“MußeOrte – weltweit” (“Places of Otium – Worldwide”) is an offshoot project of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1015 “Otium: Boundaries, Chronotopes, Practices”. It aspires to facilitate the experience of being in places of otium through an interactive online map, and to offer insight into the scientific aspects of the CRC 1015’s present work. However, can otium be defined? What exactly are places of otium? And what is the “Places of Otium – Worldwide” project really about? We wish to answer these questions in the project description, and furthermore, present the various research fields of the CRC 1015.
Otium – Exploring a multifaceted term
‘Everyone wants it, nobody has it’. One speaks of otium in everyday life in order to express the wish for freely available time. And yet, the term is not a synonym for leisure, as it can occur at any place and at any time, even in temporally tense life situations. The attempted description of otium in everyday language already shows what also applies to the definition of the term: otium cannot be fixed one-dimensionally or reduced to a simple scientific formula, unless one neglects the diversity of traditional knowledge systems of the history of ideas, of cultural contexts and of empirical phenomena. Therefore, the CRC 1015 works with an open definition of the term otium, which allows for specifications in each case. For example one of the definitions is ‘productive non-productivity’. This paradoxical expression makes clear that the experience of otium is possible wherever and whenever: for example, it may include the combination of activity and relaxation or productivity without even being aware of it. Both can occur in a place of otium. With this broad and open definition, apparent opposites dissolve, such as those between leisure time and working time. Leisure is no longer limited only to inactivity, relaxation or activity that is oriented to pleasure and enjoyment. Simultaneously, free time is not necessarily seen as a threat to productivity. Instead, it can release unexpected creative potential. Especially in times of constantly increasing productivity, this is an interesting idea. And yet, it is exactly these overlaps of tension and paradoxes that make the scientific examination of the phenomenon of fruitful.
Places of otium
If it is all about places of otium, as it is the case in this interactive map project, “Places of Otium – Worldwide”, visitors of the website would probably initially associate such places with seclusion and remoteness from everyday life, such as those found in gardens, parks or museums. These places invite one to linger or were even explicitly created for the purpose of lingering. They open up mental and real spaces in which leisurely experience and creation are possible. However, enchanted disenchantment can also occur in places which, at first glance, may appear to make otium completely impossible, as in everyday situations such as waiting for a delayed train, or in professional situations in which a sense of ticking time and efficiency are the determinants of our actions. It is almost impossible to predict when and where individuals experience this state of mind; even ‘standard’ places of otium do not guarantee a corresponding experience, for example due to the sheer mass of those who seek it there (e.g. St Mark’s Square in Venice). Experiencing what we understand otium to be, in such spaces, can be both particularly personal and culturally coded.
Otium research at the CRC 1015
As we understand otium is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. Cultural, historical, psychological, aesthetic and social aspects play an important role in its experience. Therefore, it appears to be useful to explore the concept from the perspectives of different disciplines. This is what our project aims to do. This is in contribution to the CRC 1015 “Otium”, at the University of Freiburg, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Research projects from theology, literary studies, cultural anthropology and psychology ask for example how otium (in different cultures) can be grasped, what forms of expression it can have, how it is negotiated in literature and, with regard to experiences of crisis, the perspective on otium and how it can be learned. Questioning the nature of such places and practices plays a central role. Among other things, this can also be seen when literary and forestry scholars investigate urban or natural places of otium and their depictions or, when art historians make architectural-historical or theoretical observations on spaces of otium, in continuation scientists ask how otium affects society. In doing so, spaces that can be both seeming favourable – like touristic trips of cities or church services as well as those that may appear to be unfavourable, like hospitals are observed.
As a result, spaces or places of otium play a prominent role in all projects of the CRC 1015; they are negotiated in the literary projects, as well as in the projects that explore aspects of our everyday experience. But what is understood as a space, what is a place? To put it in a nutshell, there are two ways of talking about spaces: On the one hand, space can be understood in a very concrete, simplified sense as a ‘container’ of things and people. In this case, space is something that surrounds people and things, but at the same time, these cannot always actively shape or influence it. On the other hand, space is not only a physical, but also a social and cultural phenomenon. In this sense, spaces arise from social developments, from social interaction as well as from perceptions and memories of individuals. Only through the social, cultural, collective and individual appropriation towards physical space, it becomes a relevant phenomenon for people. At one place, different emotional, as well as concrete spaces can open up.
The concept behind “Places of Otium – Worldwide”
“Places of Otium – Worldwide” creates a link between specific places and the various forms of their practical and/or mental appropriation. This happens through the approximation of the project’s authors from a subjective life-world perspective to their places of otium, and to the experiences they have made there. However, it also takes place in the creation of a connection between the description of these places and its scientific research with respect to spaces and places through interviews with project leaders and staff from the CRC 1015. On a more abstract level, connecting lines between the authors’ texts written through their life-world perspective and the CRC 1015’s research questions become visible; these connecting lines are intended to stimulate further and critical reflection on aspects of otium and our use of time resources. Last but not the least, this creates an exchange between the general public and scientific study which has the potential to open up new perspectives on the phenomenon of otium for both sides.
The map data
The map data that our project is based on comes from OpenStreetMap – a free, open-licence world map project. These maps are user-created: volunteers collect geographical data and enter it into the OpenStreetMap database, offering an alternative to existing online maps. The level of detail of these maps varies greatly from region to region: the maps of Europe are sometimes even more accurate than proprietary maps; however, areas that are difficult to access or with less developed infrastructure are often mapped fairly inaccurately. The maps’ degree of detail also reflects the inequality of global resource distribution to some extent. Our places of otium in such regions are therefore often difficult to locate on the map, as their surroundings are just depicted as a white spot. It’s important to be aware of this problem, especially with respect to the global character of our project . Nevertheless, we believe it makes sense to use these maps in order to support such public, open source projects.
An otiose space all about otium
The map is intentionally designed in such a way that it can also become a digital space of otium itself: It has the potential to should be experienced in multimedia form. The website does not prescribe any kind of use, at the same time, it offers the possibility to approach otium in a mode of digital flânerie. We cordially invite you to try it out for yourself, browse the website and discover places of otium.