Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association
Washington, D.C., November 29 – December 3, 2017
Empathy Matters: Teaching Interventions in a Time of Intensive Inequality and Division
Madelaine Adelman, Justice & Social Inquiry, Arizona State University, [email protected]
Nora Haenn, Anthropology and International Studies, North Carolina State University, nmhaen[email protected]
Call for Five (5) Presenters on Proposed Roundtable:
If interested, please send us your name, email address, institutional affiliation, issue or subject matter, name of course and degree program or educational context, and brief description of your approach to social empathy. We aim to create a diverse roundtable per the outline below. Note that “presenter” counts as a “major role” for individual participation at AAA meeting.
This roundtable focuses on the pragmatics of teaching empathy during a period of heightened politicization of difference. Inspired by social work scholar Elizabeth Segal’s notion of “social empathy,” this roundtable brings together participants who seek to cultivate and reinforce empathy as a skill required of an informed and educated, politically-engaged public. Segal distinguishes between “interpersonal empathy” and “social empathy.” Interpersonal empathy comprises two main components: 1) the affective physiological response to another’s experience; and 2) the cognitive mental processing where one distinguishes between self and other while taking into account another person’s perspective (Gerdes & Segal, 2009, p. 120, Segal, 2013). According to Segal, social empathy is “the ability to understand people by perceiving or experiencing their life situations and as a result gain insight into structural inequalities and disparities” (Segal, 2007, 2011, 2013). Social empathy builds on interpersonal empathy by recognizing the conditions that create inequalities, and by imagining what it is like to be part of another group. Humans are more likely to identify with and consider deserving of assistance those who “look like us.” Thus, cultivating social empathy includes exposure, explanation and experience to difference across human history, culture, and lifespan. Because social empathy includes an understanding of structural inequalities, students trained in social empathy may better identify steps toward social change and more effectively shape public policy, social movements, or other pathways to justice (Segal, 2013).
In order to explore how educators have addressed social empathy in the classroom, as well as ideas resonant with the more formal framework, this roundtable brings together participants whose work on various identity differences (e.g. race, migration status, gender and sexuality, party affiliation, Israel/Palestine, etc.) has taken on amplified meaning in today’s political atmosphere. As teachers, how do we effectively teach social empathy in our diverse academic settings and across different levels of student engagement? How do we do so in light of the specific political concerns surrounding particular identity formations and our students’ positions within those formations? Participants will explain their rationale for incorporating empathy, either implicitly or explicitly in the classroom, and reflect on and assess novel as well as time-tested pedagogical approaches to empathy as either a teaching tool (i.e. a means to reach a related but unique outcome) or as a goal (i.e. the intended outcome itself). Overall, the roundtable aims to reinforce the ways we, as educators, can help students move beyond feeling and understanding to action based on a sense of social responsibility (Segal, 2011, p. 268).
Gerdes, K. & Segal, E.A. (2009). A Social Work Model of Empathy. Advances in Social Work, 10, 2, pp. 114-127.
Segal, E.A. (2013). Social Empathy: Using Interpersonal Skills to Effect Change, 25th National Symposium on Doctoral Research in Social Work, Invited Keynote Speaker, Ohio State University College of Social Work, Columbus, OH.
Segal, E.A. (2011) Social Empathy: A Model Built on Empathy, Contextual Understanding, and Social Responsibility That Promotes Social Justice. Journal of Social Service Research, 37, 3, pp. 266-277.
Segal, E.A. (2007). Social empathy: A new paradigm to address poverty. Journal of Poverty: Innovations on Social, Political, & Economic Inequalities, 11, 3, pp. 65–81.