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Empathising with the Other: How can we deconstruct the concept of empathy within UK development education, using the example of African poverty?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Abstract

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 This literature review critically examines how the concept of empathy is mobilised in the rhetoric of UK development education, and explores different ways of conceptualising empathy as a pedagogical ideal and an affective experience. The first section justifies this choice of focus. It defines key terms and situates empathy within paradigm shifts in development. Using the example of narratives about African poverty, the second and third sections engage with theories of postcolonialism, empathy and critical pedagogy. The second section critiques literature depicting empathy as simple or inevitable within development education in the UK (and beyond). The third section seeks to open up new possibilities for conceptualising empathy. It synthesises relevant literature to argue that when learning about African poverty, the empathy pupils experience should include two elements. One is nuance. Pupils should respect the agency and multidimensionality of the Other without internalising simplistic narratives. The second is self-reflexivity. Pupils should be aware of their privilege and positionality, and historical, geopolitical and sociocultural inequalities that mediate their relationship with the Other.

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Keywords: empathy, development education, postcolonialism, global citizenship

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7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Introduction

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9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2She asked where I had learned to speak English so well and was confused when I said Nigeria happens to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my tribal music and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed I did not know how to use a stove…She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me; her default position towards me as an African was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa, a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals….If I had not grown up in Nigeria and if all I knew of Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS; unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved…” – Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussing her first encounter in the West (Adichie, 2009, 04:13).

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11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Although UK development education aspires towards intercultural understanding, Adichie poignantly illustrates the reality of division and difference. Reductive narratives about developing regions not only misrepresent peoples and cultures but also erect barriers to empathy. This is concerning because empathy powerfully enriches human relationships. In fact, references to it have skyrocketed over the past decade. In “The Audacity of Hope”, Barack Obama asks society to mend its ‘empathy deficit’; primatologist Frans de Waal states we are wired for connection in his bestseller, “The Age of Empathy”; social scientist Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Empathic Civilisation” claims our technological progress gifts us ‘universal empathic connectivity’ (de Waals, 2010; Pedwell, 2012; Rifkin, 2010, p. 616). This essay critically examines the place of empathy in development education, but not to jettison it as an ideal. In fact, the essay is predicated on the assumption that because empathy is so valuable, it deserves academic scrutiny within the scope of UK development education. I seek a conceptualisation of empathy that helps students understand and feel for those who deserve to have their needs and rights met, but in a way that is respectful and mindful of complexity and context.

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13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Section I – Context

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 What is empathy, and why is it worth academic analysis by development educators? By providing a rationale for this focus and defining key terms, this section seeks to answer this question.

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16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Empathy, as a rich and multifaceted concept, assumes different meanings in different disciplines. For example, sociologists examine how the ability to understand another person is shaped by culture, gender, race and other markers of identity (Gillborn, 2008; Pedwell, 2012). Neuroscientists discuss mirror neurons, brain cells that form the neural basis for empathy (Gallese, 2001). Philosophers describe empathy as a vivid imagining of another’s predicament that dissolves the boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’ (Dewey, 1934/2008; Nussbaum, 2013). Thus, each discipline probes different dimensions of empathy.

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18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 3 But despite these analytical variations, empathy is generally conceptualised as the ability to understand (and be moved by) another person’s perspective. It may be a cognitive response, if a person actively tries to comprehend another person’s worldviews and beliefs (Krznaric, 2008). It may also be an affective (emotional) response, if a person feels what another person feels after observing them or listening to their narrative; for example, feeling distressed upon witnessing suffering (Krznaric, 2008). Hence, I define empathy as a cognitive and/or affective process that involves understanding the perspective and positioning of another person or persons. The concept can be debated from diverse perspectives (for a psychological critique, see Bloom, 2017; for a biological defense, see de Waals, 2010). However, I choose a sociological perspective to spotlight issues of power, positionality and privilege central to development education (DE).

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20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 2 I chose the term ‘development education’ because its scope is broader than that of more specialised designations like ‘global citizenship education’. UK DE emerged in the 1970s to answer the UN’s call for education to highlight ‘human rights and social justice in developing countries’ (UN, 1975, as cited in Bourn, 2008). Striving to make students aware of inequality, DE encompasses both global citizenship initiatives and social science classes that teach about developing countries (Tallon, 2013). It encourages North-South school partnerships, discussions of NGO-produced material, student engagement with charities and a range of other activities (Bourn, 2014). Thus, I chose the term ‘development education’ for its broadness. I will now discuss why empathy is relevant to it.

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22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Empathy-centred discourse entered international development during the 1980s, accompanying critique of the field’s entrenched inequalities. For example, the Global North was accused of neocolonialism – that is, reproducing old colonial hierarchies through top-down management of the South (Tikly, 2004). Several development practices, like the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies, began to be criticised for detrimentally impacting developing nations (Leys, 1996; Pieterse, 1991). Modernisation theory, which universalised a Eurocentric vision of development (Rostow, 1960), was accused of overlooking the agency and unique worldviews of local Southern peoples (Tucker, 2001). In response, more participatory ideas of development emerged. The influential Latin American educator, Paulo Freire, called for “immediate empathy” (Freire, 1972, p. 96). He declared, “It is not our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world or impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their view.” He advocated that development practitioners understand people’s “preoccupations, doubts, hopes and fears” (Freire, 1972, p. 96). Thus, empathy became necessary to participatory development as a means of respecting the perspectives of local communities and giving them ownership of the development process.

