Radical Empathy: Politics and Emotion


‘Radical Empathy: Politics and Emotion’ (this text is the basis for a talk I gave at Roehampton on 9th November 2016, the day of the election of Donald Trump as US President)

by Nina Power

Thank you for coming. What I want to talk about today is part of a projected bigger project (or at least a medium-sized project) that concerns the role of emotion in political and theoretical life. The idea of ‘radical’ empathy stems from the idea of trying to grasp the problem by its root (as in radical feminism’s emphasis on male violence and patriarchy as root explanatory tools). This interest in empathy was partly stimulated by reflections on political organising, in particular the idea of getting people to ‘care’ about the suffering of others in a direct political sense, and here I’m thinking in particularly about campaigning around deaths in custody where, despite the obvious injustice involved in instances where families and friends have lost loved ones – often people of colour – at the hands of the state, and time and time again receive no recognition of any kind that this has happened – no apology, no compensation, no prosecution of the state agents involved, or in the rare cases where there have been prosecutions, no guilty verdict in the courts. Continue reading