Empathy and Identification: Conceptual Resources for Feminist Fieldwork

  • Liz Bondi Geography, The University of Edinburgh
Keywords: fieldwork interactions, psychoanalytic conceptualisation, qualitative fieldwork, introjection, projection, empathy, psychic space, research relationships, identification


This paper introduces psychoanalytic conceptualisations of identification and empathy as ways of thinking about fieldwork interactions. I argue that these ideas have considerable relevance for feminist geography as resources for reflecting on relationships between researchers and those they research, especially in relation to debates about power and positionality in qualitative fieldwork. Drawing on object relations psychoanalysis, I describe identification in terms of unconscious processes of introjection and projection, which operate as dynamic exchanges within all interpersonal relationships. I draw attention to the scope for confusion between self and other in the context of these exchanges. This leads to a discussion of the concept of empathy, which I describe psychoanalytically in terms of receiving, processing, and making available unconscious material transferred from one person to another. I argue that empathy can be thought of as entailing an oscillation between observation and participation which creates psychic space or room to manoeuvre, and that it provides a way of understanding other people’s experiences in the context of both similarities and differences between researchers and research subjects. I suggest that empathy is mobilised in many research relationships, and that its psychoanalytic conceptualisation provides a useful resource for understanding the dynamics of these relationships.
How to Cite
Bondi, L. (1). Empathy and Identification: Conceptual Resources for Feminist Fieldwork. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2(1), 64-76. Retrieved from https://www.acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/708
Themed Section - Practices in Feminist Research