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24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 With the rise of participatory development, development paradigms now recognise the importance of empathy in empowering local populations to realise their own vision of development (Pedwell, 2012). For example, development professionals live with poor families in ‘immersion’, an experiential learning programme recommended by the World Bank, ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies. They are expected to “see the world the other way around” from “the perspective of people living in poverty” (Chambers, 2007, p. 11). Thus, to achieve grassroots empowerment, empathy has been embedded within development strategies. This paradigm shift has amplified the importance of empathy in DE, as I will now discuss.

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26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Empathy is invoked even in one of the earliest roots of DE: UNESCO’s 1974 Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding (co-signed by the UK). It recommends “an international and global perspective” in education that gives students an “understanding and respect for all peoples, their cultures, civilizations, values and ways of life” (UNESCO, 1974). Similarly, the word ‘empathy’ occurs in national policy. In 2005, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) published ‘Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum’, a guide to teaching about inequality in developing countries. The guide envisioned “understanding the importance of empathy”, “developing empathy for other people’s needs…from a range of cultures” and “developing children’s understanding beyond their own experience” as key educational outcomes (DfES, 2005, p. 14, 16 & 21). In 2007, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recommended a global curriculum that would “explore other people’s perspectives” and “different cultures and ways of life” (QCA, 2007, p. 18). DfES also advocated that children “understand the values and cultures of different societies” in its report, putting the World into World-Class Education (DfES, 2004, p.1). Similarly, the Department for International Development (DFID) funded a teacher education project in 2012 that stated “the global dimension has been shown to enhance pupils’ empathy…and how they relate to others” (McGough & Hunt, 2012, p. 3). The concept of empathy has thus been naturalised as a normative ideal. It is mobilised by educators and policymakers to promote the idea of a global curriculum that fosters intercultural understanding.

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28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Yet, paradoxically, despite the plethora of publications referencing empathy, there is a paucity of research problematising it. For example, a well-known analysis is an Oxfam report on ‘Empathy Education’ (Krznaric, 2008). Although it thoughtfully captures the value of empathy, its ‘Global Empathy’ section is perhaps oversimplified:

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Children need to be encouraged to empathise with people who live in other countries, especially those in developing countries whose lives are very different from their own, as a way of promoting the idea of global citizenship. Why should a child at school in England, for instance, not be taught to empathise with the plight of a flood victim in the Indian state of Orissa, or with a child who has been injured in an earthquake in China?” (Krznaric, 2008, p. 41).

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 I would argue that actually, there may be reasons to be wary of uncritically telling a child in England to empathise in such a manner. Portraying developing countries as victims can reinscribe problematic stereotypes and differences in privilege and positionality can hinder cross-cultural empathy, as I later discuss. A lack of criticality is also evident in other publications depicting empathy as a natural outcome of DE (DfES, 2005; DfES, 2004; McGough & Hunt, 2012).

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32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 But critique seems necessary, because these discursive spaces are never neutral or apolitical. For example, DfES states that teaching children to be empathetic – and consequently, open to different cultures – results in “real and significant benefits for the UK…in an increasingly interdependent world” (2004, p. 1). These benefits include “additional income” from international partnerships, increased “export potential” and “new overseas markets” in the “global economy” (DfES, 2004, p. 19). Thus, empathy is not only a benevolent ideal but also construed as a tool for national self-interest within neoliberal markets. Globalisation is an overarching backdrop to this, since distant events in the Global South now have direct repercussions for the Global North (Giddens, 1991). Technology has quickened information flows and the influx of multicultural spaces and ideologies have further blurred boundaries between the local and the global (Appadurai, 1996). Consequently, the concept of empathy has magnified in importance as policymakers and educators emphasise the world’s interdependence (Harvey, 2003).

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34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 However, empathy seems to be under-researched, perhaps because, as Pedwell (2012) notes, it is seen as a natural good. There is a nascent trend of exploring the transnational politics of empathy and its role in social justice (see Pedwell, 2012; Recuber, 2013) but little research about the place of empathy in development education specifically. Hence, this lacuna in the literature is an exciting opportunity to denaturalise empathy and investigate its implications, as any concept so frequently invoked should be critically probed.

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36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 1 To conduct this analysis, I chose the example of African poverty for two reasons. Firstly, the 2015/16 Global Monitoring Report shows that thirteen of the fifteen poorest countries are located in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 43% of the world’s poorest people (World Bank, 2016). Hence, much of DE literature explores pedagogy about Africa. Secondly, aside from education, the literature suggests Africa is central to how the Global North imagines and represents Southern poverty in its popular media (Mahadeo & McKinney, 2007). The first visual narratives of African poverty on British television arrived during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70), followed by the 1985 Band Aid campaigns about Ethiopia’s drought (Borowski, 2012). Fundraising advertisements emphasising Africa’s poverty are still common (Harrison, 2013). Such media may propagate deficit discourses – that is, ideas about Africa ‘lacking’ material, cultural or symbolic resources (Dogra, 2013). Since many pupils from Key Stage 1-4 are exposed to the media, it is possible that deficit discourses influence their perceptions of Africa. The question of how to cultivate empathy in light of pupils’ pre-existing prejudices thus becomes pertinent to DE.

