Empathy, Estrangement, And Theatre For Social Change

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In this dissertation, I argue that we can look to particular aspects of theatre and performance to help us engage in empathy that is respectful and dialogic, that seeks not to consume another's experience, but rather to engage it. As a work of theatre scholarship, this dissertation seeks to reframe the debate over whether or not theatre is the ideal site of empathy, and whether such empathy can motivate social change. Rather than arguing for or against empathy, I suggest that we must ask what kind of empathy best promotes social change and how the theatre can help us encourage that empathy. I advocate a model of empathy based on a sense of parity, dialogue, and non-linearity. Empathy, I argue, is not a state or a feeling with a stable goal ("understanding"), but rather a process. As such, it entails an affective and critical labor that requires us to meet the other as our equal and to entertain, imaginatively, his or her perspective on the world. Because the empathy I advocate takes the form of an exchange, it can take us in unexpected directions. It consists not in a linear progression toward understanding, but rather takes the shape of a conversation, twisting, turning, doubling back, and emerging in the moment of encounter. It is contingent and always incomplete-a process without end. I identify a series of theatrical techniques that can help produce the kind of empathy described above: interruption, repetition, and rehearsal. These techniques are either compatible with or derived from Brechtian theory. Thus, the dissertation calls for a rethinking of the role of empathy in Brechtian dramaturgy. To make this argument, I analyze the history of empathy or Einfühlung, a term originating in German aesthetic theory and then adopted by psychology, psychoanalysis, and phenomenological philosophy, inspiring new definitions in each of these disciplines. I argue that Einfühlung in Brecht's work would be better understood as identification or emotional contagion and suggest that, despite Brecht's protests to the contrary, there is not necessarily any conflict between empathy and a theatre of estrangement.

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Theatre; Empathy; Theatre for social change


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Villarejo, Amy

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Lorenz, Philip A
Warner, Sara L

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Theatre Arts

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Ph. D., Theatre Arts

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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