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“The idleness of the flâneur is a demonstration against the division of labor.” – Benjamin, W., Eiland, H., & McLaughlin, K. (2003). The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA,: Harvard University Press.

“Idleness” is an activity for the privileged. An immigrant, refugee, person of color, or someone in poverty who is “idle” is deemed “lazy”.

In a paper called The Burden and Blessing of Privilege in Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own‘ states that “Idleness, traditionally viewed as a moral vice (most especially as it pertains to women).” In another paper called The Privilege of Idleness: A Case Study of Capitalism and the Common Law in Nineteenth Century America, it begins with a quote:

“The law… will not lend its aid to enable a servant to eat the bread of idleness; it abhors an idle man; idleness is a breach of social duty and moral obligation which the law would rather punish than countenance.” – Eugene McQuillan


I think it’s interesting to compare the latter two quotes with the first. In the latter, there are judgements against those who would be “idle” – a failure of social duty, a vice. The first quote is almost a call to arms, calling up idleness as a “demonstration.” I have previously discussed the novelty of simply having time to “be idle”, to wander. But here, we’re looking at public perception. When my husband and I spend hours walking around Berlin, we are on vacation. We are “living”, “unwinding”, “disconnecting”, “learning to relax”, “using well-earned time off.”

I read an article, awhile back, that I’m still trying to find again but it said that when men take sabbaticals or extended time off, they do things for themselves – train for marathons, bike rides, travel – and are praised. When women take that same time off, they tend to do work around the house. (And let’s not forget that sabbaticals and “extended time off” are things for specific sets up people.) For people struggling to make ends meet for any reason, “time off” is not affordable.

So I go back to back to Benjamin and his “demonstration against division of labor.” Who is allowed to be idle, who is allowed to “demonstrate” against labor? This is one of the ways that privilege (white, male) is inherent in the makeup of the flâneur.


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