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38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 This review focuses on Key Stages 1-4 because research indicates that these formative years shape children’s perceptions and may transmit stereotypes that continue well into adulthood (Weigand, 2012). In addition, rather than naming specific African countries, I use the term ‘Africa’ to reflect how Africa is often portrayed as an undifferentiated mass. Studies indicate that broad-brushed, generic assumptions about Africa are frequently made, without recognition of its diversity and heterogeneity (Dogra, 2013; Lundy & Negash, 2013). Thus, I refer to ‘Africa’ to emphasise how the word represents not only a continent, but also an aggregate of stereotypes and misconceptions. I also use the term ‘Global South’ to signify developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. These countries have high levels of poverty, low living standards and, typically, histories of colonialism (Connell, 2007). I also use the term ‘Global North’ to refer to developed, industrialised nations with high living standards. However, I acknowledge that this binary is imperfect. Bajaj (2015) points out that poor inner-city Northern communities are not dissimilar to those in the South, and wealthy elites in the South resemble those in the North. Thus, these terms are contested socio-political constructs rather than fixed geographical truths. Yet, I use them to describe deep-seated patterns of inequality (see Sutcliffe, 2001).

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40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Section II – Problematising the Ideal of Empathy

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42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Having justified my focus, clarified terminology and situated the concept of empathy within changing paradigms, I now question possible flaws in the literature. I draw on postcolonial theory to evaluate two assumptions: one, that empathy is a simple process, and two, that it is an inevitable outcome of DE. Two Southern theorists, in particular, provide valuable analytical frameworks: Gayatri Spivak and Vanessa Andreotti.

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44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Indian scholar Gayatri Spivak argues that knowledge forged about a different culture is never innocent (Spivak, 1988). Likening the dissemination of knowledge about the Other to the export of raw materials from colonised nations, Spivak argues that the North has historically produced paternalistic representations of the South for its own benefit, to fortify its own power. Spivak’s theories underpin my exploration of empathy because her emphasis on power dynamics have significant implications for North-South relations in DE. For similar reasons, I also use the work of the Brazilian development educator, Vanessa Andreotti, as a primary theoretical lens. Andreotti draws on postcolonialism to expand the scope of DE. She builds on Spivak’s ideas to distinguish between ‘soft’ and ‘critical’ global citizenship, a distinction I later explore as it demarcates the difference between problematic and promising North-South relations (Andreotti, 2006b).

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  1. 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 1
  2. Is empathy a simple process?

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48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 A flaw in the literature appears to be the uncritical endorsement of empathy. To return to Oxfam’s ‘Empathy Education’ report: it states there is no reason why a child in England should not be taught to empathise with victims of disaster in developing countries (Krznaric, 2008). However, this statement is problematic because it ignores the larger geopolitical context mediating the affective relationship between this child and the Southern ‘victim’. Hence, its portrayal of empathy is dehistoricised and depoliticised. Other literature similarly advocates empathy as a tool for social justice without probing its context (QCA, 2007; DfE, 2005; DFES, 2004). This uncritically positive outlook is traceable to progressive educators like John Dewey, especially post World War II, who saw our ‘social imaginations’ as vital to building compassionate democracies (Boler, 1999). Although this ideal seems worthwhile, such discourses may err in tacitly assuming that empathy is simple, as I now show using the example of African poverty.

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50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Empathy is a relational concept. In DE, it involves the responder (the empathetic pupil) and the subject (typically a Southern individual or group depicted as suffering or vulnerable). To analyse this relationship, the postcolonial idea of alterity is useful. Andreotti (2006a) explains that alterity means that to construct our own identities, we define who we are not. To have an ‘us’, we must have an ‘Other’. Hence, DE, in an echo of colonialism, may reinscribe uneven power relations between the Northern student as a superior ‘us’ and the Southern subject of empathy as a helpless ‘Other’. I now discuss theories and studies that spotlight this risk. Although not all explicitly mention empathy, the relationship dynamics they discuss have major implications for the concept.

