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The ethnographic negative

Capturing the impress of boredom and inactivity

Bruce O'Neill

Outside the main railway station in Bucharest, Romania, otherwise unemployed day laborers hustle for small change as informal parking lot attendants (parcagii). While their efforts yield numerous ethnographic observations of entrepreneurial activity, these attendants report “doing nothing” day in and day out. This article explores the tension between etic observations and emic feelings in order to ask a methodological question: how can “not doing” and “absent activity” be captured within an ethnographic method primed to observe activity constantly? In response, this article takes inspiration from photography to develop “the negative” as a technique for bringing the impress of absent activity on social worlds into ethnographic view. The intent of this methodological intervention is to open new theoretical lines of flight into the politics of inactivity.

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Introduction

Rethinking the class politics of boredom

Marguerite van den Berg and Bruce O’Neill

Nearly a decade after the global financial crisis of 2008, this thematic section investigates one way in which marginalization and precarization appears: boredom. An increasingly competitive global economy has fundamentally changed the coordinates of work and class in ways that have led to a changing engagement with boredom. Long thought of as an affliction of prosperity, boredom has recently emerged as an ethnographically observed plight of the most economically vulnerable. Drawing on fieldwork from postsocialist Europe and postcolonial Africa, this thematic section explores the intersection of boredom and precarity in order to gain new insight into the workings of advanced capitalism. It experiments with ways of theorizing the changing relationship between status, production, consumption, and the experience of excess free time. These efforts are rooted in a desire to make sense of the precarious forms of living that proliferated in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and that continue to endure a decade later.

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The Mahapach and Yitzhak Shamir's Quiet Revolution

Mizrahim and the Herut Movement

Uri Cohen and Nissim Leon

In this article we assert that it was Yitzhak Shamir who created new possibilities for mobility within the Herut party, laying the foundation for the Mahapach (electoral upheaval) of 1977. The contrast between Shamir, who avoided the limelight, and Menachem Begin, who was comfortable with the masses, has left Shamir on the sidelines of the research, debate, and discourse on the Herut and Likud parties. Rather than taking the usual approach of focusing on Begin, we highlight Shamir's role in devising and consolidating the new model for the division of power within Herut, making possible the involvement of political forces that had previously been inactive in the party's institutions. Shamir's approach toward integration, which benefited mainly Mizrahim, allowed Herut to remake itself internally. It was this reworked infrastructure, we believe, that brought about the dramatic electoral results of May 1977.

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Joyful pessimism

Marginality, disengagement, and the doing of nothing

Martin Demant Frederiksen

Studies of marginality have examined how individuals or groups are distanced from a hoped-for life as a result of structural, economic, or political circumstances, and how this may result in unwanted experiences of boredom. Th is article critically reexamines this perspective by juxtaposing it with an empirical description of a group of young Georgian nihilists who live in a sphere of disengaged repetition where turning the future into something that “doesn’t matter anyway” becomes a way of handling boredom in the present in an inactive manner. I use this to examine the temporal aspects at stake among marginal groups who deliberately disengage. In the article, I deploy the term “joyful pessimism” as an analytical device to capture an alternative configuration of marginality and boredom.

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Kosher Biotech

Between Religion, Regulation, and Globalization

Johan Fischer

perform a kosherization of the equipment and leave it inactive for 24 hours before carrying out a final scalding. Unsurprisingly, a multinational company like this one is unenthusiastic about leaving equipment inactive for that many hours, as doing so is