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People and Change in Indigenous Australia$
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Diane Austin-Broos and Francesca Merlan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824867966

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824867966.001.0001

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Empathy, Psychic Unity, Anger, and Shame

Empathy, Psychic Unity, Anger, and Shame

Learning about Personhood in a Remote Aboriginal Community

(p.165) Chapter 9 Empathy, Psychic Unity, Anger, and Shame
People and Change in Indigenous Australia

Victoria K. Burbank

University of Hawai'i Press

Psychic unity is a fraught concept in anthropology and related fields, yet, I argue, even those of us who doubt the existence of a shared human nature carry an expectation of it into the field. Empathy, which necessarily depends on a degree of psychic unity, has long been a critical tool for doing ethnography though our recognition of this fact comes and goes in the anthropological canon. In this experientialist approach to personhood, set in the changed and changing environment of the remote Australian Aboriginal community of Numbulwar, I draw on emotion talk to explore my intuition that, in spite of our differences, the women I know there and I are very much alike. In this effort, I am guided by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s ideas about primary metaphors and the bodily experiences that underlie them. I focus on an Aboriginal woman’s experience of anger and shame, and on why I think I can understand both what is said and something of the experience behind what is being said. I also, however, consider arguments that shared experience is necessary to the ethnographic project.

Keywords:   empathy, emotion, metaphor, psychic unity, family

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