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52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 1 To historicise and politicise empathy in DE, postcolonial theory is helpful because it explores how colonial hierarchies are reproduced today. Two seminal works – Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Said’s Orientalism – illuminate how colonisers considered Africans vulnerable, irrational and flawed beings, only redeemable through European codes and practices (Fanon, 1963; Said, 1978). In this context, alterity, or the erection of divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them/the Other’ was a vehicle of power: the binary between superior colonisers (‘us’) and infantile natives (‘them/the Other’) underpinned the civilising mission (Cooper, 1997). It has been argued that this binary is reinforced by NGO images of African deprivation, and patronising NGO attitudes towards underprivileged populations (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996; Sriprakash & Hopkins, 2015; Valentin & Meinert, 2009). The literature reveals that stereotypes about Africa being defined by misery, disease and despair are still common. Analyses of Western media show Africa traditionally associated with images of hunger, war and AIDS (Bunce, 2016; Mahadeo & McKinney, 2007; VSO, 2002). Burman (1994) notes that these images often portray African children, in particular, as lone figures, cut off from kin and government. Hence, by implying societal neglect, they diminish the agency of Southern peoples and legitimate external Western intervention (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996). Moreover, Manzo (2008) argues that narratives portraying poor Africans as isolated victims and faraway viewers as potential saviors evoke the idea of the ‘white man’s burden’. Since the tropes of innocence, infantilisation, dependence and protection buttressed the civilising mission, aid can reinscribe colonial binaries. Thus, postcolonial theory is valuable for DE because it helps one decipher the covert meanings and power hierarchies embedded within pernicious narratives of deprivation. In light of Andreotti’s (2006a) note on alterity – the relationship of self and Other – perhaps this implies that before expecting students to empathise, DE must be thoughtful about how it presents the subject of empathy.

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54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 This thoughtfulness seems vital considering how deficit discourses influence pupils. Despite policies aimed at teaching understanding and respect of Southern cultures (DfES, 2005), some literature shows UK pupils caricaturing Africa as a land of mud huts and dirty drinking water, fitting into a larger pattern of Northern pupils seeing Africa solely in terms of destitution (Lewis, 2016; Sarti, Schalkers & Dedding, 2014; Elton-Chalcraft, 2009). DE initiatives may not always eradicate such perceptions. For example, in Brown’s (2006) study, UK pupils showed a distinct lack of empathy. They characterised their relationship with their South African partner school as “give and take. We give them money, they take it” (p. 12). They also said, “We can help them – they don’t have anything better to do.” (p. 12). This contradicts the government’s vision that school partnerships “challenge the stereotyped, problem orientated image of people in less affluent countries” (DfEE, 2000, p. 14). In fact, it suggests DE may perpetuate stereotypes if pupils view poor Africans as victims to be saved. Andreotti (2006b) warns of this risk in her conceptualising of ‘soft’ global citizenship, which positions Southern peoples as helpless and infantilised and triggers feelings of self-righteousness or moral superiority in the Northern pupil. True empathy between equals seems impossible if pupils believe they are “benevolent, charitable and innocent people helping the poor” (Alasuutari & Andreotti, 2015, p. 65) a paternalistic dynamic which embodies asymmetrical power relations.

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56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Decontextualised pedagogy can aggravate the problem. In Smith’s (1999) study of an English school sponsoring a Ugandan child, a teacher admitted she never raised political issues for fear students would “switch off” (1999, p. 493). Consequently, pupils remained unaware of the context behind Ugandan poverty. This pedagogical omission reflects Spivak’s (1990) idea of sanctioned ignorance about forgotten histories. For Spivak, sanctioned ignorance means that modernising discourses relegate imperialism firmly to the past, disavowing its damage and giving the illusion that it does not impact current events. Ahistorical pedagogy, such as that observed by Smith, can be said to represent sanctioned ignorance. Consequently, it may not be conducive to empathy because, stripped of all context about the larger geopolitical inequalities that produce present-day injustice, poor Africans simply become distant, exoticised victims.

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58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 1 Thus, empathy does not seem like a simple process. The literature suggests that pupils may have reductionist perceptions of African poverty stemming from historical power imbalances, the dominance of disempowering narratives in the media and/or decontextualised pedagogy. This poses a challenge for DE: efforts to spark empathy should not legitimise deficit or neocolonial discourses about the suffering Other.

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  1. 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 1
  2. Is empathy inevitable?

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62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 1 Having problematised the assumption that empathy is simple, I now critique another assumption implicit in the literature: that empathy is inevitable. The literature earlier mentioned depicts empathy, in the form of respectful cross-cultural understanding, as DE’s natural outcome (DfES, 2005; DfES, 2004; QCA, 2007). For example, DfES’s (2005) report lists activities that expose pupils to other cultures and then states, “By doing this they can develop an empathy for other people’s needs” (DfES, 2005, p. 14). However, in reality, this process may not be so straightforward. For instance, in Tallon’s (2012) study, a teacher taught pupils about Niger’s water shortage, hoping to motivate them to fundraise. However, the teacher reported that pupils felt pity, not empathy (p. 13). They felt sorry for Nigeriens but were reluctant to take action. Perhaps this was because, as Tallon concludes, the Other was portrayed with no agency. No Nigerien perspectives were spotlighted. Nor was the larger socio-political context explained (for instance, how colonial legacies may have hindered current access to resources – see Lautze and Giordano (2005) for an analysis of how colonial transboundary water laws currently influence conflicts over water in Sub-Saharan Africa). There was no critique of external NGOs in Niger for not consulting locals. The teacher deemed such critique “too high-level for these kids” (p. 15). Hence, the voice of the Other went unheard, which might have diminished pupils’ capacity for empathy. Andreotti (2006b) suggests that for critical global citizenship, pupils should engage with varied local perspectives, including dissenting voices, to recognise the complexity of Southern realities. Extending Andreotti’s point, I suggest that empathy might be difficult if the curriculum omits these local voices and depicts the Other as a faraway, silent population.

