In Depth Out Loud podcast: lockdown lessons from the history of solitude

Alone or lonely? Photo by Max Duzij on Unsplash

This episode of The Conversation’s In Depth Out Loud podcast, features the work of David Vincent, historian at the Open University. He has spent the last few years looking into how people in the past managed to balance community ties and solitary behaviours. With the coronavirus crisis forcing many to self-isolate and limiting our sociability, this has never seemed more relevant.


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Solitude used to be restricted to enclosed religious orders and was a privileged experience of a male elite. It was treated with a mixture of fear and respect. Change was only set in motion by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, when new ideologies took hold and solitude slowly became something that anyone could acceptably seek from time to time. Most people in the West are now used to some regular form of solitude – but the reality of lockdown makes this experience far more extreme.

The history of solitude has lessons for us in differentiating between being alone and feeling lonely. Similarly, it offers lessons for navigating the fragile boundary between life-enhancing and soul-destroying forms of solitary behaviour.

You can read the text version of this in depth article here. The audio version is read and edited by Annabel Bligh.

This story came out of a project at The Conversation called Insights. Sponsored by Research England, our Insights team generate in depth articles derived from interdisciplinary research. You can read their stories here, or subscribe to In Depth Out Loud to listen to more of their articles in the coming months.

The music in In Depth Out Loud is Night Caves, by Lee Rosevere.

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David Vincent is a member of the Labour Party. In addition to his Open University position, he is also Honorary Professor of History at Keele University, and Research Associate of the Pathologies of Solitude project, Queen Mary University, London.

Source: The Conversation In Depth Out Loud podcast: lockdown lessons from the history of solitude