Empathy and Denial: Researching Beneath the Façade

By Szilvia Simai and Rosana Baeninger.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

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Ethno-cultural empathy can be defined as feeling, understanding, and caring about what someone from another culture feels, understands, and cares about (Ekelund, 2011), while denial is one of the human defense mechanisms used to ignore or refuse to believe, perceive, and acknowledge a frustrating, uncomfortable, or forbidden reality (Freud, 1950; Cohen, 2001) such as xenophobia and racism. We suggest that in contemporary group relations between hosts and immigrants, the dynamics of these two notions determine the quality of their relationships.
We conducted a qualitative study in Brazil in the state of Sao Paulo with Brazilians on their relations to contemporary immigrants in the country. This study shows us that the surface discourse on receptivity of Brazilians as a nation with a historical vocation of immigrants is much more complex than it seems on the façade. Indeed, it reveals an intense dynamics of these two opposite phenomena-the practice of ethno-cultural empathy and the denial of xenophobia, and will present a dichotomy-based categorization extracted from the collected narratives.

Keywords: Empathy, Denial, Immigration, Discourse, Brazil

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 233.528KB).

Dr. Szilvia Simai

Post-doctoral Researcher, Population Studies Center, University of Campinas, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Szilvia Simai studied social psychology at the University of London and received her Ph.D. degree at the Center for Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London in 2008. She is a former UNESCO Fellow and academic director of the School for International Training Brazil Program. Prior to that, Dr. Simai worked on researches in Europe and in Latin America. Currently, she is a FAPESP post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Dr. Rosana Baeninger

Assistant Professor, Department of Demography , Population Studies Center, University of Campinas, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Dr. Baeninger studied social sciences at the University of Campinas. She is the former coordinator of the Population Studies Center at the University of Campinas, and is currently a professor of demography at UNICAMP (the University of Campinas) and the assessor of the Pro-Vice Master of UNICAMP with particular responsibility for post-graduate courses. She has published widely on international migration.