authors: A Chronotopic Analysis of Collaborative Learning Activities". Mind, Culture and Activity 13 (3): 247–259. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1303_6.
Also of interest is Joseph Frank's essay "Spatial Form in Modern Literature", Sewanee Review, 1945, Vol. 2-3
Keane, Webb (Feb 1995). "The Spoken House: Text, Act, and Object in Eastern Indonesia". American Ethnologist 22 (1): 102–124. doi:10.1525/ae.1995.22.1.02a00050. JSTOR 646048.