Whispering empathy: transdisciplinary reflections on research methodology

TitleWhispering empathy: transdisciplinary reflections on research methodology
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsH. Wels
EditorB. Musschenga, and A. van Harskamp
Secondary TitleWhat makes us moral?: on the capacities and conditions for being moral
Pagination151 - 165
Date Published2013///
Place PublishedDordrecht
Publication Languageeng

According to world famous primatologist Frans de Waal we live in 'the age of empathy'. De Waal is part of a long tradition of biologists who have argued for recognizing individual emotions, altruism and morality in human and non-human animals alike. This is an intellectual tradition that resonates with the current-day attention for the emotional lives of animals. It is an approach to interpreting human and non-human animals' behaviour that finds its popular expression in a variety of animal whisperers that we come across nowadays, on television and in books, ranging from dogs, to horses, and elephants. Whisperers and ethologists alike base their work to a large extent on detailed and prolonged observations of animals and not only attempt to scientifically prove empathy in both humans and non-human species, but also use empathy as a research method to try and better understand (non-)animal behaviour.
This paper reflects on the concept of empathy in relation to Giles Deleuze's 'becoming' in the context of qualitative research methodologies, and from a transdisciplinary perspective. I will particularly focus on perspectives from sociobiology, philosophy and literary criticism, in order to further J.M. Coetzee's famous discussion, based on Thomas Nagel, of the boundaries of human empathetic capabilities. I will argue that our capacities of and skills in empathy lie at the very heart of all behavioural and interpretative research, ranging from ethology to ethnography.

Citation Key6407