Monday, July 9, 2012

The Space Between: Using Peer Theater To Transcenid Race, Class, and Gender
Venessa A. Bowers and Patrice M. Buzzanell

Interrogating Culture. Patrice M. Buzzanell
Purdue University, USA

Critical Empathy
First, critical empathy is more than relating to or understanding another, the usual way in which many approach “empathy.” In typical notions of empathic responses, a person sorts through talk, interactions, and other experiences to try to grasp what another person’s life is like.
Often, this process involves “walking in another’s shoes” or moving physically, affectively, and cognitively through the spatio-temporal environment in which others exist. Empathy can be seen as reactionary insofar as it engages the heart after knowing another person or community, but it also builds capacity to embrace others more swiftly over time and different experiences.
In these respects, empathy seeks to build shared understanding, but it also is conceptualized as a skill (e.g., Ponterotto, 2010).
In contrast, as Dr. Robyn Remke (2006) notes, critical empathy is the deeply profound
realization that one could never ever truly and deeply know the life of another, particularly another person from a different culture. As Remke (2006) conceives of critical empathy, it is both an investigative lens for uncovering deeply divisive assumptions and limitations and a stance for co-orienting, not coordinating or harmonizing, with others. The “burden” for building some kind of relationship and understanding lies in difference not attempts to locate similarities
and shared understanding.
She writes:

Critical empathy acknowledges the methodological attempt to understand another’s
experience but does not demean the subject’s experience by trying to duplicate it or
adopt it as the researcher’s own — which again, I suggest is ultimately impossible.
Additionally, critical empathy does not try to downplay or explain away the distance
between researcher and participant. Rather, the researcher uses the distance and
difference in an analytic way to help reveal and illuminate taken-for-granted forms
of oppression and constraint. The research analysis develops out of the researcher’s
relationship to her participants, informed in part by her descriptive understanding of the participant’s experience. Empathic awareness is thus present. But by sustaining
a critical distance, the researcher remains attuned to forms of oppression that might
otherwise be obscured were she to literally assume the participant’s point of reference.
(p. 101)


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