Loneliness, Ethnicity, and our Entangled Relationship with the Others (by Dr Maverick Y. Zhang)

The BILD blog continues the 2023-2024 academic year in our new biweekly format with guest blogger Maverick Zhang. Maverick is a writer, researcher, teacher educator, and activist. Over the past decade, they have engaged in a number of sociopolitical activities in Hong Kong SAR and the state of Georgia in the USA. Maverick’s scholarship deals with the complexity of multicultural and multilingual education in connection with issues around race, class, nationality, and sociopolitical struggles. Their research interests include (but are not limited to) discourse studies, teacher education, multicultural-lingual education, embodiment, critical posthumanism, post-qualitative inquiry, and functional linguistics. Maverick is on faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College, NYC.

Maverick’s ResearchGate site and Youtube channel

To deal with, address, or at least talk about loneliness, it is crucial for us to look at the complex, entangled relationship between our everyday social practices and the feeling of being lonely. From a posthuman perspective, I argue that loneliness does not have much to do with physical isolation, either from social relations or from the material world, inasmuch as we only exist in our intra-actions with the human and nonhuman others (e.g., Barad, 2003, 2007; St. Pierre, 2016).

While I was living in rural Georgia, USA, an acquaintance came up to me, seeming concerned:

Acquaintance (Acq): What’s going on between you and X’s[1] group?

Maverick (Mav): I don’t know…I mean, what do you mean?

Acq: Oh coz…aren’t you in touch with them? I thought…coz they are also Chinese. Why don’t you hang out with them?

I was surprised by her question. My immediate reaction could have been to ask if she has ever asked similar questions to a White person, or if she knew what I self-identify as. I kept these questions to myself, trying to find other things to say:

Mav: Oh, I mean, we are doing different things you know, and we are all busy…

Acq: But that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends!

Mav: Well, coz they’ve never reached out to me.

Acq: Oh, ok…

Mav: I mean it’s normal right? Like I’m in touch with Sun and Park, are you hanging out with them? Coz they are also Korean.

Acq: Oh, no, not really…

Growing up in mainland China, I have made a lot of friends who self-identify as Chinese. Although I had quite complicated life trajectories, I am still in touch with some of them. However, the population of China is over 1.4 billion, and the overwhelming majority of them are neither my friends nor my family members. I am not quite sure what assumptions people might have when they ask me why I am not hanging out with so and so because they are “also Chinese.” I do know that, living in a predominantly white college town in what’s been called the “Deep South” of the U.S., it is not highly likely that the friends I make are “also Chinese.”

Do I feel lonely then? I think the answer is yes, but certainly not in a way that I am isolated from what Barad (2003, 2007) called the human and nonhuman others. I see what I do and who I become as always already entangled with the others, be they material objects such as confederate monuments in the south, traffic noises in New York City and Hong Kong that I miss, or everyday people I ran into. “I” only exist in my intra-activity with these human and nonhuman others, and perhaps it is exactly some of these intra-actions, like the conversation shown above, that pull my self towards what has come to be known as “loneliness.”

Figure 1: Nonhuman others across sociocultural and historical contexts [2]

To understand why questions in the aforementioned conversation (re)produce feelings of loneliness (either a bit “more” lonely or a bit “less” lonely), one will need to understand that being surrounded by others who “look like” me does not necessarily make me feel less lonely. Living in constant traffic noises[3] in New York City, however, does. So does walking down the street with people[4] who do not ask those types of questions. I miss hanging out with my cousin and his friends in Dundas Square, not being questioned “Why don’t you speak Chinese!?” or “Where did you learn your English!?” I miss when my 20-year-old cousin who immigrated to California many years ago asked me “What are we? Are we Chinese or not?” and “Why my Chinese classmates at the university don’t at all care about what I care about?” What I miss the most are perhaps those soccer teammates and childhood friends I grew up with; those who, along with me, could not afford a pair of Nike soccer socks and were labelled as not qualified for any college education throughout our high school years (Zhang, 2022).

(Un)making sense of these forms of loneliness requires a safe and comfortable space for sharing, listening, and doing things together so that we might create entry points to our shared and distinct trajectories along which feelings of loneliness were produced and reproduced; to be aware, in other words, that the complexity of these feelings are always already entangled with our everyday social practices that are both material and discursive, and they very much tie into issues such as those around race, ethnicity, gender, class, and the changing sociocultural and situational contexts in our lives.

[1] All names, aside from the author’s, are pseudonyms.

[2] Photos were taken by the author at Kowloon Tong MTR station, Hong Kong SAR (2017), Midtown, New York City (2018), and Dundas Square, Toronto (2019).

[3] This type of intra-actions with the nonhuman others involves objects/lights/things in Figure 1 as well as confederate monuments mentioned previously.

[4] The following sentences provide examples of these “people,” including my cousins and childhood friends.


Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes   to matter. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), 801-831.

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press.

St. Pierre, E. A. (2016). Curriculum for new material, new empirical inquiry. In N. Snaza, D. Sonu, S.E. Truman & Z. Zaliwska (Eds.), Pedagogical matters: New materialisms and curriculum studies (pp. 1-12). Peter Lang.

Zhang, M. Y. (2022). Neoliberalism, critical literacy, and the everyday: A post-qual informed multi-genre inquiry. Journal of Language and Literacy Education,18(2), 1-24.

One thought on “Loneliness, Ethnicity, and our Entangled Relationship with the Others (by Dr Maverick Y. Zhang)

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Maverick. Your argument and personal anecdotes have changed how I think about loneliness, especially as a 1.75-generation immigrant.

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