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RSA Animate – Empathic Civilisation

July 25, 2012

At our last AHRC Network session at the Tower on the 6th July we spent the day discussing the role of empathy in Museum interpretation and learning programmes.  This is a deeply complex subject which gave us much to talk about and feedback from the session seems to be that it was an interesting and informative day.

Since then I came across this great clip via RSA Animate called the Empathic Civilisation by Jeremy Rifkin, noted author of some 17 books, who has written much about the development of a global empathic civilisation.  To quote the man himself:

“The Empathic Civilisation is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth.”

If Rifkin is correct then does this make it easier to utilise empathy within our work in museums? And if so, how exactly?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joanne Sayner permalink
    August 20, 2012 9:40 am

    I think the video is useful for thinking about the importance of museums and objects as sites of empathetic sociability. What I’m still thinking about is what makes museums different to other forms of cultural production in this respect (e.g. literature/film/music which all elicit empathy too).

  2. Alex Drago permalink
    September 3, 2012 9:05 am

    I thought a great deal about your comment when I was in Lidice where the tragedy has been adopted by each generation (sometimes with wildly opposing ideologies) in different ways, but with each memorial still evoking an emotional response from the visitor.

    There’s certainly something about museums being officially sanctioned which creates an authoritative voice (which is also broadly defined as teaching voice) as it explores narrative. As a result, it’s not surprising that so many visitors feel so emotionally engaged with museums when they don’t do the job we expect of them when engaging with narratives that are shared aspects of cultural memory.

    I’ve often thought about the relationship between heat and light, metaphorically speaking. They are both emitted from the sun but we feel them in different ways. It’s a broad spectrum but I wonder sometimes if museums are more about light – they are supposed to illuminate – while literature/film/music create heat – they move us by creating feelings within us which when dissipated may not have a long term impact.


  1. RSA Animate – Zero Degrees of Empathy « Silence, Memory, Empathy

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