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64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 1 DE literature also suggests another reason empathy is not inevitable: pupils are not passive recipients of information. Tallon’s (2012) participant teacher assumed that critique would be too ‘high-level’. Yet, when Tallon showed pupils an NGO poster of an African child, they themselves were critical. One boy said he was not empathetic because he thought NGOs were unduly manipulative and images of suffering African children staged. Interestingly, his comments are echoed by academics who have questioned the politics of humanitarian representation (Chouliaraki, 2010; Perugini & Zucconi, 2017). Moreover, other studies also show UK pupils pointing out problematic power dynamics behind images of Africa (Brown, 2015a). Thus, this boy’s lack of empathy is not necessarily a failure on his or the teacher’s part. He displayed the independent-mindedness Andreotti considers essential to critical global citizenship, which aims to let students ‘experiment with different ways of being’ (Andreotti, 2006b). Hence, challenging moments can be reconceived as opportunities for discussion.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 Perhaps DE should not view empathy as inevitable, but gently encourage pupils to reflect on how particular discourses and representations sway their empathy (or initial lack of it!).

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67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Section III – Ways Forward?

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69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 1 Having problematised the assumptions that empathy is simple or inevitable, I would like to offer potential solutions. As Andreotti (2016, p.109) suggests, academia should not completely ‘crush generosity and altruism’ in the name of critique! The literature suggests that empathy is still a worthy ideal if two elements imbue it: nuance and self-reflexivity.

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  1. 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0
  2. Nuance

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73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 Spivak (1988) stresses the importance of ‘unlearning’: discarding stereotypes, confronting internalised biases, and questioning old ways of knowing. Kapoor (2004), Beverley (1999) and Moore-Gilbert (1997) note that it necessitates contesting normalised knowledge and dominant, seemingly self-evident assumptions. Kapoor (2004, p. 642) pithily adds that unlearning means “stopping oneself from always wanting to correct, teach, theorise, develop, colonise, appropriate, use, record, inscribe, enlighten”. Synthesising these ideas, I now mobilise relevant literature to suggest ways to help students ‘unlearn’ and empathise with an Other whose complexity they recognise.

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75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 1 One way to nuance narratives about African poverty is to complicate simplistic narratives. In this regard, one example of sound practice might be the Leeds University Centre for African Studies’ outreach programme, ‘African Voices’. It trains African postgraduates to dispel primary schoolchildren’s misconceptions about Africa. Borowski’s (2012) research shows how, before meeting the postgraduates, pupils possessed one-dimensional perceptions. Labelling Africa “starving” and “primitive”, they could not imagine Africans enjoying any of the UK’s technological or industrial resources. For example, over 70% believed no Africans owned mobiles; over 65% believed no skyscrapers existed. Empathy seems difficult for children who visualise Africa thus, as an alien Other. These findings reflect a larger research pattern of British pupils believing the UK and Africa have little in common (Tallon, 2013; QCA, 2007), exemplifying the literature on stereotypes discussed previously. But Borowski’s study is different because it also offers hope for change, as I will now discuss.

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77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 2 Like many postcolonial theorists, Spivak and Andreotti advocate ‘de-centering’ perception (Landry & MacLean, 1996). De-centering is a transformative epistemological process that helps knowers become open to difference. Knowers abandon the fallacy of thinking their culture the centre of the world (Alasuutari & Andreotti, 2015). This suggests that empathy entails not only a gain – in understanding another’s perspective – but also a loss – in having to cast aside previously held knowledge. This process is evident in Borowski’s (2012) study. The children’s old conceptions disintegrated after listening to the African postgraduates, but transformed into a richer understanding. Over 72% said they now knew African skyscrapers exist and over 90% knew mobiles did too. They recognised cross-cultural commonalities, evincing a widening of mental horizons. One pupil said, “I thought all the buildings would be different but they were like what we’ve got”; another noted “I didn’t know they had cars, I thought they had to walk’’; a third observed, “I learnt that there are wealthy people in Africa as well” while a fourth said, “I didn’t know that there was that much technology in Africa.” (Borowski, 2012, p. 5). Unlearning pre-existing biases, as Spivak (1988) recommends, can thus help pupils de-center their worldviews and see the subject of their empathy as not alien to themselves. Meeting financially secure, highly educated and accomplished postgraduates from the supposedly “primitive” continent made children reconceptualise Africa as “welcoming, friendly and lively” instead of “starving, thirsty and primitive” (Borowski, 2012, p. 5). This is not to suggest that people from the Global South must themselves undertake the emotional labour of ‘teaching’ the privileged to unlearn their prejudice. Yet, it seems worth noting that victim-centred narratives can be compellingly countered with face-to-face reminders of African people’s agency. Consequently, pupils might experience a nuanced form of empathy by learning with and from the Other, rather than about the Other (Jefferess, 2008).

