Carol Strike & Charlotte Lombardo: Social and Behavioural Health Sciences Strategic Plan &
Dan Allman: “Empathy in HIV Prevention: Rhetorics, Realities and Utilities”
Abstract: This paper explores the role of empathy within HIV prevention. It considers its rhetorics, realities, and utilities in worlds bearing the influences of neoliberalism’s cloven weight. Empathy quite literally embodies the emotional and cognitive perspectives of an other. The empathetic human (homo empathicus) is a social actor who places knowledge of the Self in line with perceptions of the Other, and then responds accordingly. From this perspective, it can be argued that empathy represents altruistic inclusion that confers on the larger social body a form of reproductive or survival fitness. From the standpoint of prevention, such understanding between actors at risk of HIV transmission and infection is arguably protective. Protective, as it allows humans to intimately connect with one another in what Hume (1751) described as concentric circles of loyalty. Empathy could explain how an individual social actor could be occupied with self-gratification, and yet also operate on behalf of the well-being of another. Recently, however, arguments have begun to appear that suggest neoliberal capitalism effectively short-circuits such empathic processes. This paper considers this neoliberal turn, its potential impediments, and its possible outcomes for HIV prevention.