Not For Ourselves Alone

Not For Ourselves Alone Jenny Robin Jones

Not For Ourselves Alone is available from booksellers throughout New Zealand. The RRP is $39.99.

The Inside Story

“Like every other human on this planet I am of woman born. My nine months’ gestation was bliss. As I flipped from fish to amphibian to human, I never had to worry about a roof over my head or where my next meal was coming from. I never felt cold or hot or ridiculed or lonely. My mother was home, restaurant and companion in one. She demanded nothing, accepted all my metamorphoses, criticised nothing, and her body was mine to plunder: if I needed calcium her teeth gave it up; if I craved iron, her blood made the sacrifice. If something went wrong, we were one in our suffering. But with my first breath I found myself alone.”

From this beginning Jenny Robin Jones uses her own experience to track how, in the modern world, we develop a sense of belonging. She finds that personality and knowing yourself are vital for building a comfortable place in society, but single-minded concentration on the self can lead us down a cul-de-sac of emptiness and disconnection.

In the modern world a whole economic system has been built upon a caricature of ourselves as rational creatures hellbent on satisfying our own self-interest through consumption and maximising profit. Politicians espousing this system have allowed a dangerous erosion of social provisions to the point where some of these, such as national health, housing and education are seriously failing.

The caricature took root partly in reaction to cataclysmic events of the early twentieth century, when thousands of people embraced new social movements such as fascism and communism and agreed to suspend individuality. Both the extreme movements and the cult of individuality were explicable in the context of their times, but we have reached a point now where a deeper understanding of ourselves and our needs is imperative.

Not For Ourselves Alone looks at the different kinds of belonging available to us. Some people find it most intensely through place, others through community. For some it’s marriage and family; everyone would love to experience it at work; for an increasing number the social media beckon addictively. As life on this planet becomes more precarious, perhaps what can help most in motivating us to live within its means is to cultivate a sense of belonging to it.

In conversation with friends and family members, the author records how those dear to her are finding their own ways to belonging in spite of pressures nudging them towards loneliness and alienation. In essence they are replacing the twentieth century story of ourselves as either self-interested individuals or simple herd animals by a narrative with kindness, compassion and inclusion at its heart.

Reviewers say

Landfall Review Online, “Is it me or is it us?” Review by Susan Wardell

“In this book Jenny Robin Jones has invited you into her living room, where she has pulled every book out of her well-cultured bookshelf. They fall open on the floor – history, sociology, poetry, some old photo albums. She makes you a cup of coffee. She makes a new and willing friend of you. You sit down in the midst of it all and she starts talking.

“Jones’ book is lively, warm, and genre-queer, a blend of memoir, interview and sociological analysis on the themes of belonging, loneliness, individuality, community…

“The writing is energetic, lush and accessible. It takes us by the hand, to lead us with great enthusiasm around time and space, pointing out places and people and events, filling in details with great oratory flair. Jones makes complex ideas sing, sets them to shine: ‘The idea of “freedom” inhabits us like a religious tenet,’ she says, before connecting this to the services of capitalism. ‘The fondue bond was not strong enough for the long haul,’ she sighs of her early dinner-party communities, making me smile…

“Jones is an adept and lively communicator. She opens up deep and serious topics with hope, with kindness, with skill. This journey through loneliness and belonging becomes a pleasure, nothing off-limits or inaccessible, with your own personal tour guide never losing energy.” To read more click here

Antipodes Journal, “An Anatomy of Neoliberalism from New Zealand”, Review by Nicholas Birns, December 2018 and online

“Jones’s arguments will help most the youngest adults among us who are struggling with student loan debt and grasping for life and work situations whose availability was taken as a given by their elders… Jones does not urge us to go back to dated ideas of socialism and hard economic planning. She instead urges a greater empathy and a stronger sense of effective community which enriches rather than annuls individualism, and does not see loneliness as the inevitable correlate of autonomy.

