(Self)-Transformation through Transportation:Empathy, Neoliberalism and International Development

Wednesday 26 October 2011, 1.30PM to 2.30pm

Speaker(s): Dr. Carolyn Pedwell, Newcastle University

Affective self-transformation has been understood within the feminist and anti-racist literatures as central to achieving social justice. Through empathetic identification with another, it is suggested, one can open oneself up to different ways of knowing and new forms of intersubjectivity with the potential to dislodge and rearticulate dominant assumptions, truths and boundaries which underscore gendered, racialised and classed hierarchies. I am interested, however, in how the workings of empathy might be reconceptualised when relations of postcoloniality and neoliberalism are placed in the foreground. How can theories of empathy premised on proximity and intimacy negotiate the complex problem of ‘the distant other’, particularly when power structures have enforced relations premised on absolute distance, segregation or antagonism? How do questions about empathetic access to ‘distant others’ intersect with debates about empathy, imagination and fellow feeling? Furthermore, in accounts of contemporary affective journeys, who is being moved, affected or transformed through empathy and who is fixed in place? How is empathetic self-transformation valued through neoliberal technologies of governmentality? And what happens when empathy becomes an affective skill or capacity with market value? In other words, how can we think through the transnational politics of empathy? This paper addresses these questions through juxtaposing debates about empathy within feminist and anti-racist theory with rhetorics of empathy in international development.

Location: Grimston House, VX331