Loss and solitude in contemporary urban Senegal: exploring loneliness after a family death

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.

New blogpost on emotionally sensed knowledge

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.