Boredom, Time, and Modernity: An Example from Aboriginal Australia

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Abstract

In this article, I explore an anthropologically underresearched topic, boredom, utilizing ethnographic data from the Australian Aboriginal settlement of Yuendumu and situating that research in a comparative perspective. I examine the concept's genesis and meaning at Yuendumu using the social-constructivist approach to boredom as proposed in literature studies, sociology, and philosophy. That approach provides an account of how the emergence of boredom in 18th-century Europe is linked to processes of modernity. That perspective, however, has led to claims that boredom is a Western phenomenon and that its existence elsewhere is because of “Westernization.” In this article, I argue against that perspective by linking instances of boredom at Yuendumu to perceptions of personhood and to conceptualizations of being in time—particularly socioculturally specific ways of perceiving time and postcolonial temporalities as generating the emergence of boredom. This boredom is a historically and socioculturally specific phenomenon, arising out of distinct sociocultural engagements with locally particular processes of modernity.

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