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On Boredom: Keeping busy when there’s nothing to do in a Puerto Rican Addiction Shelter

This lecture will invite the audience to explore the investigations on ethic of busyness espoused by an addiction shelter for men in Puerto Rico.

Initially, La Casita’s ideology of moralized work patterns and time-discipline seems a throwback to the 19th century factory floor and tool of market discipline. A closer look at residents’ experiences, however, reveals that busyness has less to do with capitalist subject formation than with finding an alternative way of living when excluded from the market economy.

Adherence to a regular work schedule is actually very difficult owing to the limited supply of socially necessary tasks. When there is nothing to do, make-work is introduced as a surrogate placeholder, provoking frustration and boredom. These, in turn, become challenges that “working on my personality” can address, and this secular-spiritual exercise can come to occupy pride of place in residents’ life plans. If the capitalist project turns on the productive commodification of time, La Casita’s work ethic – despite official avowals to the contrary – is an attempt to convert unproductive time into an ascetic practice of ceaseless self-work. Though not always successful, keeping busy becomes a way that residents carve a meaningful way of living from an overabundance of time. 

Caroline Parker is the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her work combines approaches in cultural and medical anthropology and public health with a geographical focus on the Caribbean and the urban United States.  Her anthropological work engages questions of social suffering, poverty, and inequality; addiction therapeutics, labor, and the carceral state, and liberalism, boredom, and temporality.

 

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LSHTM Anthropology and Sociology Hub