urban solitude

urban solitude - SOCIAL THOUGHT & COMMENTARY Being...

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755 Being Alone Together: From Solidarity to Solitude in Urban Anthropology Leo Coleman The Ohio State University Abstract The characteristic urban experience of solitude challenges traditional anthro- pological theories of urban life. This article surveys urban theories that treat solitude primarily as loneliness, anomie, and social disorder. It then chal- lenges these theoretical perspectives with ethnographic cases of gay identities and “being alone together,” drawn from fieldwork in New Delhi, India. I develop a heuristic concept of “social solitude” in contrast to “solidarity,” and examine the political and philosophical consequences of focusing on soli- tude as an urban way of life and an expression of sexuality. I discuss repre- sentations of solitude in modernist literature and conclude with a reading of Deleuze. [Keywords: Solidarity; Subjectivity; Desire; Urban Anthropology; Homosexuality; Delhi, India; Deleuze] Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 3, pp. 755–778, ISSN 0003-549. © 2009 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.
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Being Alone Together: From Solidarity to Solitude in Urban Anthropology 756 The hotel lobby accommodates all who go there to meet no one. —Siegfried Kracauer, “The Hotel Lobby,” in The Mass Ornament E.B. White once wrote of New York that it “will bestow the gift of lone- liness and the gift of privacy” on any person who “desires such queer prizes.” He added, “The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mys- terious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him [or her]” (1949:9). White’s sympathetic, agnostic take on urban solitude stands out when set against more traditional sociological writings on the city. Sociological theory has long viewed solitude as a symptom of anomie, as an expression of both personal and social disorganization. On this account, soli- tude is an undesirable product of urban society and a barrier to the solidar- ity necessary for both happiness and political participation. The Chicago sociologists of the 1930s stated this theme in different ways, drawing connections between social heterogeneity, density, and “breakdown,” primarily taking their vocabulary if not their pessimism from Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel. As the co-founder of the Chicago School, Robert Park wrote, in an introduction to Zorbaugh’s pathbreaking study of Chicago’s social geography, the city is “remarkable for the num- ber and kinds of people crowded together in physical proximity, without the opportunity and, apparently, with very little desire for the intimacies and mutual understanding and comprehension which ordinarily insure a common view and make collective action possible” (in Zorbaugh 1929:vii- viii). This presented a peculiarly urgent political problem for Park: Our political system is founded upon the conviction that people who live in the same locality have common interests, and that they can
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urban solitude - SOCIAL THOUGHT & COMMENTARY Being...

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