To walk in their shoes: Recognising the expression of empathy as a research reality

  • Jones B
  • Ficklin L
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This paper makes an argument for recognising empathy as a research reality and explores its presence in the two development research fieldwork sites of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nicaragua in 2007 and 2008. In both countries qualitative methods were used in a context of heightened politicisation and cross-cultural research in a variety of diverse political and geographical landscapes. Development research in particular can be motivated by a sense of injustice and is often entwined with feelings of anger, guilt, solidarity, outrage and a sense of purpose. In addition, the use of qualitative methods tends to invoke empathy in order to establish relationships of trust and openness between researcher and participant. There is an assumption, however, that the recognition and utilisation of empathy encroaches on the neutrality of the researcher. This paper challenges this belief and suggests that empathy is a valuable part of knowledge production in research. We conclude that empathy is generated through a relational process between those present in a research moment, in these cases a researcher, interpreter and participant/s. It shapes the research moment, affects understanding of the research moment, and needs to be represented in written analysis as illuminating of context and data. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Development research
  • Emotion
  • Empathy
  • Nicaragua
  • Qualitative methodologies

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  • Briony Jones

  • Lisa Ficklin

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