Call for Papers: ‘Boredom’, at the African Literature Association Conference, April 2016

From the Journal of African Cultural Studies

African Literature Association Conference

Atlanta, USA

April 6-9, 2016


Panel organizers: Carli Coetzee and Ato Quayson

Quayson, Oxford Street AccraIn a public lecture titled “Being African in the World” delivered in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this summer, Binyavanga Wainaina made a characteristically provocative intervention, describing Boko Haram as an example of a response to boredom. Continental Africa’s feature, he said, is “youth, and youth are bending their bodies in complicated ways to adventure and find ways to break out of what is just boredom. Not even unemployment, which is terrible, leave all of that – it’s just boredom”. Ato Quayson’s Oxford Street Accra ends with an original and generative reflection on boredom as a feature of, in particular, urban youth cultures in Africa. In the final passages of the book, Quayson refers to those youths whose disaffection is often overlaid by the “vagaries of free time” and reflects on the ways in which this boredom and free time might be mobilised in future.

Spacks, BoredomBoredom has had many historians, and a number of book-length studies are available on the topic. Most of these are focused on the white male canon of western literature. Patricia Meyer Spacks in her Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind (1996) brought a gendered inflection to this work, arguing that boredom is often the result of oppressive social structures. The findings of this study, read alongside Quayson and Wainaina’s more recent insights, offer us new avenues to theorise what Quayson calls “the phenomenology of free time”.

The phenomenology of free time as a feature of contemporary urbanism needs to be distinguished from leisure and the desire for free time to pursue leisure activities.  In the edited collection by Paul Tyambe Zeleze and Cassandra Rachel Veney, Leisure in Urban Africa, leisure is theorised in ways that can usefully be placed alongside a new theory of boredom, and to disaggregate the pursuit of leisure from the tyranny of free time. Papers are invited on aspects related to boredom and disaffection, boredom as a force for political mobilisation, boredom and the mass migrations of Africans we observe daily, boredom and the search for adventure, and the gendered nature of boredom.

The papers will use Wainaina’s lecture and Quayson’s work as their foundation texts, and the intention is to develop research agendas for future work. Early career scholars are particularly invited to take part in these discussions. Prof Ato Quayson will be an active participant in the panels and will deliver a mini keynote summarizing the new insights of the panels and mapping new directions for scholarship.


Please send 200 word abstracts to Carli Coetzee ( by 15 October 2015 using the subject heading “Boredom”.  Further information about the conference can be found here:



Binyavanga Wainaina. 2015. “Africa is Taking its Own Shape – And you are Not Even in that Conversation”, public lecture delivered in Johannesburg. (

Ato Quayson. 2014. Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the itineraries of Transnationalism.

Patricia Meyer Spacks. 1995. Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind.

Paul Tyambe Zeleze and Cassandra Rachel Veney (editors). 2003. Leisure in Urban Africa.


Categories: Calls for & opportunities

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