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Costly encounters of the empathic kind: a typology

  • Naomi Head (a1)


While considerable attention is being accorded to emotions in International Relations, this article seeks to integrate empathy into these interdisciplinary debates. It counters the dominant assumption that empathy tends to be largely benign and beneficial by conceptualizing a typology of the costs of empathy. The dimensions of costs addressed are epistemological, cognitive, emotional, material, and embodied. I argue that these costs are frequently tangible for those who make the ethical-political choice to engage in empathy in situations of conflict and political violence. Drawing on social psychology approaches, empathy is located within a framework of collective narratives, emotions, and social structures shaped by both micro- and macro-political processes. A model of empathy, which acknowledges social influences and the psychological mechanisms through which these influences may be mediated, contributes to a deeper understanding of how politics, psychology, and culture shape empathy and, crucially, helps understand the conditions which may affect the successes, limitations, and failures of empathy in the (international) political sphere. The article offers empirical illustrations of the costs of empathy drawing on examples from Israel and Palestine.


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