Jade E. DavisJul 30, 2023
The Other Side of Empathy
Duke University Press 2023
In The Other Side of Empathy (Duke UP, 2023), Jade E. Davis contests the value of empathy as an affective or critical tool. Whether focusing on technology, colonialism, or racism, she shows how empathy can obscure relationships of dominance, control, submission, and victimization, arguing that these histories taint the whole concept of empathy.
Drawing on digital archives of photographs, memoirs, newspapers, interviews, and advertisements regarding nineteenth-century ethnographic museums and human zoos, Davis shows how empathetic responses erase culpabilities from those institutions that commodify difference. She also contends that empathy’s mediation through digital technology cannot lead to more ethical actions, as technology only connects representations of people rather than the people themselves.
In empathy’s place, Davis proposes mutual recognition as a way to see and experience others beyond colonial modes of empathy. Davis illustrates that moving beyond empathy allows for a more nuanced understanding of the colonial past and its ongoing impact while providing for a more meaningful affective engagement with the world.
Jen Hoyer is Technical Services and Electronic Resources Librarian at CUNY New York City College of Technology. Jen edits for Partnership Journal and organizes with the TPS Collective. She is co-author of What Primary Sources Teach: Lessons for Every Classroom and The Social Movement Archive.