Celebrating our students
As we celebrate the launch of the Gender & Social Justice program, we want to showcase the creative and resistant research students do in Gender & Social Justice courses. The student showcase series will feature short interviews—some video, some text-based—with students about their work.
Grace Zhou Interview
Grace Zhou in conversation with Dr. Katy Fulfer, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Gender & Social Justice.
KF: Grace, it is great to have you with me today to discuss your podcast episode exploring loneliness and belonging. This conversation is particularly special to me because you completed this project in my course on feminism and Hannah Arendt.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
GZ: Thank you so much for taking the time to invite me to have a conversation about my research podcast episode. It is truly an honour to be part of this showcase because Hannah Arendt is a critical thinker who remains inspiring in today’s conversation on colonialism and anti-racism. Thank you, Professor Fulfer, for introducing Arendt into my life and inspiring me to continue learning in the field of social justice.
A little introduction about myself - my name is Grace Zhou, and I graduated with a BA in Honours Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in 2020. Currently, I am heading toward my second year in Master of Education in Social Justice Education with the collaboration of the Harney Program in Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the University of Toronto. My research interests are centred by disability studies informed by cultural studies, feminist approaches, and philosophy using a phenomenology approach. I am inspired by the notion of storytelling and participatory approaches to understanding one’s journey of moving through the world.
KF: Your program of study sounds fascinating, and I can see resonances between you and Arendt with respect to storytelling. But let’s get into your podcast on loneliness. How did Arendt define loneliness? What did you find helpful about her conception?
GZ: Loneliness is separation from the world and the feeling without any companionship. In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt defined loneliness as “uprootedness, no place in the world” (Arendt 475). Individuals are not being recognized by others and disconnected from the world. As Arendt remarks:
“What prepares men for the totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our country” (Arendt 176).
Arendt challenges us to see the connection between loneliness and totalitarianism ideology –which become a weapon of putting individuals into a state of terror. By restricting the freedom of speech, people lose the ability to express their identity within the world. It destroys a space being recognized by others. A person might continue to be speaking, but speech is meaningless without a community. The key takeaway is that Arendt believes is that loneliness cuts off human relationships and the inability to act together toward change.
I find Arendt’s concept is helpful during the coronavirus pandemic with many uncertainties. We tend to notice the absence of face-to-face connections, missing familiar details of our gestures and body language in a conversation. Sometimes I wonder what boundaries between the public and private realm are? How can we embrace the common ground of our world?
KF: I think you are right that the pandemic has made us look at loneliness in deeper ways. As we lose the ability to be together in public spaces, we might turn inwards and lose a sense of togetherness with others. In the podcast you also discuss solitude. What’s the difference between loneliness and solitude, both for you and Arendt? How is solitude connected to belonging?
GZ: I want to begin that loneliness is not isolation nor solitude. Solitude is part of the human condition and the act of engaging in critical self-reflection. With increasing digitalization, we are quickly “buying” into solutions and forget to examine them. Arendt reminds us that we need to stop and think.
As Arendt remarks, “all thinking, strictly speaking, is done in solitude and is a dialogue between me and myself; but this dialogue of the two-in-one does not lose contact with the world of my fellow-men because they are represented in the self with whom I lead the dialogue of thought” (ideology and terror, Arendt, 48).
It involves a reflective journey and a self-iterative process, which can bring you to unexpected places. Most importantly, solitude prepares us for the space of appearance but thinking without actions is meaningless. Through solitude and thinking, every individual can bring out their unique ideas into action. Being yourself does not mean that you need to be lonely but instead think critically. The central theme of community, belonging and human nexus of wellbeing. With the celebration of human togetherness, speech and action are disclosed in the public realm. Our actions reveal who we are instead of what we are. Being in the community is founded on trust and care with one another.
The essence of totalitarianism creates a world of loneliness and destroys solitude. A totalitarian regime creates a world of mistrust and puts doubts in one’s experience. In loneliness, we are unable to connect meaningfully. It sounds a bit cliché, but I love to say that “I am alone, but I am not lonely”. Good solitude engages in dialogue with myself, knowing that I am not losing contact with the world.
KF: You share some personal stories in this podcast. Why do you think personal narratives are so important?
GZ: One of my favourite quotes by Thomas King is “the truth about stories is that’s all we are” (King 2003). The insights and sharing of narrative are valuable because it comes from a vulnerable position and an individual’s lived experience. However, a single story is dangerous because it is incomplete, and we cannot make the one story the only story (Adichie 2009). Instead of discrediting one’s experience, we need to embrace the different forms of narratives. We all have different journeys, ideas, and cultures. Stories bring us together and become the meaning maker for ourselves and others. Together, our stories release to the world of possibilities and build the body of knowledge.
KF: The relationality of storytelling really brings to light, for me, the dangers of loneliness and disconnection from others. For you, why is loneliness an important topic for social justice advocates to think about?
GZ: Reflecting on this topic, I will begin that loneliness is not a single person’s experience, nor is it the need for treatment. We tend to see loneliness as a “problem” and required to be “fixed”. Yet, I argue that loneliness is social exclusion and failure to provide equal access to resources. For example, disabled communities and racial minorities’ voices become the underrepresentation voices of conversations. By rejecting normalcy (the idea that there is only one way of being in the world and defining disability as a “condition”), loneliness is a complex human experience to share, most importantly, a collective experience in various forms and notions. Everyone experiences loneliness, but the experience differs. Loneliness is a social justice issue and having a lack of belonging from the community. By cultivating relationships and human connection, the issue of loneliness helps us to examine poverty, injustice, and violence.
KF: Grace, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to reconnect with you and all the best to you as you continue your studies in graduate school.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. 2009. The danger of a single story. July.
King, Thomas. CBC. 2003. The 2003 CBC Massey Lectures, "The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative". November 7.
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. 2nd edition. Chicago University Press, 1998.
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Revised edition. Harcourt, Inc.: 1968.
In this first showcase, Beatrice Lowson discusses her paper "Witches, whores and the pox" for a history seminar, connecting the syphilis pandemic with changing cultural meanings around sex work and witchcraft.
Gillian’s final project for History 422 (Early Modern Sex and Gender), highlights the diverse experiences of early modern women. The project explores women’s lives through an original role-playing game called 1649, in which a player takes on the identity of a woman living in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1649. Grounded in excellent historical research, the game takes players through many of the challenges, opportunities, and life stages of early modern women, and as Gillian explains in the introduction, enables “a player to step back into history and view the past from a different, more tangible, and ultimately more engaging point of view.” The game guides players through both the seasons of life and the historical setting of seventeenth-century Edinburgh and offers players the opportunity to reflect on the experiences of early modern women through a creative and engaging game. Gillian's project won her the Sandra Burt Award in 2021.
Beatrice Lowson Interview
Gillian Wagenaar Interview