Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2008

Identity, Empathy and International Relations

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

March 2000

Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition, McMaster University


The insertion of identity politics into international relations undermines the capacity for cosmopolitan empathy, a capacity that might be useful in ameliorating some of the world’s social problems. Empathy is the capacity to put oneself into another’s shoes and recognize a stranger’s humanity. The useful post-modern stress on the mutability of identity has hardened in identity politics into the creation of exclusive social categories of Oppressed and Oppressor. The social creation of such categories through such devices as the politics of amnesia paves the way for isolationist indifference. Yet data drawn both from the sociology of genocide and from the author’s own research shows that humanitarian empathy across lines of identity is possible.