Yawn: Boredom and Powerlessness in the Late Ottoman Empire

Avner Wishnitzer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last decade or so, boredom has attracted tremendous media and scholarly attention. Historians, however, remained largely uninterested, which is all the more surprising considering the wide consensus among scholars about the historicity of modern boredom, and its distinctiveness from earlier forms of tedium. This article joins a handful of works that discussed boredom in concrete historical contexts, focusing on the late Ottoman Empire. The article places boredom in two different discourses, developed by different generations of writers. The first was promoted by the Hamidian regime (1876-1908) and some of the most prominent writers of the time. In this discourse, the boredom of subalterns, including soldiers, women, and youngsters was considered a social problem. Hegemonic writers blamed boredom on the bored, warned that it could breed "harmful"ideas and behaviors, and spurred their addressees to become productive subjects promoting their own personal, and imperial, progress. But for young and educated urbanites, probably the foremost target group of this discourse, the motivational talk was itself dull. Pinned down by their elders, by their social superiors, by an oppressive political system that offered little true prospect of "advancement,"all these youngsters could do was to disengage and wait. Their own discourse therefore associated boredom not with indolence but with estrangement, melancholy, and frustration. So while hegemonic writers interpreted these emotions in terms of lethargy and decadence, they in fact held potential political energy, which later fed the uprising against the Hamidian order in the summer 1908.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)400-425
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


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