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Too much time

Changing conceptions of boredom, progress, and the future among young men in urban Ethiopia, 2003–2015

Daniel Mains


In the context of unprecedented rates of urban unemployment, in the early 2000s young men in Ethiopia struggled with an overabundance of time. I examine changes in urban young men’s experiences of time and progress over a period of 13 years to better understand the nature of boredom and modernity. Young men simultaneously experienced a sense a linear progress in their own lives, and feelings of frustration when shifts in their built environment did not translate into a more abstract sense of change. Ultimately I argue that in contrast to conceptions of boredom that emerge out of the West, Ethiopian boredom was profoundly social in the sense that it was based on an inability to experience progress in one’s relations of reciprocity with others.