Reimagining and Remembering the Other: Narrative Empathy and its Limitations

Fårö, Sweden, 29 July–5 August, 2018

The research circle Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics is pleased to announce the call for its 2018 summer symposium, following its previous symposia in Tallinn (Estonia), Saulkrasti (Latvia) and Kristiansand (Norway).

Reimagining the other is integral to the power of narrative to move us and to elicit social change and it is arguably one of the central ways in which fiction and other forms of art contribute to the shaping of cultural memory. This symposium will explore narrative strategies that different narrative forms employ in processes of reimagining others. What ethical and aesthetic concerns arise when the other is a victim, a perpetrator or employs a subject position that these categories fail to capture? What kind of ethical potential does the power of imagination entail? Wherein do the limits of imagining and empathy reside?

Ever since Dominick LaCapra’s notion of “empathic unsettlement”, empathy has been an important concept in trauma studies, and recent work in cultural memory studies has shown renewed interest in rethinking this concept (see e.g. Empathy and its Limits, 2016, edited by Aleida Assmann and Ines Detmers). Similarly, narrative studies, affect studies and critical theory have engaged with empathy from diverse perspectives. Since Suzanne Keen’s Empathy and the Novel (2007), many narrative scholars have been interested in cognitive approaches to narrative empathy, and recent empirical work on the ability of fiction to enhance our “theory of mind” has gained high media visibility – particularly David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano’s controversial “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind” (2013, Science). Meanwhile, philosophers have discussed empathy in relation to self-oriented and other-oriented perspective-taking in debating the prosocial power of this affect (see e.g. Empathy, 2011, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie). Much research into these issues is currently taking place at the intersections of narrative studies and memory studies. For example, recent work on perpetrator fiction – such as Debarati Sanyal’s Memory and Complicity (2015), Erin McGlothlin’s “Empathetic Identification and the Mind of the Holocaust Perpetrator in Fiction” (2016, Narrative) and Hanna Meretoja’s The Ethics of Storytelling (2018) – discusses the ambivalent and unsettling responses that narratives with first-person perpetrator narrators elicit from readers and viewers.

We invite theoretical and creative research on these and related issues as well as papers that explore these theoretical concepts through particular case studies. Relevant questions include (but are not limited to) the following: How do we understand, represent, think and write about, our relationship with others, otherness, or the Other, in the modern political and artistic context? The notion of empathy has been influential in recent thinking on the ethical relation to others, but what are its gains and limitations, and should other approaches be explored? How should we conceptualise empathy in relation to other related affects such as compassion, pity and sympathy? How should we conceptualise empathy in such a way that takes into account the dialogic relation between the self and the other instead of thinking of empathy as a process of merging with the other? What is the role of distance, mediation and interpretation in processes of narrative empathy? How should we rethink the old distinction between images that shock and narratives that explain and what is the role of empathy in this distinction? How should we understand the power and limits of narrative empathy in the current age of terror and rise of right-wing populism? How should we reimagine and remember the other in relation to the task of the public intellectual, of the artist, of academics in the humanities and social sciences and of social activism? What is the significance of empathetic reimagining of the other in struggles in which we engage in the contemporary world? On the basis of these and related questions, the symposium explores the intersections of narrative studies, memory studies and affect studies in relation to issues of narrative empathy and its limitations.

The keynote speaker of the symposium is Molly Andrews, Professor of Political Psychology, Co-Director of the Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London.

We encourage participants to craft their presentations in the format that they find most suitable. We expect to have 20 minutes for each presentation. Those who wish to attend the symposium without making a presentation are welcome to apply, but we encourage everyone to contribute actively to the group by reading participant papers and taking part in collective discussions. Priority is given to applicants who will present their work.

Please send a proposal (max. 300 words) and a short biographical statement to Eneken Laanes ( and Hanna Meretoja ( by 1 May 2018. The deadline for the application of scholarships and grants is 1 April 2018 (for details, see below). If you would like to attend the symposium without presenting your work, please send us a biographical statement and briefly explain your interest in participating. The preliminary programme will be announced in mid-May at There you will also find more information about NSU and may sign up for the newsletter.

Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics (, a three-year (2017–2019) international research initiative (funded by the Nordic Summer University/Nordic Council of Ministers) with the aim of investigating how different storytelling practices of literature, audiovisual arts, social media and oral testimonies address the legacies of twentieth-century European conflicts and how they travel across national borders. It is an interdisciplinary network that brings together scholars of narrative and memory from the Nordic and Baltic countries, Great Britain, and around the world. 

The Nordic Summer University (NSU, is a Nordic network for research and interdisciplinary studies. NSU is a nomadic, academic institution, which organises workshop‐seminars across disciplinary and national borders. Since it was established in 1950, Nordic Summer University has organised forums for cultural and intellectual debate in the Nordic and Baltic region, involving students, academics, politicians, artists and intellectuals from this region and beyond. The backbone of the activities in NSU consists of its thematic study circles (, in which researchers, students and professionals from different backgrounds collaborate in scholarly investigations distributed regularly in summer and winter symposia during a three‐year period.

Practical information about the Nordic Summer University Summer Session

In the summer session, all the study circles of the NSU hold their symposia at a shared location, which offers additional possibilities for cross-fertilisation and dialogue between the thematic networks. The summer session is centrally organised by the NSU/ARRKOM.

The summer symposium takes place at Fårö, a small island in the Baltic Sea, also known as the Bergman island (the island where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked for over 40 years).

Registration and payment

(1) Application closes on the 1st of May.

(2) Once your proposal has been accepted, you must go through registration and payment which close on 1 June. All registration and payment will be done electronically.

Scholarship program

NSU provides a number of scholarships for students and grants for others in need of a subsidy in order to attend the summer session. The deadline for the applications for the scholarships and grants is 1 April. For information see Please note that people who receive grants and scholarships are expected to help ARRKOM with small tasks like writing blog posts, sharing their experience, distributing information if needed, and helping out with setting up and cleaning up the picnic.

Prices and practical information about travelling to Fårö, Sweden
Fårö Kursgård has a village configuration with different cottages and smaller buildings, as well as a main building where meals and events will take place. For those in need of privacy and a more conventional comfort, we will have a few rooms available at a nearby inn. For those willing to fully embrace the outdoors summer camp spirit, you can bring your own tent or caravan and camp at the site. Both participants who stay in tents and those at Fårö Kursgård will be able to use bathroom facilities/showers in the main buildings.
All prices are in Swedish Kronor (SEK) and they are given per person for the full duration of the week, including full board (breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks and dinner):
Single room (shared bathroom): 6265 SEK
Double room (shared bathroom): 4275 SEK
Camping (bring your own caravan or motor home), per person: 2800 SEK
Camping (bring your own tent), per person: 2100 SEK
GRANT recipients: 600 SEK
SCHOLARSHIP recipients: 400 SEK
Adult not participating in the NSU program (bed in double room): 3750 SEK
Children 5 – 18 years: 2100 SEK
Children 2 – 4 years: 750 SEK
Children less than 2 years: free
Further information about the combinations of categories and prices will soon be available in the online shop:
Note: Grant and scholarship recipients will be given a place in shared 4-bed rooms.
Families with children should get in touch with Arrkom to find the best solution. Our email is:
Anyone travelling to Fårö will have to pass through Visby, the main city of Gotland. Visby has a local airport and is accessible by ferry from Swedish cities Nynäshamn, Oskarshamn or Västervik. As a summer session participant you will get a discount on the ferry to Visby, please see for more information.
More information on transportation:
Ferry timetables and prices:

PhD and MA students are eligible for up to five ECTS points for participation and presentation of a paper. See also:

Parents with children

We welcome families at the Summer Session. As in previous years, there will be a separate circle for children between 3 and 15 years. In the children’s circle, we offer a variety of activities for children and youth, running parallel to the other study circles.

See also: