In this insightful and pathbreaking reflection on “doing nothing,” Billy Ehn and Orvar Löfgren take us on a fascinating tour of what is happening when, to all appearances, absolutely nothing is happening. Sifting through a wide range of examples drawn from literature, published ethnographies, and firsthand research, they probe the unobserved moments in our daily lives—waiting for a bus, daydreaming by the window, performing a routine task—and illuminate these “empty” times as full of significance. Creative, insightful, and profound, The Secret World of Doing Nothing leads us to rethink the ordinary and find meaning in today’s hypermodern reality.
Billy Ehn is a Professor in the Department of Culture and Media Studies at Umea University and Orvar Löfgren is Professor of Ethnology at the University of Lund, both in Sweden. Löfgren is the author of On Holiday: A History of Vacationing (UC Press).
"This is one of those rare books that causes you to rethink all your previous understandings of both time and space, to pay attention to what you have hitherto ignored or belittled. Full of fascinating detail, Ehn and Lofgren's work opens up a whole new field of inquiry."—John Gillis, author of Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World
"This is a beautifully written and elegant book, deeply thoughtful but accessible to anyone. The Secret World of Doing Nothing is an essential field guide for understanding daily life; a delightful way to find out what is going on in the heads of people waiting, standing in lines, daydreaming and seemingly doing nothing. Ehn and Lofgren open a door into a hitherto hidden world in the mundane details of daily life; they uncover a trove of valuable insight into contemporary society, emotions, and morality. Who would think that looking at nothing could be so enlightening?"—Richard R. Wilk, Indiana University
"Focusing on three seemingly mundane activities—waiting, routines, and daydreaming—Ehn and Lofgren lead us into a rich imaginative world that lies within each of these everyday practices. Far from being trivial, we learn that these practices provide a revealing window into the social constructions of norms and values and moral debates about order and disorder. They provide a whole new level of insight into the collective nature of individual mental meanderings and the human desire to escape boredom and structures of control through the imagination." —Katrina Moore, University of New South Wales
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