We presented our paper, ‘Loss and solitude in contemporary urban Senegal: exploring loneliness after a family death‘ today in the panel session on Solitude in Africa, convened by Michael Stasik at the European Conference of African Studies 2019, University of Edinburgh. We analysed our dataset for references to ‘alone’, ‘lonely’ and ‘solitude’; feeling alone after a family death was commonly experienced by the majority of interviewees. It was great to discuss loneliness and solitude in the context of West Africa with contributors and audience members. See our abstract for more details:
While tackling loneliness has risen up the policy agenda in the UK and other affluent societies, solitude and isolation in Africa appears to be a sign of a loss of social status and support and implies greater suffering (Jacquemin, 2010). In this paper, we explore experiences of loneliness after a family death in contemporary urban Senegal. We draw on in-depth interviews with 59 family members living in two cities, Dakar and Kaolack and four focus groups. Many young people and older participants described feeling ‘alone’, both at the moment of death and in the months following the death. These feelings seemed to conflict with the presence of relatives, friends and neighbours in the immediate aftermath of the death, as well as the sense of the presence of the deceased in homespace. While only one participant, a widower, lived alone, many widows expressed a sense of feeling ‘alone’ in their responsibilities to raise their children and manage the household following the widowhood-mourning period. The findings bring into sharp contrast the distinction often made in Anglophone literature between loneliness as a subjective, felt experience and social isolation as a more objective, observable phenomenon. The Wolof notion of Dimbalanté (solidarity/mutual support), which is closely connected to a relational understanding of the self, bound up with the wellbeing of others (often referred to as Ubuntu in Africa), appear central to understanding the meaning of loss and loneliness in contemporary urban Senegal. These findings have significant implications for conceptualising ‘solitude’ in cross-cultural contexts.
Ruth Evans’ Methods in Motion blogpost shows how an approach of ‘uncomfortable reflexivity’ can help to reveal the work of emotions in cross-cultural research. Thanks to the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University, for publishing this edited version of our original blogpost.
Ruth Evans gave a very well received keynote at the New Social Dynamics in Senegal workshop organised by Aurélien Baroiller, Boubacar Barry & Hannah Hoechner, at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels (13-14 March 2017). Her presentation, “Your tears are like pouring hot water on the body”: Caring for the dead and responses to a family death in urban Senegal, explored the social regulation of grief and how care for the dead is expressed. The workshop provided an opportunity to connect with other academics and researchers working in Senegal and think how best to continue the dialogue in future.
Nous avons le plaisir de présenter le Résumé de notre projet de recherche sur : ‘Décès dans la famille en milieu urbain sénégalais: deuil, prise en charge et relations familiales’, financé par le Leverhulme Trust. Les résultats seront présentés et discutés avec les intervenants lors des séminaires de diffusion à Kaolack et à Dakar et le rapport final sera publié en février 2016.
Ruth recently presented a paper based on our findings entitled, Young people’s responses to the death of a relative: a vital conjuncture that complicates pathways out of ‘waithood’? at a panel session on ‘Pathways out of waithood: engaging with a repertoire of strategies’, convened by Jørgen Carling (Peace Research Institute Oslo) at the European Conference of African Studies in Paris. It was great to discuss our findings with other researchers working on youth in diverse contexts in Africa (see here for more details). Fatou also joined Ruth, Sophie and Jane in Paris for discussions about our analyses and also presented a well received paper on street children in Senegal at the conference.
Ruth recently presented a paper, ‘”Your tears are like pouring hot water on the body”: exploring religious and cultural influences on responses to death in urban Senegal’ in the Geographies of Faith, Spirituality and Religion session (organised by Claire Dwyer, Ruth Judge and Elizabeth Olsen) at the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies. The paper focused on tears and the expression of emotions in responses to death in the family in urban Senegal, based on our preliminary findings. We also sought to interrogate our cultural assumptions about religious and cultural norms surrounding mourning and the expression of grief. We found it helpful to analyse our findings through the framings of emotional geographies and geographies of religion and received thoughtful questions and comments from colleagues.
Jane recently presented a paper, ‘Death and its futures beyond the global North: exploring responses to family deaths in urban Senegal’ at the Centre for Death and Society Conference. The paper drew on our preliminary analyses of the data and discussed how responses to death are embedded in cultural understandings of family relationships. It was great to share our findings with death and bereavement studies scholars and practitioners and receive helpful comments and feedback.