Culture of Empathy
Empathy A History
Susan Lanzoni is a historian of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience
and teaches at Harvard's School of Continuing Education. Her work has been
featured in the Atlantic and American Scientist and on Cognoscenti on WBUR,
Boston's NPR station. She is author of Empathy: A History.
The book tells the fascinating and largely unknown story of the first
appearance of "empathy" in 1908 and tracks its shifting meanings over the
History tells us that empathy comprises a complex,
artful but also effortful practice that enrolls
feelings, intellect, and imagination.
Empathy, in it's many varieties, offers an oblique
sometimes direct challenge to the idea that we
enclosed selves, sharply defined against
the world and others.
Empathy: A History tells
the fascinating and largely unknown story of the first appearance of
“empathy” in 1908 and tracks its shifting meanings over the following
Despite empathy’s ubiquity today, few realize that it began as
a translation of Einfühlung or
“in-feeling” in German psychological aesthetics that described how
spectators projected their own feelings and movements into objects of
art and nature.
Empathy as the Art of Movement
The Roots of Einfuhlung or Empathy in the Arts
From Einfuhlung to Empathy
Empathy in Art and Modern Dance
PART I I: Making Empathy Scientific
The Limits of Empathy in Schizophrenia
Empathy in Social Work and Psychotherapy
PART I I I: Empathy in Culture and Politics
Empathy, Race, and Politics
The History of Empathy
(16 min audio podcast)
By ELSA PARTAN & HEATHER GOLDSTONE
DEC 31, 2018
was about ‘feeling into’ things, like forms and shapes and art objects,”
said Susan Lanzoni, a science and medicine historian based in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and author of Empathy: A History.
This expansive new account of the history of empathy demonstrates the ways in
which the concept has been imagined and reimagined across multiple discourses
over the course of about a century.
The story unfolds in roughly chronological order, showing how empathy
developed from aesthetic roots, was taken up as a technical scientific term in
clinical and social psychology, and then stood at the centre of political
debate in the wake of World War II and during the Civil Rights Era.
Lanzoni uses thematic vignettes to elaborate on how the empathy concept was
deployed for specific concerns at specific times. For each of these vignettes,
one gets the impression that there is enough material to fill a whole book.
Lanzoni identifies her approach as akin to David Armitage’s method of serial
contextualism, which provides “a way of delving into significant historical
moments with detail yet still holding to an expansive view” (p. 16).
you must know by now, is a major keyword in the design business. We empathize
with our clients. We empathize with their employees and their customers. We
empathize with outside experts. With humanity. We empathize, that is, with the
people who most need it and seldom receive enough of it. And yet, as I
recently paged my way through Susan Lanzoni’s lavishly researched Empathy:
A History, I
realized that we never actually spell out what we mean by the term.
Lanzoni’s volume reminded of when, in 2015, my former colleague Augusta Meill
published an essay against
She didn’t define the term, but she did bring some necessary critical thinking
to the subject: “Empathy’s great value as a design and business tool is that
it offers palpable closeness to other people. This is by its nature singular
and individualistic,” she wrote, adding that “our responsibility as designers
(and, dare I suggest, as businesspeople too) should be not only to the
individual but to the society.”"
Is it possible to empathize with lines in an abstract design, with the
expansive reach of a tree, the sweep of a bird’s flight, or the imposing rise
of a range of mountains? Can we “feel into” forms and shapes?
If today we know empathy as a way of understanding and feeling the emotional
lives of others, one hundred years ago, surprisingly, empathy took place with
objects of art and nature. In 1928, the novelist Rebecca West used the new
term “empathy”—still absent from most dictionaries—to describe her own feeling
of soaring with a bird as it arched through the skies. She explained that such
an experience was ordinary, although it had only been identified and labeled
empathy in the previous decades.
A Short History of Empathy
OCT 15, 2015
The term’s only been around for about a century—but over the course of its
existence, its meaning has continually changed.
Review of Empathy: A History. By Susan Lanzoni.
Glenn C. Altschuler Ph.D.
"Lanzoni illuminates the complex genealogy of empathy and shifts in
definition. Best understood as “an array of ideas and practices,” the concept,
she demonstrates, has been deployed as a method of appreciating art, a
psychotherapeutic tool, an innate human trait, and an essential element of
civic responsibility. Social psychologists and clinicians have tied empathy to
the body (as a kinesthetic response); perceived it as an abstract idea;
understood it as an unconscious or deliberate response."