Circuits of Feeling in The Age of Empathy

  • Carolyn Pedwell
Part of the Thinking Gender in Transnational Times book series (THINKGEN)


With the rise of the ‘science of empathy’ in the wake of the discovery of mirror neurons, we have seen a veritable return to biology, ethology, neuroscience, genetics and various evolutionary theories to explain not only human circuits of feeling, but also the emotional politics of contemporary societies internationally. Building on the last chapter’s engagement with empathy and/as affective translation, this chapter grapples with the implications of the multiple layers of translation involved in politicising the science of empathy. I examine translations of scholarly research on empathy from neuroscience and other scientific fields into, on the one hand, the often neoliberal language of popular science and, on the other, into critical cultural theories of affect and transnational political praxis. Considering some of the critical implications of these different manifestations of the science of empathy, the chapter extends the understanding of affective translation introduced in the last chapter by drawing out some of empathy’s more embodied, material and unwilled qualities, while nonetheless keeping these in tension with social, political and ethical concerns in the context of transnational power relations. I explore how, when read against the grain, particular strands of contemporary neuroscience and ethology might compliment cultural and psychoanalytic analyses of emotion and affect, contributing to a framework for conceptualising affective translation that is critically attuned to the links between empathy, materiality and power in the context of contemporary transnational politics.


Mirror Neuron Cultural Theory Affective Relation Aesthetic Judgment Ontological Relationality 
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Copyright information

© Carolyn Pedwell 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Pedwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Newcastle UniversityUK

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