Publish at August 02 2022 Updated August 02 2022

Living alone in the city [Thesis].

Trials and resources of contemporary solitudes

"How many people can you talk to about intimate matters?"

Loneliness has been a growing social fact in Western societies since the 1970s. Multifaceted, it is particularly observed in cities.

One can live quite alone and isolated, but also live solo and maintain regular and supportive family, friend and/or professional relationships.

One can also be "well" surrounded but feel that these connections do not nourish us or, worse, exhaust us.

Be equipped to navigate

"Crises highlight inequalities"so much so that in 2018, the United Kingdom established the first Ministry of Loneliness: the Minister for Loneliness. The Japan did the same in 2021 to address rising suicides.

Over the course of our lives, our modern biographies are more prone to twists and turns, sometimes stormy.

For some, better off, the episodes flow rather smoothly, for others, there are breaks, ruptures. The rhythms of breaks and constructions are so many waves to navigate.

Life is not a long quiet river, society in its modernity has been described as "liquid".

In the face of life's trials, we mobilize resources:

"[...] The "assets" on which individuals can rely give "the opportunities to develop individual strategies" in the face of these risks, to adapt, to bounce back, to sustain this enterprise of self.

These foundations, acquired throughout life, are psychological, material, institutional, but above all, and primarily, relational. "

There is no such thing as individuality outside of relationship

In her dissertation, Camille Duthy has taken it upon herself to work on the loneliness of individuals living in France and Quebec, in order to grasp the contours of connection and to highlight the inequalities that concern human socialities.

In a world that tends to promote that the autonomous individual is responsible for what happens to him or her, the author places the individual in his or her dynamic history: motivated by personal values, where relationships and the absence of relationships contribute to his or her destiny.

Her investigation took place within the framework of comprehensive sociology, with a life-story approach conducted with 38 urban adults (30-50 years old) from Grenoble, Lyon, and Montreal.

She "observed[ed] the individuation process, the uncertain phases traversed and the agreements necessary to find (or not) a metastable agreement, a "new form of life". "

The 2 axes of humanity surveyed

As a result of the interviews, the author determined four ways of approaching her solo life (unclassifiable modalities account for 8% of the respondents).

She listed them on two axes:

  • the journey, the biography on the horizontal axis: left side for linear journeys, right side for journeys in ruptures;

  • well-being on the vertical axis: bottom the lacks and top the good life.

"We propose to define well-being as the result of an agreement between aspirations and achievements: the lower the tension at the heart of this agreement, the greater the well-being expressed."

Their 4 destinies

These are the positioning of the interviewees at the time of the interview. These journeys will echo our own biographies if we are alone, or those of our loved ones whose choices we may look at with fresh eyes and a caring and supportive attitude.

Some narratives, our own or those of our acquaintances, may lie at the interaction of two types.

Linear side:

  • Top balance (31%): urban singles with a relatively comfortable material situation, "satisfied solos," with security, professional stability, very well surrounded people. If they feel the pressure of the norm in relation to the couple, it does not manifest itself in all their relationships and they are able to live it serenely.

  • Lower impatience (31%): solos with good living conditions, but in a situation of waiting for conjugality. The couple is the relationship that is lacking. They consider themselves lucky and refrain from complaining, but are not totally satisfied. For them, connection to others is a priority and they may be in a form of hypersociability.

The breakup side:

  • Top resilience (22%): "the relationship to self and others has been reconfigured"by breakups that constituted radical life changes (turning point). These individuals are well integrated socially and have been able to benefit from supportive connections. Radical changes also cause ties to reconfigure: resilient people shed some ties, strengthen others, and recreate new ones.

  • Bottom precarity (8%): essentially in the interviews the situation of single mothers who face the difficulties of daily life outside of supportive ties. "Relational isolation characterized by a lack of support and disappointed expectations."
    In Belgium, for example, a network of mutual aid and solidarity between single mothers has been created, les mères veilleuses, which organizes, among other things, supportive accompaniments to courts in cases of post-separation violence.

Take care

"Standing up to the world rests first and foremost on an intimate "assurance of power"." It is the foundation of self-confidence.

"The accumulation [of hardships] is likely to foster the risks of disaffiliation. If for some people the relationship with loneliness is summed up in a few punctual moments that are rather well negotiated, it becomes difficult to manage when it is combined with all the dimensions of existence, housing, work, family, friends, etc."

"We note the extreme influence of affective ties in what contributes to happiness."

The dissertation also examines the differences in experience and expression at the level of gender.

  • For women, the negative experience of loneliness is expressed more frequently, related to everyday difficulties and parenting.

  • Single men are more satisfied overall, with more financial facilities, but they express strong anxieties related to specific moments: the anxiety of the night, of sleeping alone and that of dying alone.

The body, social disappearance, ultimate disappearance. In the novel "The Story of Love"by Nicole Krauss, Leopold Gursky, who lives quite alone, goes out every day "to be seen."

The link to the shape of the world

There are also illuminating pages in this thesis about our shape of the world, about measures of wealth (GDP or welfare indicators).

She exposes the theoretical ambivalences of individualism that can be read as long as one does not invite the question of linkage in the understanding of the solitary individual.

The author also returns to the inscription of the new values and laws of the economy, which emerged slowly from the seventeenth century and founded for the following centuries the new landmarks of sociability in the Western world.

"We do not understand the incredible force that opposes, in our societies, to the consideration of ecological, ethical and spiritual and spiritual issues if we do not look back at the mental and social upheaval and social upheaval that has led our societies to make the production of material goods material goods sold on a market the criterion par excellence of value and success. of success." Patrick Viveret.

The disengagement of states from social and collective protections in the 1970s placed responsibilities back on individuals, who became "entrepreneurs of themselves," and solidarities on ties and supports.

At the same time, as mentioned above, more and more people are living alone in cities.

Some activities are more valued than others:

Value is "an equation [...] between need, desire, and utility."

"[The substancilization of this value] is not found in the substance itself of an object, but in the social relations that are established around the object to define it. "

What has value, both economically (it hasn't always been the case) and ontologically, is connection.

Source illustration: Pexels from Pixabay.

To be read:

Camille Duthy, Les Solos : entre émancipation et solidarité : sociologie des épreuves de la solitude résidentielle en milieu urbain, Sociologie, Université Grenoble Alpes, 2020.

Thesis available at:

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