Fellow-feeling in childhood memories of Second World War France: sympathy, empathy and the emotions of history

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Abstract

This article examines fellow-feeling in oral narratives of French Second World War childhoods to argue that careful attention should be paid to the complex ways it affects the story(ing) of the past. Fellow-feeling, understood as a claim to feel for, with or about other people, is bound into ideas of sympathy and empathy. This article analyses short extracts from three oral history interviews to illustrate some of these complexities, which are situated in both the narrated past and the narrating present. The article aims to suggest what such complexities may mean in the aftermath of the Second World War in relation to guilt, shame and loss at private and collective levels. The more modern concept of empathy is frequently invoked as a necessity for building respectful, peaceful, inclusive societies but, as this article suggests, empathy has both risks and limits. Sometimes sympathy may be the only – and the only ethical – form of fellow-feeling possible.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClose Encounters in War
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Nov 2021

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