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Affect at the margins: Alternative empathies in A Small Place

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Carolyn Pedwell


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Against the contemporary universalist injunction to ‘be empathetic’, this paper explores the possibilities of what I call ‘alternative empathies’ in the aftermath of the Atlantic slave trade and European colonialism. Offering an affective reading of Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place (1988/2000), it examines how empathy expressed at the margins of postcolonial imaginaries might disrupt or refigure some of the dominant ways that affect is thought and mobilised in pervasive Euro-American liberal and neoliberal discourses. As a powerful commentary on the cultural, political, economic and affective links between slavery, colonialism, and contemporary practices of tourism in the Caribbean that has provoked intense emotional responses among its readers, A Small Place offers a pertinent site through which to consider how history, power and violence shape the meanings and effects of empathy. It illustrates how the affective afterlives of decolonisation shape contemporary subjectivities in ways that are not easy to penetrate, nor possible to undo, through the power of empathetic will alone. Yet it also points to the role that alternative empathies can play in interrogating ideas of time as linear and universal and space as self-contained, revealing how we live affectively through different temporalities and spatialities – with varying implications for our senses of possibility in and for the world. I thus argue that exploring alternative empathies might open out to affective politics which do not view emotions instrumentally as sources of – or solutions to – complex social and political problems, but rather examine diverse and shifting relations of feeling for what they might tell us about the affective workings of power in a transnational world.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pedwell C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Emotion, Space and Society

Year: 2013

Volume: 8

Pages: 18-26

Print publication date: 10/08/2012

ISSN (print): 1755-4586

ISSN (electronic): 1878-0040

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.emospa.2012.07.001


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