In this essay I analyze a series of first-person homeless accounts and reader responses in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper in order to highlight the social conditions that support or inhibit empathy. I review the rhetorical study of empathy and incorporate work from social psychology and moral philosophy to identify and examine the conditions of assessing victimhood and recognizing of self-other overlap. I find the irony of empathy to be that the very social forces that would necessitate an expansion of empathy also inhibit it through increasing social division and the reluctance of readers to recognize their own vulnerabilities in the positions of others. I contend throughout that a focus on empathy as an individual experience overlooks the social production of empathy, which is more appropriately considered through a rhetorical perspective.
empathy, identification, homelessness, Las Vegas
Copyright © 2018 Eric Leake
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