Boredom at Work: Tracing experiences of workplace boredom through contemporary art, lifestory interviewing and creative methods

Katy Lawn

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Few geographers have addressed the concept of boredom, despite interest in the topic from psychology, literary studies, popular culture, organisation studies, cultural theory, the arts and philosophy. Taking inspiration from classic humanistic accounts of work, this thesis is concerned with narrated experiences of working life. It puts these stories of workplace boredom in dialogue with conceptual concerns around how boredom is theorised and experienced.
These issues are investigated through the deployment of two principal empirical strands. The first concerns an analysis of the way that three contemporary artists – Santiago Sierra, Tehching Hsieh, and Ignacio Uriarte – foreground the act of ‘boring work’ as art. The second empirical strand of the thesis uses in-depth interviews and photo-elicitation to gather accounts of working life from ten participants. In addition, four poets collaborated with the researcher in crafting the workers’ testimonies into a series of poems. The data from this strand is first presented as a set of ten ‘portraits’, composed of poems, photo-essays and a narrative account that presents each participant’s narrated experience of work and boredom. The workers’ testimonies are also central to a more thematic analysis of experiences of boredom at work, focused on issues of time, meaning and response.
Each of these empirical strands offers a set of ‘ways in’ to boredom, attending to boredom’s ambiguity and complexity. In considering lived experiences of boredom in working life alongside artistic delpoyments of boredom, this thesis reframes workplace boredom – which has predominantly been theorised as a problem which must be managed in the process of manufacturing productive corporate cultures and working subjects - as an experiential register which shapes our working life in complex ways, particularly in relation to our senses of time and meaning. It also argues that the ‘profound’ boredoms which are seen to hold radical potential, and which are often centred in boring artworks, are fundamentally unavailable to the everyday working subject.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Crang, Philip, Supervisor
  • Mould, Oli, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • creative methods
  • Boredom
  • collaborative academic work
  • Poetry
  • research poetry
  • poetic representation
  • work
  • workplace geography
  • geographies of work
  • creativity
  • photoelicitation
  • workplace boredom

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