The Space of Boredom

Homelessness in the Slowing Global Order

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 33 photographs Published: April 2017

Author: Bruce O′Neill

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia

In The Space of Boredom Bruce O'Neill explores how people cast aside by globalism deal with an intractable symptom of downward mobility: an unshakeable and immense boredom. Focusing on Bucharest, Romania, where the 2008 financial crisis compounded the failures of the postsocialist state to deliver on the promises of liberalism, O'Neill shows how the city's homeless are unable to fully participate in a society that is increasingly organized around practices of consumption. Without a job to work, a home to make, or money to spend, the homeless—who include pensioners abandoned by their families and the state—struggle daily with the slow deterioration of their lives. O'Neill moves between homeless shelters and squatter camps, black labor markets and transit stations, detailing the lives of men and women who manage boredom by seeking stimulation, from conversation and coffee to sex in public restrooms or going to the mall or IKEA. Showing how boredom correlates with the downward mobility of Bucharest's homeless, O'Neill theorizes boredom as an enduring affect of globalization in order to provide a foundation from which to rethink the politics of alienation and displacement.


“An excellent and thorough exploration of the mundane emotion of boredom. This ethnography is certainly necessary reading for anyone working in the area of homelessness, especially, but also those interested in the impacts of global capitalism more broadly.” — Christopher M. Kloth, Anthropology Book Forum

The Space of Boredom offers a detailed and sensitive cartography . . . both of what the author calls ‘boredom’ and of the particular context he studied. The image he paints of a looming, barren autumn—which the homeless live, but which hangs over all of us—should be of concern everywhere.” — George Tudorie, Romanian Journal of Communication and Public Relations

"A historically rich and theoretically innovative ethnography of contemporary homelessness and social exclusion in Bucharest." — Peter Soles Muirhead, Allegra Lab

"This book is a brilliant social story." — Jean Martin Caldieron, Journal of International and Global Studies

“An insightful investigation. The Space of Boredom stands as useful tool for policymakers involved in the integrated alleviation of homelessness and the general development process of the city.” — Mirela Paraschiv, Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

"A significant contribution to the anthropological literature on neoliberalism and structural violence . . . O’Neill is evidently attuned to his informants, and portrays thoughtfulness and reflexivity throughout the ethnography. . . . An important book." — Evy Vourlides, Anthropological Quarterly

"O’Neill’s book serves as excellent doc-umentary evidence on particular cases of homeless people in Bucharest. . . . Chapter by chapter the reader is introduced to the sad but still fascinating realm of people at the margins of a marginal European society." — Bogdan Voicu, Slavic Review

"O’Neill’s narrative compellingly demonstrates the depths of his interlocutors’ boredom, the oppressive weight of it, all under an economic program that Romanians had been told was their path to freedom." — Jessica Cooper, PoLAR

"Bruce O'Neill's empirically rich, analytically sophisticated, and sumptuously written ethnography transports the reader into the lives of Bucharest's homeless population, clearly articulating their relentless sense of boredom and the daily tedium of being cast aside. Of great interest to scholars of postsocialism and critics of neoliberalism, The Space of Boredom should be required reading for all the World Bank and IMF staff in Romania as well as the market fundamentalists celebrating globalization." — Kristen Ghodsee, author of The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

"Bruce O'Neill's treatment of a kind of social deprivation that is unfamiliar to most readers renders the painful economic depression of much of Eastern Europe with a remarkable human voice. Revealing disarming insights as to how boredom finds its way into the corners of disenfranchised lives, The Space of Boredom produces some of the best of what anthropology has to offer." — Bruce Grant, author of The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bruce O'Neill is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Saint Louis University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xvii
Introduction  1
1. Space-Time Expansion  19
2. Bleak House  44
3. The Gray Years  72
4. Bored to Death  96
5. Bored Stiff  122
6. Defeat Boredom!  147
Conclusion  175
Notes  185
Bibliography  229
Index  245
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, Society for Romanian Studies 2019 Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6328-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6314-9
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