The Role of Empathy in and after the Pandemic


Editors: Jianfen Chen and Danielle Koepke

The spread of COVID-19 across the nation and the globe has posed unprecedented challenges to teaching, learning, and researching rhetoric, composition, writing center studies, languages, and communication in institutions of higher education. With social distancing, quarantine, hybrid and virtual teaching and learning becoming part of the new normal, we are being continuously pushed to find new adaptations and create innovative ways of thinking and doing as scholars and researchers. While the pandemic is tearing us apart, empathy could be part of the solutions to generate a trusting and compassionate relationship with one another to confront the stressful and tough times.

Originated in German, empathy means to feel into or take the perspective of others. Thanks to its rich yet complex cognitive and affective connotations, empathy has been studied and discussed by many rhetoric and composition scholars. Ratcliffe (1999) argued that rhetorical listening is a mode of empathy that leads to “standing under the discourses of others,” or “acknowledging the existence of discursive discourse,” “listening for the (un)conscious presences, absences, unknowns,” and “consciously integrating this information into our world-views and decision-making” (p. 206). Lindquist (2004) connected empathy directly with writing pedagogy and insisted that teachers must do “deep acting” as “a pedagogical stance” to get into “a place where we can begin to imagine how students’ experiences of the class can have heuristic potential” (p. 205). Leake (2016) posited that teaching empathy as rhetoric  “attunes us to all of its possible uses and liabilities as a means of persuasion” (para. 13), while teaching empathy as disposition means to attend not only the content we are teaching, but also the way we think about and teach about the content, and more importantly, “to attend to situations and circumstances and recognize shared vulnerabilities” (para. 27). In her latest book on rhetorical empathy, Blankenship (2019) identified the four characteristics of rhetorical empathy which could also be used as guidelines to implement rhetorical empathy in writing pedagogies: “Yielding to an Other by sharing and listening to personal stories; considering motives behind speech acts and actions; engaging in reflection and self-critique; addressing difference, power, and embodiment” (p. 20). 

In this Blog Carnival, we wish to set up a forum for exploring the role of empathy in addressing the pressing issues we are facing in researching and teaching digital rhetoric, technical communication, computers and writing, communication, etc., amidst our unique moment in time. We invite blog entries that consider but are not limited to the following questions:

  • What is the historical account and evolution of empathy? What can we learn from it?
  • How could empathy promote and advocate for diversity, inclusiveness, and social justice in and after the pandemic?
  • What could be effective practices for the empathetic design of compassionate and accessible communication? 
  • How can we incorporate empathy into pedagogical and/or research practices?
  • What rhetorical theories and frameworks can we employ to perform empathy in and beyond the academic life?
  • Can empathy help address the new challenges in hybrid and virtual teaching and/or tutoring? How can we practice empathy in virtual tutoring settings?
  • What roles can empathy play in community service and learning?
  • How should we think critically about empathy? To what end should we perform empathy?
  • What are the linguistic differences regarding empathy in different languages/dialects? How could such differences inform us of the rhetorical strategies to practice empathy in inter/intra-cultural communication? 

Though the questions are not exhaustive, submissions are encouraged to focus on the theoretical and practical discussions of empathy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic within our disciplinary realms (rhetoric, composition, computers and writing, technical/professional communication, etc.). If you are interested in contributing to this Blog Carnival, please submit your name, email, and short ( ~100 words) proposal to this Google Form. We will be reviewing and accepting proposals in late January 2021, so please send your descriptions as soon as possible, but no later than Jan 25. Full blog posts will be due by Feb 22. When completed, the blog post should be about 750-1000 words. We encourage posts in a variety of forms and any medium appropriate for featuring digitally on the DRC, such as texts, images, audios, and videos (usually about 10-30 minutes), or other multimedia.


100-word proposals due – extended to Feb 8

Acceptance notices – Feb 15

Blog entries due – March 8

Final publication – March 15

About Author

Jianfen Chen

Jianfen Chen is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue. Her research interests include public rhetoric, digital rhetoric, risk communication, intercultural communication, and professional and technical communication.

Danielle Koepke

Danielle Koepke is a second year PhD student in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has an MA in Rhetoric and Composition, and her academic interests include multimodal composing practices, digital literacies, and feminist theories.

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