‘Solitude is not thrust upon any lovable person’: loneliness, shame and the problem (of) personality

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Fred Cooper University of Exeter, UK

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The relationship between loneliness and shame is frequently asserted, usually under-theorised, and very rarely subject to historical attention and care. Researchers in and across a number of disciplines are comfortable in the truism that shame and stigma are attached to loneliness through a series of psychosocial processes and dialogues, with negative social, medical, cultural and political valuations of loneliness dovetailing into neoliberal (and older) logics of individual responsibility for relationships and health. Far less clear is where these languages come from; how shame has accrued (or been assembled) around loneliness as an emotion or experience; and how this has changed over time. Drawing on the author’s practice as a historian of medicine, this article follows the problem of ‘personality’ through primary sources in print journalism, loneliness activism, public health work, and the psy and social sciences. It traces shaming narratives on loneliness through interwar and postwar conversations on selfishness, self-pity and the typology of lonely personalities, and considers how discourses on hostility and intolerance shaped a growing theorisation of chronic and intractable loneliness.

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Fred Cooper University of Exeter, UK

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