Pathologies of solitude, 18th–21st century


  • Prof Barbara Taylor

    Queen Mary University of London

Project summary

Loneliness can cause serious health concerns. This is generally regarded as a recent development but solitariness has long been perceived as a medical risk, especially for mental health. Our current concerns about social isolation and loneliness are framed by this largely neglected history.

This project aims to remedy the neglect of this subject by undertaking the first health-related history of Western solitude. Its leading premise is that the development of modern society has involved changes in perceptions of solitude, with a tendency to pathologise and medicalise it. I will document and analyse this process by looking at Britain in the 18th century, when modern medical perceptions of solitude first took shape, and comparing developments in this period with those in subsequent centuries. An interdisciplinary research network has been assembled that will bring these historical findings into a dialogue with scientific research about contemporary experiences of solitude.

This project will engage with campaigns devoted to alleviating loneliness, while an ambitious outreach programme will take its findings to the general public.