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79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 Another solution might be to use creative counters to monolithic views of African poverty. An example is DiCampo and Merrill’s (2017) Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent. To challenge sensationalised portrayals, the authors capture ordinary citizens’ lives. Their images stress agency and accomplishment, from fashion parades to the joyous smiles of university graduates. Admittedly, this deliberately positive approach is controversial. Counter-arguments claim it obscures the reality of hardships and entrenched inequalities, making developing countries look unrealistically idyllic (Benthall, 2010; Chouliaraki, 2010). Moreover, Scott (2017) questions the dichotomy between ‘bad’ hegemonic narratives and ‘good’ counter-cultural narratives. He illustrates how ‘good’ narratives can be operated by vested interests; for instance, organisations may display positive images of Africa to brand themselves as progressive. Hence, I acknowledge that DE should eschew ‘good-bad’ dualities and not present any narrative as apolitical or unequivocally good.

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81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 1 However, I would still value literature like Everyday Africa, because micro-narratives about ordinary life might counterbalance the proliferation of bleak media images. The empathetic global citizen within DE can then transcend one-note understandings of the Other. Andreotti (2015) argues that true global-mindedness entails acceptance of uncertainty and contingency. I interpret this to mean there is no single, easily discernable truth about other cultures but infinite, possibly contradictory, narratives. Thus, DE should provide students with multiple narratives that recognise the Other’s agency and complexity. Empathy then becomes a means for pupils to “wake up to face a plural, undefined world” (Andreotti, 2016, p. 109).

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  1. 83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0
  2. Self-reflexivity

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85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 1 The second element I suggest should permeate empathy is self-reflexivity. Nuance, the first element, centred around conceptualising the subject of empathy. But now it must be asked: what kind of empathy? Boler’s (1997) theory of ‘passive empathy’ explains that empathy risks annihilating the Other. That is, if an individual tries to empathise with another’s suffering only by thinking of herself and her own experiences, she risks forgetting the other person altogether. Boler argues this is tantamount to consuming the Other. She labels it ‘passive’ empathy because it does not move the individual to reflect upon her own role in perpetuating structural inequalities or to help transform them. Passive empathy “produces no action for justice, but situations the powerful Western eye as the judging subject, never called upon to gaze at her own reflection” (Boler, 1999, p. 161). Hence, it seems inadequate.

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87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 The dangers of passive empathy emerge in studies where pupils construct notions of themselves as privileged beneficiaries compared to a less advantaged, faraway Other (Brown, 2015b; Smith, 1999). For instance, Smith (1999) finds in his study on an English school sponsoring a Ugandan child that the teacher taught pupils about Uganda by listing items UK schools possess (for example, laboratory equipment) and then making pupils recite how Ugandan schools did not have any of these items. Smith then observed pupils using the purported ‘deficiencies’ of Africa to feel more empowered about their own nationalities. Another possibility noted by Todd (2003) and Brown (2015a) is empathy engendering self-interest when students begin imagining how they themselves would negotiate poverty and bypassing the views of the poor people in question. It would seem that, as an act of imagination, empathy risks ‘all the vagaries and self-deceptions’ imagination entails (Recuber, 2013, p.74).

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89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 1 A potential solution emerges in Boler’s (1997) idea of complicity. She entreats us to not only make the Other our primary focus when being empathetic, but also recognise our own complicity in oppressive structures that perpetuate the Other’s suffering. This dovetails with Andreotti and Spivak’s work. Spivak (1999) argues that there are no neutral or pure discursive spaces uncontaminated by geopolitics. But she suggests we endeavour to lay bare our own position in hegemonic systems through ‘persistent critique’ (Spivak, 1999). Similarly, for Andreotti (2006b), self-reflexivity is what differentiates critical global citizenship from ‘soft’ global citizenship. Andreotti recommends that DE de-emphasise discourses of charitable benevolence that portray an Other to be saved. Instead, pupils should be imbued with a sense of humility, working to dismantle systemic inequalities while learning with the Other. Andreotti conceptualises this dynamic as aiming to be responsible towards the Other, rather than for the Other. She advocates ‘critical literacies’ that awaken students to the politics of knowledge production, an idea echoed in Giroux’s (2011) notion of critical pedagogy and Kapoor’s (2004) call for hyper self-reflexivity. Hence, it seems that the empathetic gaze must foreground critical awareness of one’s own positionality.

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91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 However, current pedagogy may not always be conducive to this self-critical form of empathy. Studies earlier discussed suggested that narratives of African poverty may omit self-reflexive analysis of how the North itself sustains this poverty (Tallon, 2012; Smith, 1999). But I will now show that pupils might even consider developing countries wholly responsible. In Brown’s (2015a) study on pupil understandings of global poverty, Year 7s and Year 9s ascribed the causes of poverty to internal characteristics of developing nations (like corrupt governments and overpopulation) but no external factors (like neoliberal policies or colonial epochs). This contradicts DFID’s vision for an education that “gives the British people accurate, unbiased information about the causes of poverty in developing countries” (1997, p. 77) and suggests that when DE encourages students to empathise, it must be careful not to suggest that developing countries are solely to blame for their own issues.

