Empathy and the Teaching of Writing

deadline for submissions: 
November 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Eric Leake, Texas State University
contact email: 


Empathy and the Other: Difference, Connection, and the Teaching of Writing

Call for Proposals (CFP)

250-word proposals with 50-word bios due by 11/30


Edited by Lisa Blankenship and Eric Leake


How do we teach writing and ethical rhetorical engagement within the polarization of our cultural moment? What role can empathy play in our classrooms, especially as we work toward greater racial and social justice amid movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo? This collection raises these questions, particularly the question of how empathy plays out in our writing classrooms, and particularly in our current cultural landscape. Empathy presents possibilities, limitations, and questions that are central to immediate and ongoing concerns in writing pedagogy.


Empathy has long been at the heart of rhetorical studies as implicated in Aristotelian pathos and pity, the Scottish Enlightenment’s sympathies, Rogerian rhetoric, Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening, and perhaps most prominently in Burke’s identification. The Chinese rhetorical concept of bian (Lu, Hall and Ames), the Islamic tradition of sulh (Diab), and various moral guidelines akin to the golden rule speak to the significance of empathy-related concepts across traditions. Recent work within rhetorical studies (Blankenship, Leake) has further conceptualized empathy as a rhetorical strategy and event.


Attention to empathy in composition follows renewed focus on the interconnected affective, social, and ethical dimensions of writing pedagogies as they engage lived experiences (Alexander et al, Carillo, Duffy, Johnson, Martinez, Micciche, Yam). This parallels efforts to employ empathy and teach toward social justice in literature and the humanities (Bracher, Nussbaum), social work (Gerdes et al, Segal), and social psychology (Zaki), while others caution against empathy’s use as potentially counterproductive (Kulbaga) or as an interpersonal gesture that can hide systemic inequalities (Gaines). A general enthusiasm for empathy and the need for ethical pedagogies of social engagement move us to consider more deeply how empathy might be best addressed and employed in the writing classroom. In taking up this question we are particularly concerned with the complicated ways in which empathy works as a point of mutual identification along with critical recognitions of difference. Is it possible to have an empathy-centered and critical classroom at the same time? How does empathy work to support or hinder social justice pedagogies? What characterizes readerly and writerly experiences of empathy and what pedagogical possibilities do those allow? What role can empathy, especially rhetorical empathy (Blankenship), play in writing pedagogies that seek ethical engagements with difference amid polarizing social issues?


We invite proposals that approach empathy and teaching writing from a wide variety of perspectives. Those may include, for example, considerations of pedagogical theory and the potential of writing pedagogies of empathy; the application of empathy in social justice writing pedagogies, such as anti-racist pedagogies increasingly adopted in the field; specific strategies and assignments focused on empathy and writing; personal accounts of teaching writing and empathy; and statements of caution and arguments against teaching writing and empathy. All submissions should directly address empathy and writing pedagogy, although there is flexibility in how they do so.


Please send a 250-word proposal and a 50-word bio with the subject line “Teaching Empathy Proposal” to empathyandwriting@gmail.com by November 30. We will review and respond to submissions by the end of January, 2021. For questions about the project, please email: Lisa Blankenship (Lisa.Blankenship@baruch.cuny.edu) and Eric Leake (eleake@txstate.edu).


Submissions may include the following:


  • Longer chapter-length (4,000-8,000 words) essays
  • Shorter vignettes and praxis essays (1,000-3,000 words). These may focus on assignments, lessons, activities, or pedagogical strategies centering empathy in your classroom. These also could be personal accounts of teaching for or about empathy
  • Either approach may include multimodal elements such as embedded podcasts, sound, and/or video
  • We invite pieces co-written with students (undergrad/grad) and other community members


Possible topics include but are not limited to:


  • Teaching empathy as listening, listening as empathy
  • Revisiting Rogerian rhetoric
  • Empathy and community-engaged and service-learning courses
  • Employing concepts interrogating empathy, including relationships of empathy to power
  • Complications and provocations related to empathy and teaching
  • Empathy in relation to university missions, program outcomes, the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, and other goals
  • Empathy, writing response, and assessment
  • Empathy and writing centers
  • Empathy and writing program administration
  • Intersections of writing pedagogy and other areas of empathy studies, such as compassion, altruism, self-other overlap, perspective taking, and cross-cultural understandings of empathy
  • Concerns of empathy’s pedagogical engagement with questions of race and ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender identity, religious affiliation, place of birth, family background, physical ability, and other areas of identity
  • Successes and failures in teaching empathy and writing
  • Possibilities and limitations of pedagogical empathy in response to systemic social issues 
  • Identifying and addressing empathic biases in teaching
  • Empathy in online pedagogy




Nov. 30, 2020             250-word proposal + 50-word bio due

Jan. 25, 2021               Selection

July 5, 2021                First draft of chapters due




Alexander, Jonathan, Karen Lunsford, and Carl Whithaus. “Affect and Wayfinding in Writing after College.” College English, vol. 82, no. 6, 2020, pp. 563-590.

Blankenship, Lisa. Changing the Subject: A Theory of Rhetorical Empathy. Utah State UP, 2019.

Bracher, Mark. “How to Teach for Social Justice: Lessons from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Cognitive Science.” College English, vol. 71, no. 4, 2009, pp. 363–88.

Carillo, Ellen C. “Cultivating Empathic Reading, Readers, and Researchers.” Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America. Utah State UP, 2018, pp. 35–62, doi:10.7330/9781607327912.c003.

Diab, Rasha. Shades of Sulh: The Rhetorics of Arab-Islamic Reconciliation. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.

Duffy, John. Provocations of Virtue: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing. Utah State UP, 2019.

Gaines, Alisha. Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy. University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Gerdes, Karen E., et al. “Teaching Empathy: A Framework Rooted in Social Cognitive Neuroscience and Social Justice.” Journal of Social Work Education, vol. 47, no. 1, 2011, pp. 109–32, doi:10.5175/JSWE.2011.200900085.

Hall, David L., and Roger T. Ames. Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture. SUNY Press, 1995.

Johnson, June. “Overcoming Reader Resistance to Global Literature of Witness: Teaching Collaborative Listening Using The Devil’s Highway and What Is the What.” College English, vol. 82, no. 4, 2020, pp. 351–80.

Kulbaga, Theresa A. “Pleasurable Pedagogies: Reading Lolita in Tehran and the Rhetoric of Empathy.” College English, vol. 70, no. 5, 2008, pp. 506–21.

Leake, Eric. “Writing Pedagogies of Empathy: As Rhetoric and Disposition.” Composition Forum, no. 14, 2016,https://compositionforum.com/issue/34/empathy.php.

Lu, Xing. Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B.C.E.: A Comparison with Classical Greek Rhetoric. University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Martinez, Aja. Counterstory: The Rhetoric and Writing of Critical Race Theory. NCTE, 2020.

Micciche, Laura R. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Boynton/Cook, 2007.

Nussbaum, Martha. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge UP, 2001.

Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Illinois UP, 2005.

Segal, Elizabeth. Social Empathy: The Art of Understanding Others. Columbia UP, 2018.

Yam, Shui-yin Sharon. Inconvenient Strangers: Transnational Subjects and the Politics of Citizenship. Ohio State UP, 2019.

Zaki, Jamil. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Crown, 2019.