Beyond empathy

In design thinking and related research, there is way too much talk about empathy. It’s a fuzzy concept that subjectivizes, flattens and commoditizes the work to understand humans.

“The trouble with empathy in human insights work, however, is twofold: Firstly, it is a concept too focused on the conscious mind and not enough on the body and behavior. Secondly, it is too individual-based and not systemic enough. Used uncritically, the concept of empathy can lead to a narrow conception of human experience and action — and accordingly narrow insights about both.”

“Empathy is a relation, but it fixates on the individual experience. Experience is not to be downplayed in any way, but it always needs to be explained in relation to the environments, communities, cultures and worlds which it is a part of — and for this you need data and making sense of the shared, the collective, the system, not only the individual.”

In this text, Antti Rannisto walks us through an alternative approach, one based on stratified social ontology and an insistence on understanding humans by their embodied, behavioral and practical engagement with the worlds around them.