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Medicine and Empathy in Contemporary British Fiction

An Intervention in Medical Humanities

Anne Whitehead

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Offers a new understanding of empathy and its relation to medicine and literature, as a critical intervention into the medical humanities

This book marks a critical intervention in the medical humanities that takes issue with its understanding of empathy as something that one has. Drawing on phenomenology and feminist affect theory, it positions empathy as something that one does and that is embedded within structural, institutional, and cultural relations of power. More than this, it questions the assumption that empathy is limited to the clinical relation, thinking about medicine as more broadly defined. Combining theoretical argument with literary case studies of books by Mark Haddon, Pat Barker, Ian McEwan, Aminatta Forna and Kazuo Ishiguro, this book also contends that contemporary fiction is not a vehicle for accessing another’s illness experience, but is itself engaging critically with the question of empathy and its limits.

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Introduction 5

1. Empathy and Mind 37

2. Empathy and Ethics 79

3. Empathy and Interdisciplinarity 121

4. Empathy and the Geopolitical 163

5. Empathy and Capitalism 202


About the Author

Anne Whitehead is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University, UK. She is the author of Trauma Fiction (Edinburgh, 2004) and Memory: New Critical Idiom (Routledge, 2009). She has co-edited The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh, 2016), Theories of Memory: A Reader (Edinburgh, 2007) and W. G. Sebald: A Critical Companion (Edinburgh, 2004), as well as a special issue of Feminist Theory on feminism and affect. She has published articles on contemporary literature in a range of journals, including Modern Fiction Studies, Textual Practice, and Contemporary Literature.


Drawing on a range of contemporary fiction, philosophy and medical research, this important book expands the established categories of the medical and health humanities of ethics, education and experience by exploring and analysing in detail the role of empathy: its original and striking argument make it a significant contribution to the field.

- Robert Eagleston, Royal Holloway
"Groundbreaking work"
- J. D. Harding, Saint Leo University, CHOICE connect October 2018 Vol. 56 No. 2

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