Insights on the Complex Interaction between Acceleration and Deceleration through the Analysis of White-Collar Employees’ Sleep Patterns and Time Pressure in Istanbul


23 January 2022

This study briefly presents theoretical insights about the complex interaction between acceleration and deceleration inferred from a case study focused on the tension between social acceleration and the sleep patterns of a group of white-collar employees subjected to the flexible work regime in Istanbul. Rather than analysing white-collar employees’ sleep patterns and perceptions within the strict dichotomy of work and leisure, sleep is added as a separate category to observe the transitivity among the three.

The boundaries between times inside and outside work are blurred, and employees are expected to be ever-available and adaptable to the socially accelerated pace of work and life in general. Sleep is reformulated as a practice that should be disposable, renounced, and delayed when necessary for work. Extending work and work-related activities into the other fields of life leads to the compression and acceleration of leisure activities since work leaves very little time. Therefore, sleep appears as an obstacle to having a more meaningful life through performing more diversified leisure activities. For all these reasons, the scholars mainly analysed the sleep patterns within the framework of reducing total sleep duration or disrupting regular sleep patterns in the sense of timing.

According to Crary, the inconceivable nature of sleep prevents any exchange value acquired from it. This activity that we spend the vast proportion of our days is independent of commodified needs. It is one of the few areas that show possible limits of the compatibility of human bodies to the forces of contemporary capitalism and a significant affront to its voraciousness. Capitalism today must function 24/7, and time for human rest and regeneration may cause colossal profit loss for companies. Therefore, he conceptualizes the position of sleep within social acceleration as “the ends of sleep” to emphasize the pressure of eradication on it (Crary, 2015). However, capitalism is a contradictory system as the position of sleep within contemporary capitalism is much more complex and paradoxical. It is not always more efficient for capitalism to prevent or eradicate sleep. Sleep is not simply an obstacle before acceleration; it is also a significant component of it.
There are more nuanced approaches regarding the relationship between Rosa’s concept of social acceleration and sleep. Yet, the concept of deceleration, which is an integral part of Rosa’s theory, especially for avoiding over-generalizations and emphasizing the non-linear, complex nature of social acceleration, is absent in them. Rosa introduces different forms of deceleration; some of them are obstacles to acceleration, while some of them are unintended consequences of it. Besides, he also mentions intentional forms of deceleration, some of which are necessary to store the capacity for further acceleration. The deceleration phenomena do not necessarily undermine the claim of social acceleration. These two are not equal in distribution; deceleration is “secondary to the forces of acceleration.” Yet, deceleration, in general, is not necessarily the opposite of acceleration in an exclusionary way. It may even be crucial for the mechanisms of acceleration.

Firstly, sleep appears to be a deceleration practice as a barrier against further acceleration. However, secondly, as lack of or unhealthy sleep may cause unintended consequences of acceleration (such as errors, accidents, and underperformance at work; fatigue, inertia, etc. in leisure); sleep is a deceleration practice that is essential to be protected from some unintended consequences of acceleration, i.e., deceleration. Thirdly, sleep is also one of the enablers of the proper realization of necessities and desires since it is still a fundamental resource for generating physical and mental energy to participate in an enriched waking life.

It is an issue of time management that is either sacrificed or appreciated depending on the situation to avoid certain forms of deceleration. The accelerated flexible work regime demands flexible bodies that can go back and forth flexibly between sleep and wakefullness while taking the maximum benefit from the slumber. The employees have little control over their time-use and sleep patterns, which pointed out a “limited bodily agency” (Coveney, 2014). Consequently, the employees try to increase the quality rather than the quantity of sleep (the total duration) by rearranging the other components of sleep, i.e., hygiene, nutrition, room conditions (air, light, heat), and sleep materials (bed, pillow, quilt). Around these, a considerably huge capitalist market operates vis-a-vis the sectors that try to eliminate sleep, as Crary claims. Since acceleration refers to “an increase in quantity per unit of time” or to “a reduction of the amount of time per fixed quantity” (Rosa, 2013), sleep can also be argued as a practice that is tried to be accelerated, in the sense of getting the possible benefit such as physical regeneration, mental refreshment, psychological well-being in a shorter time. As sleep is under the pressure of acceleration in the sense of duration and timing, the white-collar employees try to increase sleep’s efficiency by raising its ‘quality’.

This ambivalent position of sleep makes it a more popular everyday life topic. Although acceleration is dominant over deceleration in general, they are in continuous interaction within the general operation of social life and the body. This study analyses sleep concerning different forms of acceleration and deceleration, hopefully providing insights and emphasizing several conceptual tools for understanding the complex nature of high-speed society.


23 January 2022

Contributed by

Emir Kurmuş graduated from Political Science at Ankara University, and completed his Master’s study in Sociology at METU. He is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. He currently works as a research assistant in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Istanbul University. Among his research interests are time and temporality, social acceleration, sociology of sleep, expedited law-making procedures, and political theory.

Contributed as part of Symposium: Making Sense of the High-Speed Society