By Carolyn Pedwell (auth.)
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Extra resources for Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy
In line with these affective accounts of the ways in which ‘the past’ remains in ‘the present’ in the context of contemporary psycho-social and political relations, it is important to recognise how current transnational politics – though novel in some important ways – depend on colonial histories and forms of categorisation. While we have seen the emergence of new transnational formations – such as the rise of the ‘Asian tigers’ of the 1980s and 1990s (Ong, 1999, 2006) and the consolidation of China, India and Russia as ‘new hegemons’ in the early 21st century (Povinelli, 2011) – older geo-political hierarchies rooted in European colonialisms and subsequent structural adjustment policies continue to be salient.
As such, my approach extends the important work of other feminist theorists who have explored the relational nature of empathy and linked emotions. Lynne Henderson, for example, has described empathy as ‘the foundational phenomenon for intersubjectivity, which is not absorption by the other, but rather simply the relationship of self to other, individual to community’ (1987: 1584). Similarly, Elizabeth Spelman argues that emotions, including empathy, ‘provide powerful clues to the ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours’ (1997: 100).
The complex relationships among emotion, time and space are central to Affective Relations’ exploration of the transnational politics of empathy. Within liberal discourses, I suggest, empathy is frequently understood in teleological terms: its invoking as affective remedy implicitly supposes a natural telos or end-point, at which tensions have been eased and antagonisms rectified. Furthermore, while empathy is often posited as an affective force that can bridge geographical distance by creating emotional proximity, such discourses nevertheless view space (prior to the ‘arrival’ of empathy) as discrete and self-contained.