Whispering Empathy: Transdisciplinary Reflections on Research Methodology

  • Harry Wels
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 31)


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.


Research Methodology Popular Culture Social Animal Ethnographic Fieldwork Cognitive Ethologist 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organisational SciencesVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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