Emanzipation und Isolation. Zur Genese der Einsamkeitsangst moderner Gesellschaften
(Emancipation and Isolation: On the Fear of Loneliness in Modern Societies and its Genesis)
Increasing loneliness is a popular symptom of modern society’s decline, and it is often attributed to the loss of traditional family ties. Panicked talk of a “loneliness epidemic” in Western societies rests on shaky foundations, however. The model of the large, close-knit family was not “normal”; it mostly arose from the historical anomaly of the 19th century’s demographic explosion. Moreover, concerns about widespread loneliness were already in circulation the 1800s—the very period of social formation whose disappearance was supposed to be the reason for increased loneliness today. The incoherence points to a central misunderstanding of the psychosocial causes of loneliness. In most cases, feelings of loneliness have less to do with the absence of social bonds than with the negative qualities of existing relationships. In reality, modernization increased the structural control individuals had over their lives, friendships, partnerships, and family relations. But it also increased the number of relationships that could be terminated at will. The intimate sphere became subject to dynamic changes whose paradoxical result was that as experiences of loneliness grew rarer, the threat of social isolation increased. The epidemic we face in our current age is not loneliness but its fear.
Janosch Schobin teaches social sciences at the University of Kassel. As part of the BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) project DeCarbFriends (Decarbonization, Friendship Networks, and Gamification), he heads a group of young researchers studying the role of digital games in decarbonizing consumer behavior. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Kassel with a work on friendship and care (Freundschaft und Fürsorge: Bericht über eine Sozialform im Wandel, 2013). He has worked as a researcher at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and as a freelance software developer. His research concentrates on the sociology of friendship, social networks, social isolation, family, death, work, and play. He is the co-editor of Freundschaft heute: Eine Einführung in die Freundschaftssoziologie (2016) and numerous essays on the sociology of loneliness and friendship.