Fotograf Magazine

On Dual Empathy

The concept of empathy is notoriously undefinable. In the literature, we can find several dozen definitions trying to capture this alleged ability to relate to another person, as if there is no consensus and every author creates a new definition. In popular psychology and everyday conversations, the term empathy behaves even more animatedly; it is plastic and fluid and can be pulled out like a joker in a deck of cards and used for all sorts of arguments on any given occasion. It comes across as somewhat authoritative, like a phrase of professional terminology, but anyone can appropriate and adapt it. It lacks clear contours, it is rather just a kind of preview in poor resolution, but it can circulate all the more easily, slip into speech and bind social energy to itself. Following Hito Steyerl’s concept of “poor images”, we could label empathy as a poor, flimsy quasi-concept and not try to criticise it for its vagueness and indistinctness but rather think about what functions it fulfils and why we cling to it so tenaciously.