Ethos

Boredom, "Trouble," and the Realities of Postcolonial Reservation Life

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Abstract

Perhaps because of its reputation as an inconsequential emotion, the significance of boredom in human social life has often been minimized if not ignored. Boredom has been theoretically linked to modernity, affluence, and the growing problem of filling "leisure time. "It has also been attributed to the expansion of individualism with its heightened expectations of personal gratification. Whether a reaction to the sensation ofunderstimulation or "overload," boredom appears to be, ultimately, a problem of meaning. In this article, we consider the applicability of these notions to the contemporary American Indian reservation context, examining discourse about boredom as expressed in interviews with members of a northern plains tribe. Of special interest is how boredom figures into the phenomenon of "trouble" (e.g., alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and illegal activities). Although boredom is certainly familiar to various strata of contemporary U.S. society—and arguably part of what it means to be human—we propose that the realities of postcolonial reservation life provide an especially fertile and undertheorized breeding ground for this condition, and our examination of the relationship between boredom and trouble suggests that boredom's implications for both individual subjectivity and group sociality are far from trivial.

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