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93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 Elucidating the causes of African poverty is crucial because Nothias (2012) explains that media discourses often perpetuate ‘Afro-pessimism’, positioning Africa as a ‘Dark Continent’ which lacks the expertise to remedy itself. Borowski (2012) adds that UK aid is often idealised as the solution while in reality, UK institutions may be part of the problem. While this essay cannot exhaustively analyse the role of the West in African poverty (for influential analyses, see Easterly, 2006; Moyo, 2009; Rodney, 1972) it is pertinent to note Adegoke’s (2017) reminder that many African dictators have been funded by Western interests selling them arms, and African debts owed to the UK may partially stem from contracts with Western companies. Hence, portrayals of Africa as a predestined ‘Dark Continent’ obscure the active role of Northern intervention, fitting Spivak’s observation that demeaning representations of the Other may reinforce the interests of dominant powers.

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95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 Hence, a context-sensitive pedagogy might be fruitful, one that incorporates previously discussed ideas of complicity and self-reflexivity (Andreotti, 2006b; Boler, 1997; Spivak, 1999). Pupils could learn how historical inequalities, geopolitics and neoliberal markets mediate their empathy. Boler and Zembylas (2003) call such teaching a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’, because recognising one’s own potential compliance with injustice may spark disillusionment or anger in pupils. But this emotional labour can empower pupils to take humane action and acknowledge their implication in power networks that platform certain voices and suppress others. We are “all part of the problem and the solution” (Andreotti, 2006b, p. 47).

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  1. 97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0
  2. Limitations

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99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 On a cautionary note: even the type of critical empathy I advocate is not unproblematic. Firstly, Pedwell (2014) notes that the mere act of empathy locks self and Other into fixed positions. She observes that in both academic literature and popular liberal discourse, it is usually those with existing geopolitical and socioeconomic privilege (typically white, Western, and middle-class) who are expected to empathise with the less privileged Other. Consequently, even choosing to empathise is an expression of power that could retrench, not unsettle, inequalities (Berlant, 2004).

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101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 Secondly, Andreotti considers empathy confining in its bid to find common ground (Andreotti, Biesta & Ahenakew, 2015). She warns that it risks repressing difference. She even critiques how empathy is centred around bridging differences and hence “at its core, it means we can only ever be the same” (p. 255). I venture to (respectfully!) disagree with this last statement. Liberal humanist discourses of people being ‘all the same under the skin’ can camouflage how people are oppressed in radically different ways (Boler & Zembylas, 2003). However, empathy transcends simplistic notions of sameness. It is an act of perspective-taking (Krznaric, 2008) and as such necessitates understanding why another is different from oneself, and respecting that difference, rather than forcing an artificial consensus. Nonetheless, Andreotti’s prior points about empathy being restrictive seem a valid warning. Studies suggest people empathise more easily with, and choose to help, those from the same race, religion, gender or other shared characteristics (Bloom, 2017; Avenanti, 2010; Fong & Luttmer, 2009). Thus, empathy-based ideals may risk overlooking the human propensity for tribalism and excluding those perceived as different.

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103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0 Lastly, empathy may be dangerous if it persuades students that they fully understand vulnerable communities. Said (1978) affirms in his famous critique of modernism, Orientalism, that claims to know the Southern Other signify Northern hegemony. Said elucidates how colonisers created reductive, totalising stereotypes about their subjects while professing to completely understand them, a process Spivak (1988) calls ‘epistemic violence’. Similarly, Pedwell (2012) warns that privileged parties claiming to know the experiences of the marginalised can lead to appropriation or forms of silencing which reinforce oppression. Thus, epistemologically speaking, DE should avoid grand narratives about empathy yielding a perfect understanding of the ‘Other’.

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105 Leave a comment on paragraph 105 0 With these limitations in mind, I do not wish to suggest a ‘right’ version of empathy to teach because that seems overly didactic and simplistic. Rather, this review hopes to showcase possibilities for transformative and critical pedagogy while leaving the concept of empathy open-ended and contestable.

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107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 Conclusion

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109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0 Empathy is a tool for connection that can spark compassionate action for change. Precisely because it is so valuable, it deserves more analysis; being uncritically positive about the concept may blind us to its complications. I have sought to engage with research showing the complex workings of empathy under the auspice of development education, while critiquing policies which do not.

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111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0 The first section mapped the contextual terrain of this review by showing that policies invoke the concept as a normative ideal, both within development education and international development. But there is a dearth of literature that explores the workings and possible risks of empathy. Some policies seem to endorse empathy in an ahistorical and depoliticised manner. But, by situating the concept within changing paradigms of international development and education, globalisation and neoliberal ideas of national self-interest, I argued that empathy is inextricable from the politico-ideological spaces that legitimise it.

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113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0 The second section critiqued potential flaws in the literature. I problematised two implicit assumptions: that empathy is simple and/or inevitable. Since it is a relational concept, development educators must be mindful of how they represent the suffering Other. Postcolonial theory provides a valuable framework for locating narratives of African poverty with a larger historical and geopolitical context. A plethora of stereotypes and misconceptions can clog the affective space between a pupil and a distant Other. In addition, it is not inevitable that students will be immediately empathetic. If they are not initially empathetic, I suggest that this is not a failure of development education. Rather, it could be an opportunity for critical dialogue about humanitarian discourse, the ethics of representation or any other issue raised therein.

