Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
Coevalness is a temporal concept that refers to the existence or origins of people and objects in the same time. The term has become associated with anthropology and the retooling of that field's conceptual vocabulary since the 1960s. Johannes Fabian's Time and the Other (1983) is the seminal work on this subject. In it, Fabian highlights a key paradox, or ‘schizogenic use of Time’ (21), framing the practice of anthropology. On the one hand, dialogue between anthropologists and their referents clearly constitutes ‘coeval research’ (60) as it takes place in contemporaneous, shared time. On the other, theoretical interpretations of that dialogue in written reports and anthropological discourse more widely are said to be allochronic because they routinely situate anthropology's objects of study in another time. This temporal distancing is achieved by presenting as the norm the West's ‘present’ and its conception of evolutionary time. In this way coevalness is denied to the Other. Instead, their time is portrayed as ‘cyclical rather than linear, qualitative rather than quantitative […] encapsulated in history rather than constituting the motor of history, […] oriented to stability rather than change’ (Adam 1994, 504). As a result, the invariably ‘traditional’, ‘uncivilized’, ‘premodern’ Other lags behind her/his Western counterpart culturally, morally and intellectually.
As a fundamental element in the construction of the Other, the ‘denial of coevalness’ (Fabian 1983, 35) is key to making sense of travel writing. It serves as a reminder in the first instance that travel writing textualizes a spatiotemporal practice: to travel is to move across space and time, but also, frequently, travel has meant bearing witness to the otherness of place and time. The denial of coevalness is particularly evident in colonial travel writing (see colonialism). It is described although not conceptualized in the same way by Edward Said (1995 , 72) when he highlights the ‘timeless eternal’ tense employed in Orientalist writing (see orientalism). Mary Louise Pratt (1992, 64) identifies it explicitly in her reading of John Barrow's 1801 ethnographic portrait of the South African! Kung people. So too does Robert M. Burroughs (2010) in his analysis of repeated references to the ‘barbarity’ of indigenous peoples by European travellers to the Congo during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The practice is not, however, limited to Western portrayals of non-Western cultures.