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The Controversy of Compassion as an Awakening to our Conflicted Social Condition

Wilkinson, Iain M. (2017) The Controversy of Compassion as an Awakening to our Conflicted Social Condition. International Journal of Law in Context, 13 (2). pp. 212-224. ISSN 1744-5523. E-ISSN 1744-5531. (doi:10.1017/S1744552317000131)

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The study of law and emotion is now established as a distinct field of study in its own right. In this respect, legal studies has shared in a wider ‘affective turn’ that has involved twenty first century social science in a new concern to explain the contribution of emotional feelings to human thought, motivation and behaviour. This development has been accompanied by a pronounced debate over how emotion should be rendered accountable within a rational frame of analysis. On the one hand it is possible to portray this as being sustained by a movement to make us more emotionally literate and more sensitive to the ways people act and think through feeling. On the other hand, it might be interpreted as being rooted in a concern to make matters of emotion more amenable to rational discipline and the sanction of reason. In this article I contend that where a focus is brought to the experience of ‘compassion’, the volume is raised on these conflicts of interpretation. I further argue that opposing and contested points of view on the experience and value of ‘compassion’ provide us with valuable insights into the wider dynamics of social and cultural change that have inspired the ‘affective turn’. These arguments are developed with reference to the social theories of Max Weber and Norbert Elias. Moreover, in taking note of Hannah Arendt’s thinking on the cultural politics of compassion, I attend not so much to how the controversy of compassion might be resolved, but rather, to its potential to awaken critical humanitarian concern. Compassion is hereby celebrated as an inherently ‘unstable emotion’ that brings debate to the condition and bounds of human care and social justice.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/S1744552317000131
Uncontrolled keywords: Compassion, Law, Nussbaum
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research > Sociology
Depositing User: Lucie Patch
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2017 12:39 UTC
Last Modified: 22 Jul 2019 13:24 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Wilkinson, Iain M.:
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