“Jones also ratifies her argument by including many stories of personal friends and acquaintances, often émigrés to New Zealand, who tell stories of how they found and lost identities there. Jones combines these with her own reflections and with copious quotations of thinkers past and present to create… a book that readers can respond to individually, adding their own stories.

“In the mid-20th century the problem was too much conformism, and not enough solitude. In the 21st century, this has changed to too much loneliness, and not enough community. Jenny Robin Jones here shows us how we, both in New Zealand and worldwide, have arrived at this position, and — perhaps more importantly — what we might be able to do to dig ourselves out of it.” To read more click here

Goodreads, Community Review and 5 star rating by Peter Tait

“The book… offers a measure of hope as humanity faces the challenges of rediscovering the sense of belonging that traditional societies took for granted. Its frame of reference is grounded in both Maoridom and Maori and traditional western values, and looks at a diverse range of related subjects, including the dichotomy between belonging and personal freedom, civility, social media, political events (with particular reference to the Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981 that tore at the fabric of New Zealand society), the struggle of the Tuhoe people and the importance of place and spirit in defining belonging… “With the majority of adults in the United Kingdom believing there is less empathy in society now than a year ago and with an epidemic of mental health issues ravaging our young, we cannot do nothing. This is a book that confronts such truths head-on and challenges us to see the problem of loneliness in a much wider context by, first and foremost, acknowledging belonging to be a fundamental human need.”

To read more click here

Readers say

“Wow! What a great book. It captured my interest from cover to cover and reminded me of the joy of connecting with others through such a simple act as reading a book. Connecting with yourself and your family, the interviewees, and the world at large. And reconnecting too — to events past and present that must continue to be discussed, analysed and just remembered for their effects on how we see ourselves and those around us.

“I learned so much. There were people and events documented in the book that I had heard of but never really connected with before, especially the economists. Thank you for making their concepts easy to understand. And for reminding us of our need and responsibility to nurture and strengthen our communities for the collective good. I loved the touches of humour and irony dotted throughout the book. Also, especially loved the bits about social media and its generation. I’m a mother of a social media captive age 20. So really connected there.” Kahukura Kemp

“It’s clearly the product of a sensitive analytic mind and a playful sense of humour. Jenny has sense, common and uncommon. I got so much pleasure discovering new stuff and just thinking myself inside and around it…. It’s a thoughtful, questioning book, that sparks new questions – the sort of book you don’t want to read just once… Jenny has somehow managed to spark revelatory, genuine and clearly honest outpourings from all of her contributors.” Marilyn Duckworth

“One of the things I love about Not For Ourselves Alone is the way Jenny weaves together a wider political and economic perspective with both her own story and those of the people she interviewed – to show various ways to belong. After reading about the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, it’s moving to read the personal story of an Iraqi family who came and settled in New Zealand.” Tama Moiser

RADIO interview with Andrew Dickens on Newstalk ZB, a 10 minute conversation broadcast on 17 April 2018. Notes on the website: “Critically acclaimed NZ author, Jenny Robin Jones has written an absorbing and at times moving account of belonging throughout the ages. Her book, Not For Ourselves Alone: Belonging in an Age of Loneliness is a creative non-fiction work. It traverses the development of individuality through historical and sociological lenses from medieval times to the present day. Jones’ research sits alongside personal reflections of her own life and those of her friends and family who have all experienced belonging, isolation, loneliness in different ways and at different times.” click here

Chapter List

1. Foundations. 2. A Short History of the Self. 3. Adulthood. 4. Place. 5. Marriage and Family. 6. Community. 7. Biological Bonding. 8. In Public Space. 9. Homo Economicus. 10. Inside a Nation. 11. Ingroup Outgroup. 12. The Great Belonging.


A dozen or so carefully selected interviewees spoke with candour and perceptiveness about their experiences relating to identity, work, place, marriage, community, immigration, emigration, social media, retirement, economic relations, social activism and being part of the universe.

Book List

Not For Ourselves Alone is fully notated with bibliography and index. For a list of the main books and other reading matter consulted, see Belonging.