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 taken up 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 comes from the Russian xронотоп, which in turn is derived from the Greek χρόνος ('time') and τόπος ('space'); it thus can be literally translated as "time-space." Bakhtin developed the term in his 1937 essay "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" (Формы времени и хронотопа в романе). Here Bakhtin showed how different 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 "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," Bakhtin defines the chronotope thus:
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 concept of the chronotope has been most widely used in literary studies. The scholar Timo Müller for example argued that analysis of chronotopes highlights the environmental dimension of literary texts because it draws attention to the concrete physical spaces in which stories take place. Müller discusses the chronotope of the road, which for Bakhtin was a meeting place but in recent literature no longer brings people together in this way because automobiles have changed the way we perceive the time and space of the road. Car drivers want to minimize the time they spend on the road. They are rarely interested in the road as a physical space, the natural environment around the road, or the environmental implications of their driving. This contrasts with earlier literary examples such as Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" or John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, where the road is described as part of the natural environment and the travelers are interested in that environment.
Linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso invoked "chronotopes" in discussing Western [Apache] stories linked with places. In the 1980s when Basso was writing, 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" (qtd. in Basso 1984: 44–45).
Anthropologist of syncretism Safet HadžiMuhamedović built upon Bakhtin’s term in his ethnography of the Field of Gacko in the southeastern Bosnian highlands. In Waiting for Elijah: Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape, he argued that people and landscapes may sometimes be trapped between timespaces and thus "schizochronotopic" (from the Greek σχίζειν (skhizein): "to split"). He described two overarching chronotopes as "collective timespace themes", both of which relied on certain kinds of past and laid claims to the Field’s future. One was told through proximities, the other through distances between religious communities. For HadžiMuhamedović, schizochronotopia is a rift occurring within the same body/landscape, through which the past and the present of place have rendered each other unbidden.
The chronotope has also been adopted for 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" (2006: 247–259). Kumpulainen, Mikkola, and Jaatinen (2013) examined the space–time configurations of students’ technology-mediated creative learning practices over a year-long school musical project in a Finnish elementary school. The findings of their study suggest that "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" (2013: 53).
- Bakhtin, M. (1981). "Forms of time and of the chronotope in the novel". In The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: Univ. Texas Press. pp. 84–258.
- Bakhtin, M. (1981). "Forms of time and of the chronotope in the novel". In The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: Univ. Texas Press. pp. 84–85.
- Müller, Timo (2010). Notes Toward an Ecological Conception of Bakhtin’s ‘Chronotope.’.; Müller, Timo (2016). "The Ecology of Literary Chronotopes". Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology.
- HadžiMuhamedović, Safet (2018). Waiting for Elijah: Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-78533-856-4.
- Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M.. Translated by Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press.
- Basso, K. (1984). "Stalking with Stories: Names, Places, and Moral Narratives among the Western Apache," in Text, Play and Story: The Construction and Reconstruction of Self and Society. Ed. Edward Bruner, Washington: American Ethnological Society.
- Brown, R. & Renshaw, P. (2006). "Positioning Students as Actors and Authors: A Chronotopic Analysis of Collaborative Learning Activities," in Mind, Culture and Activity 13(3), 247–259.
- Dentith, Simon. (2001). "Chronotope," in The Literary Encyclopedia.
- HadžiMuhamedović, S. (2018) Waiting for Elijah: Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.
- Kumpulainen, K., Mikkola, A., & Jaatinen, A-M. (2014). "The chronotopes of technology-mediated creative learning practices in an elementary school community," in Learning, Media and Technology 39(1), 53–74.
- Morson, Gary S. (1984). Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Müller, Timo (2010). "Notes Toward an Ecological Conception of Bakhtin’s 'Chronotope'." Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment 1(1).
- Müller, Timo (2016). "The Ecology of Literary Chronotopes." Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology. Berlin: de Gruyter, 590-604.