The Otium of the People. Reclaiming Free Time

Original title: L’otium du peuple. À la reconquête du temps libre

Publication Date:

January 2024



Original language and publisher

Territories Handled

Worldwide excl. French


Philosophy, Society

The Otium of the People. Reclaiming Free Time

Original title: L’otium du peuple. À la reconquête du temps libre


“In many ways, reading is the embodiment of otium: a moment of dialogue with oneself and with the thought of others, likely to help us progress. A reasonable ambition might be for this concept of “otium” to be used by our contemporaries to reclaim their available brain time!” — Revue Sciences Humaines

Today, everything is speeding up and we’re caught up in a rhythm that’s gone crazy. Time for reflection is the great sacrifice of this new chaos. Judged by the criteria of productivity, it is seen as an unnecessary luxury. So we happily burn it up in the endless scrolling sessions that swallow our time. Addicted to the emotional screens, we are spending our available brain time into it.

How can we detox from this new opium? How can we turn our free time back into a haven where we can once again reflect, imagine, contemplate and understand?

Decisive for our autonomy, these faculties should no longer be the superfluous to our existence. Far from being reduced, as it often is, to idleness, leisure could be rebuilt on the basis of otium – the ‘fruitful leisure’ that ancient thinkers put at the top of human activities. A prodigious space for existential invention, this time freed from urgent matters and calculations, allowing its beneficiaries the quest for the inner self, for wisdom, for the common good.

The time has come to reclaim this emancipating and responsible use of free time. Revealing its profound topicality, Bourdieu saw fruitful leisure as a universal anthropological possibility and, as Foucault put it, as a tool for self-care that cares for others (le souci de soi). For a long time the preserve of the few, otium could well be the word capable of expressing the frantic desire for duration and depth that sometimes grips our digital wanderings.

Table of contents


Seizing a universal faculty

  1. Time confiscated

Life consumed by work

Attention devoured by screens

Democracy ruined by trade

  1. The origins of productive leisure

The Greek invention of skhôlè

The Roman and Christian discrediting of otium

Foucault updates the political stakes of otium

III. A word to resist

Refusing total commodification

Schools and otium for all

Living in time


Becoming a protagonist again