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Empathy at the intersections of care: articulating a critical approach to the ethics of international development

de Merich, Diego (2015) Empathy at the intersections of care: articulating a critical approach to the ethics of international development. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, focus has turned to a new framework which might replace them. Heavily influenced by the Human Capabilities Approach (HCA), the MDGs reflected a relatively static, liberal understanding of what ‘human development’ is meant to signify (prioritising notions of freedom, individual capability and justice). Not an evaluation of the MDGs per se, this project suggests instead that critical reflection on the ethical underpinnings of any approach is key to articulating a future vision for development. I argue for a contrasting line of ethical thought, the ethics of care (which prioritise notions of context, vulnerability and relationship), suggesting how it could be more fully embodied in development practices. I further suggest that an emphasis on human empathy would serve to strengthen the values of responsibility and responsiveness which care (and development) ethicists champion. To this end, I first describe the ethical context (the HCA) within which the MDGs have operated; I then challenge its rationalistic or agentic biases and highlight the importance of human vulnerability, relationship and trust. I outline key elements of care theory (responsibility to ‘the other’, relational agency and ‘context’) and further argue that empathy should take a more central place in it. I finally describe empathy in practice (i.e. those programmes which foster empathic learning and understanding) and empathy in promise (by combining lessons drawn from the discussions above with deliberative democratic theory). Across these connected arguments, therefore, I describe a collaborative-expressive, praxeological ethics of international development; an ethics based in expressed need over abstract right, in the pluralism of development goals, in empathic deliberation on these needs and goals, and in the fostering of relationships of care and trust; necessary for any meaningful, future vision of human development – of ‘self’ and ‘distant other’ – to take form.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Diego de Merich
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Hutchings, Kimberly

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