Research

Solitude has always been perceived as problematic: beneficial for a few; debilitating for the many. Our current health concerns about solitude are framed by this long and largely neglected history.

This project aims to remedy this neglect by undertaking the first health-related history of modern western solitude. It will yield unprecedented insights into one of humankind’s most fundamental experiences, and one of contemporary society’s most complex health challenges.

Detail of 'Sacrament' by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1915. Photograph: Richard Jeffries. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Solitude, Spirituality and Inner Presence

Premodern solitaries were thought to be in God’s presence. Modern psychologists postulate the presence of internalised ‘others’ who populate our solitude. Our project examines changing ideas about solitary presence and their implications for human subjectivity.

Detail of 'Melancholy' by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1900-01. Photograph: Ove Kvavik. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Solitude, Melancholy and Depression

From antiquity onward solitude has been linked to melancholy and its modern equivalent, depression. We investigate this long history and its psycho-social legacies.

Detail of 'Self Portrait by the Arbour' by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1942. Photograph: Ove Kvavik. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Voluntary Solitaries: Loners, Introverts, Misanthropes

People who prefer solitude to the company of others have long been regarded as eccentric, even mad. We examine this pathologisation of the reclusive self and ask whether social media is making us more or less antisocial.

Detail of 'After the Fall' by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1924-25. Photograph: Ove Kvavik. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Involuntary Solitudes

Exiles, castaways, prisoners: history shows us many people who have suffered unwanted solitude. We explore this experience, past and present, and its impact on people’s physical and psychological health.

Detail of 'Seated Model on the Couch'. Oil on canvas, 1924. Photograph: Sidsel de Jong. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Solitude, Loneliness and Modernity

Today loneliness is said to have reached epidemic proportions. Our project asks when and why modern people became so lonely and what can be done about it.

Detail of 'Young People on the Beach' by Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 1904. Photograph: Juri Kobayashi. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Solitude and Gender

Does gender shape our experience of solitude? We look at the effects that social constructions and expectations of gender can have on our encounters with aloneness.

Detail of 'Woman's Head Against a Red Background' by Edvard Munch. Gouache, 1893–1894. Photograph: Ove Kvavik. CC-BY-4.0 Munchmuseet.

Solitude and Social Difference

Identity is a key part of understanding what it means to feel alone. We examine experiences of social difference and the way they can shape our perspective on isolation, loneliness and solitude.

Publications and Media

You can see a selection of work by members of the project team below.

Online features

Articles

Journal Special Issues

  • Akshi Singh and Eve Dickson (eds.), ‘New Writing on Marion Milner’, Critical Quarterly (forthcoming, December 2021).

Book Chapters

Radio, podcasts and lectures