This book is an in-depth reflection and analysis on why and how unsettling empathy is a crucial component in reconciliatory processes. Located at the intersection of memory studies, reconciliation studies, and trauma studies, the book is at its core transdisciplinary, presenting a fresh perspective on how to conceive of concepts and practices when working with groups in conflict. The book Unsettling Empathy has come into being during a period of increasing cultural pessimism, where we witness the spread of populism and the rise of illiberal democracies that hark back to nationalist and ethnocentric narratives of the past. Because of this changed landscape, this book makes an important contribution to seeking fresh pathways toward an ethical practice of living together in light of past agonies and current conflicts. Within the specific context of working with groups in conflict, this book urges for an (ethical) posture of unsettling empathy. Empathy, which plays a vital role in these processes, is a complex and complicated phenomenon that is not without its critics who occasionally alert us to its dark side. The term empathy needs a qualifier to distinguish it from related phenomena such as pity, compassion, sympathy, benign paternalism, idealized identification, or voyeuristic appropriation. The word “unsettling” is just this crucial ingredient without which I would hesitate to bring empathy into our conversation.
In February 2019, Donald Trump announced the United States withdrew from the landmark Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia sparking worldwide concerns over the specter of a new nuclear arms race. The rational-actor and game-theoretic models dominating international relations literature failed to predict or explain this strategic choice. Rationalist, normative, and materialist models of strategic choice saturate the study of international relations. Scholars continue to expose the shortfalls in these approaches in explaining or predicting outcomes of strategic interactions. In this timely study, John P. DeRosa advances a new model of strategic choice through a narrative lens. This narrative turn reframes the logic to emphasize the propositions of motives, perceptions, preferences, and the reflexive interaction of strategic choices. Case studies of American and Russian nuclear arms control treaties from the negotiations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 to the crisis of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty in 2019 support building a theory of “narrativized” strategic choice.
America may not be at war, but it is not at peace. Recent public and political rhetoric have revealed the escalation of a pervasive and dangerous “us versus them” ideology in the United States. This powerful book is motivated by the contributors’ recognition of continuing structural violence and injustice, which are linked to long-standing systems of racism, social marginalization, xenophobia, poverty, and inequality in all forms. Calls to restore America’s greatness are just the most recent iteration of dehumanizing language against minority communities. The violation of the civil and human rights of vulnerable groups presents a serious threat to American democracy. These deeply rooted and systemic inequities have no easy solutions, and the destructive nature of today’s conflicts in America threaten to impede efforts to build peace, promote justice, and inspire constructive social change.Acknowledging the complexity of building peace in the United States, this volume represents the first step in envisioning a more just, peaceful country—from the grassroots to the highest levels of leadership. The editors have brought together a diverse group of scholars, conflict resolution practitioners, civil society leaders, community peacebuilders, and faith leaders who are committed to pro-social change. Collectively, they examine how best to understand the current issues, deescalate destructive public rhetoric, undermine the “us versus them” polarity, and support those currently working for positive change. Together, the contributors share experiences and perspectives on the past, present, and future of peacebuilding; develop a vision for how we can collectively respond in our communities, campuses, and congregations; and catalyze action during this pivotal moment in America.