Accepted Paper:

Doing NOTHING or DOING nothing?: towards an embodied analysis of purposive inaction  


Lucy Pickering (The University of Glasgow)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the concept of purposive inaction through analysis of doing nothing among US 'drop outs' in Hawai'i. By focusing on its embodied dimensions, I seek to shift the analytical frame from doing NOTHING to DOING nothing and draw out the creative and political potential of inaction.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the meaning of doing nothing in a community of US 'drop outs' who have been relocating form the US mainland to a rural backwater of Hawai'i since the late 1960s. It frames doing nothing as an active process and one in which 'nothing' becomes its own achievement and its own reward. The analysis rests on a bifurcated conception of 'doing nothing' - as both doing nothing and doing nothing. For a group who self-consciously position themselves as 'countercultural', 'alternative' or having 'dropped out' of US 'mainstream' society, doing nothing can be read as an embodied response to the active, goal-oriented, upwardly mobile values of the society that they have chosen to drop out of. In this forgotten corner of Hawai'i, slowness is celebrated and time spent in the seemingly uneventful no-thing of doing nothing valued. It is more than simply an absence of action.

Yet it is also doing nothing and in this paper I argue that this is a far from passive process. Rather, a state of doing nothing has to be learned and is one that requires active acclimatisation, cultivation and maintenance. It requires, as Mauss (1934) would say, 'techniques of the body'. This paper, then, frames the phenomenon of 'doing nothing' as active, deliberate purposive inaction, and proposes that it is through a focus on the embodied dimensions of doing nothing that the purposive qualities of this particular form of highly celebrated inaction come most clearly into view.

Panel W095
Waiting for Godot & Co: modes and moods of the uneventful