The Lonely Activist: On Being Haunted

Akwugo Emejulu, Leah Bassel

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In our six-nation comparative research project examining how women of colour activists in London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen and Madrid organise and mobilise against austerity, against the far right and for migrants’ rights, we found activists experiencing intense feelings of loneliness in their work. Emotional turmoil in activist spaces is to be expected since activists are mobilised to action precisely because of the deeply felt emotions about a particular social problem. However, we argue that activists’ loneliness is a structural alienation born out of the operation of white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, queerphobia, ableism and xenophobia not only in wider society but especially in activist spaces. Women of colour activists are made lonely by the unspoken power relations effectuated through emotions. In trying to negotiate the feeling rules of their activist spaces, we argue that much of women of colour’s emotion work is doomed to failure because many activist spaces are constituted by taken for granted dominations to which many women of colour activists are unable and unwilling to reconcile their feelings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-75
Number of pages18
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

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The project was funded by the Open Society Foundation (OR2018-43276), November 2018–April 2023.


  • activism
  • emotions
  • intersectionality
  • race
  • women of colour


  • Social Movements and Contentious Politics


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