Solitude in Africa
Michael Stasik (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)
Social Anthropology
Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.06
Wednesday 12 June, 10:45-12:15

Short abstract:

Challenging the view that African societies are solitudeless, this panel explores manifestations, expressions and valuations of solitude in Africa by considering experiences of social isolation and withdrawal as well as broader-scale dynamics generative of both aloneness and autonomy.

Long abstract:

The phenomenon of solitude - broadly understood as the state of being and/or feeling apart from others and society - is among the most prominent themes in social theory's preoccupation with modern social life and experience in the global north. The study of solitude in Africa, by contrast, is virtually non-existent. Factors such as extended household groups and the importance of mutuality and a wealth-in-people ascribed to African social life and relationships appear to make 'solitude in Africa' an oxymoronic notion. Living in a 'crowded' and connected world, however, does not preclude the possibility of social isolation and withdrawal, whether involuntary or intended. Examples from both the margins and midst of African societies highlight the presence of solitary people, including the stranger, madman and victim of witchcraft accusations as well as the artist, autocrat and migrant worker's wife. Set out to challenge the view that African societies are solitudeless, this panel invites contributions that explore manifestations, expressions and culturally-bound valuations of solitude in Africa. It calls for contributions that shed light on how experiences and sentiments of solitude intersect with, for instance, different life-stages, socio-economic positions and religious, gender and sexual identities. It particularly welcomes approaches that consider how broader-scale dynamics of, for example, urbanisation, migration and social differentiation generate specific forms of aloneness and solitary affliction but also distinctive states of autonomy and freedom for self-cultivation.