Involuntary Solitudes

Unwanted solitude can be found throughout history, from those who have had solitude foisted upon them by unhappy accident, as in the case of castaways, most famously represented by Robinson Crusoe, to those who suffer solitude by design, as in the case of people exiled from their homes or confined and imprisoned away from others.

In modern times, there are forms of involuntary solitude we call ‘loneliness’ or ‘social isolation’. Our project looks at those issues separately; in this research strand we concentrate on the most extreme, and often most damaging, varieties of solitude inflicted upon individuals at the behest of providence or fate (as pre-moderns would have regarded the castaway’s plight) or by authoritarian regimes and institutions who use solitude as a weapon of punishment and oppression.

Solitary confinement has long been regarded as a particularly cruel and degrading carceral practice but today it is widespread throughout prison systems, both in totalitarian states and liberal democracies.

In the past, psychiatric institutions also made much use of solitary confinement to control patients; this still occurs today, albeit to a lesser degree since the closure of asylums. What does the experience of enforced solitude do to people, and how can this weaponisation of solitude be prevented?

Further reading

Further listening


Our network of researchers frequently write posts for our blog on involuntary solitudes. You can read their blog posts here.

If you are researching involuntary solitudes, and would be interested in joining our research network, please get in touch – we would love to hear from you!