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Efficiency, compressed time and acceleration are among the most dominant tropes of our age. Their effects change our workplaces, contribute to the global reallocation of economic resources and turn restlessness into a sign of (post-)modernity. Despite these commonplace truths, one cannot argue, however, that otium, or its German equivalent – Muße –, has become obsolete in the wake of these developments. On the contrary, the current malaise gives new meaning to a concept that seemed outdated some decades ago. As the pressure of efficiency is becoming more and more tangible in an ever wider array of contexts, otium is resuscitated and emerges as a focus of debates about the limits of freedom in society in general and in the arts and sciences in particular. Otium becomes a heuristic concept that allows one to discuss the potential for creativity and innovative thought facilitated and generated by the existence of free time, time of leisure and escape from the constraints of task-related duties and action; it also allows us to rethink the fundamental anthropological question of the relation between productivity and freedom. One of the most important features of otium is its transgressive deconstruction of such binaries as work and leisure, acceleration and deceleration, activity and inactivity. Experiences of freedom that are characteristic of otium do not remain isolated within the temporal and spatial confines allocated to otium. They generate a scope for extended reflection and enable us to practice new modes of experience that feed back into our everyday lives. The very incongruity between the limited autonomy one experiences in leisure moments of otium and the contexts of purposefulness and social determination that characterise our everyday lives tends to generate the possibility of critical reflection on our social roles. Therefore, it is through otium and the spaces of otium afforded to different social groups that societies negotiate the relation between individual freedom and social determinacy and control.

In the CRC 1015, cultures of otium were analysed from literary, historical, and sociological perspectives. In the second project phase (2017–2020), the CRC focused even more intensely on the social and socio-political aspects of the topic. While the first project phase (2013–2016) was dominated by studies in the humanities and social sciences, the research profile of the second project phase included a broader spectrum of disciplines (medicine, forestry, anthropology, psychology), and increasingly turned to contemporary issues and developments. By analysing distinct social practices, their histories, discursive mediations and aesthetic interpretations, we explored fundamental anthropological questions in closer detail and comparatively. The CRC thus allowed us to refine a number of contemporary debates on the allocation and use of temporal resources.