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115 Leave a comment on paragraph 115 0 The third section sought possible solutions. Synthesising theories of postcolonialism, empathy and critical pedagogy, I proposed that we imagine a form of empathy that challenges and provokes the learner. Two elements seem vital: nuance and self-reflexivity. Nuance might alert students to the diversity and heterogeneity of the communities studied, while self-reflexivity might help them reflect on their own socioeconomic and political positioning. This empathetic imagination would not necessarily be easy or feel-good, but could constitute the difficulty of shedding one’s own preconceptions and discomfort at one’s possible complicity in injustice.

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117 Leave a comment on paragraph 117 0 However, on a cautionary note, I acknowledge that no conceptualisation of empathy is unproblematic. No pedagogy should reproduce grand modernist narratives by leading students to assume they fully know or understand the ‘Other’. Moreover, the very act of empathy is fraught with political overtones and the possibility of reinscribing unequal power relations. Hence, I do not want to be overly prescriptive by concluding that there is any definitively right version of empathy. In a divisive, conflict-ridden society, any attempt at empathy surely has some value.

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119 Leave a comment on paragraph 119 2 But my overarching argument is that we should be wary of branding it a simple panacea for social ills, and seek a deeper understanding of the concept that lets pupils understand and feel for others in a respectful and context-sensitive way. As children are curious about other people’s unique ways of seeing the world, perhaps adult researchers should be curious about the very concept of empathy itself. Future research could chart the politico-affective map of empathy in more depth and further explore how the concept is mobilised, deployed and circulated in the global imaginary.

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124 Leave a comment on paragraph 124 0 References

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128 Leave a comment on paragraph 128 0 Adichie, C. (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. (Video file) Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

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130 Leave a comment on paragraph 130 0 Alasuutari, H. and Andreotti, V. (2015). Framing and contesting the dominant global imaginary of north‐south relations: Identifying and challenging socio‐cultural hierarchies. Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review. 20, 64-92.

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134 Leave a comment on paragraph 134 0 Andreotti, V. (2016). The educational challenges of imagining the world differently. Canadian Journal of Development Studies. 37(1), 101-112, doi: 10.1080/02255189.2016.1134456

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136 Leave a comment on paragraph 136 1 Andreotti, V. (2011). (Towards) decoloniality and diversality in global citizenship education. Globalisation, Societies and Education. 9(3-4), 381-397.

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300 Leave a comment on paragraph 300 0 Spivak, G. (1999). A critique of postcolonial reason: toward a critique of the vanishing present. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

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302 Leave a comment on paragraph 302 0 Spivak, G. (1990). The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. London: Routledge.

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304 Leave a comment on paragraph 304 0 Spivak, G. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? Basingstoke: Macmillan.

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306 Leave a comment on paragraph 306 0 Sutcliffe, B. (2001). 100 Ways of Seeing an Unequal World. London and New York: Zed Books Ltd.

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308 Leave a comment on paragraph 308 0 Tallon, R. (2013). What do young people think of development? An exploration into the meanings young people make from NGO media. (PhD Thesis). Victoria University of Wellington.

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312 Leave a comment on paragraph 312 0 Tikly, L. (2004). Education and the new imperialism. Comparative Education, 40(2), 173-198.

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314 Leave a comment on paragraph 314 0 Todd, S. (2003). Learning from the Other: Levinas, psychoanalysis and ethical possibilities in education. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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316 Leave a comment on paragraph 316 0 Tucker, V. (2001). ‘The Myth of Development: A Critique of a Eurocentric Discourse,’ in R. Munck, and D. O’Hearn (Eds.) Critical Development Theory. London and New York: Zed Books.

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318 Leave a comment on paragraph 318 0 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). (1974). Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Retrieved from http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13088&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

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320 Leave a comment on paragraph 320 0 Valentin, K. & Meinert, L. (2009). The Adult North and the Young South: Reflections on the Civilizing Mission of Children’s Rights. Anthropology Today. 25(3), 23-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8322.2009.00669.x

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322 Leave a comment on paragraph 322 0 Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). (2002). The Live Aid Legacy: The developing world through British eyes – A research report. London: VSO.

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324 Leave a comment on paragraph 324 0 Wall, M. (2007). ‘An Analysis of News Magazine Coverage of the Rwanda Crisis in the United States,’ in A. Thompson (Ed.) The Media and the Rwandan Genocide (pp. 261–77). London: Pluto Press.

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326 Leave a comment on paragraph 326 0 Weare, K. & Gray, G. (2003) What Works in Developing Children’s Emotional and Social Competence and Wellbeing? London: UK Department for Education and Skills.

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328 Leave a comment on paragraph 328 0 Weigand, P. (2012). Places In The Primary School. Abingdon: Routledge.

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330 Leave a comment on paragraph 330 0 World Bank Group. (2016). Global Monitoring Report 2015/2016: Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change. Washington: World Bank.

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