Reflexive Embodied Empathy

9954 words 40 pages
Paper for 2005 Methods issue #4 The Humanistic Psychologist

‘Reflexive embodied empathy’: a phenomenology of participant-researcher intersubjectivity

By: Linda Finlay

Acknowledgements: My grateful thanks go to Scott Churchill for reminding me to return to Husserl’s work on intersubjectivity to better anchor my concept of ‘reflexive embodied empathy’. I am also indebted to Maree Burns who first drew my attention to the idea of embodied reflexivity.

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In this paper I’m advocating a research process which involves
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The implications of this for the practice of reflexivity in research are explored and elaborated.

Phenomenological conceptions of empathy

Defining empathy

The term ‘empathy’ is the English translation of the German term Einfuehlung, which means ‘feeling into’ or gently sensing another person or an object in the process of trying to appreciate it. In 1897, Lipps introduced the concept of Einfuehlung into his writing on aesthetics: An observer is stimulated by the sight of an object…soon the observer feels himself into the object, loses consciousness of himself, and experiences the object as if his own identity had disappeared…The observer sees a mountain…As his gaze moves upward to the peak of the mountain, his own neck muscles tense and for the moment there is a sensation of rising. (Lipps, cited in Peloquin, 1995, p.25).

When this idea is applied to the human world, empathy is generally understood as ‘entering another’s world’. Carl Rogers offers the benchmark definition: It means entering the private world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing


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