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Dissertation Information for Deborah Cohen

- Deborah Cohen

- Ph.D.

- Library and Information Science

- Rutgers University (USA) (1999)

- Jenny Mandelbaum

- Hartmut Mokros
- Radha Hegde
- Anita Pomerantz
- Elizabeth Boyd

MPACT Status: Fully Complete

Title: Adding insult to injury: Practices of empathy in an infertility support group

Abstract: This investigation studies one communicative practice for engaging in empathy in an infertility support group. Empathy and social support are typically examined as monological activities; researchers assume that social support and empathy are unilateral tasks accomplished by the prospective support-provider. In this study, I bring an interactive approach to the study of the phenomenon of social support.

Using methods of conversation analysis, and relying on audio-tape recordings of three support group meetings, I collected a corpus of 12 injury stories. In injury stories, members recount events in which others have said something hurtful about their infertility. In the support group setting, members design injury stories in a methodical way that provides for the achievement of empathy.

My findings show that empathy is accomplished through three interconnected moves: (1) the prospective support-recipient (the injury storyteller) designs her talk in a way that does not make obvious her view of the event. In this way she puts recipients in the position of figuring out how the event she portrays should be understood. (2) Recipients show they understand. Recipients' displays of understanding are positioned before the teller explicitly shows how she understands the event, and they display their orientation to the event as a tale of injury. (3) The teller confirms recipients' understanding of the event.

It is through these moves that support group members construct a mutual understanding of the injury experience, and construct the injury experience the teller recounts as one that is shared. Thus, through the telling of injury stories empathy can be seen to be enacted. This way of reporting an injury provides support in the sense that the teller and recipients co-construct their view of the injury, constituting a display that the teller's way of seeing the event is similar to others' and is, therefore, shared and reasonable.

The results of this study show that empathy is an interactive achievement, and that the social practices through which empathy is achieved are initiated by the prospective support-recipient. Thus, this investigation describes one communicative practices through which empathetic displays are constructed. In doing this they suggest the need for rethinking the concept of social support in general, and empathy specifically, as interactive ventures, rather than as monological activities.

MPACT Scores for Deborah Cohen

A = 0
C = 0
A+C = 0
T = 0
G = 0
W = 0
TD = 0
TA = 0
calculated 2008-01-31 06:11:04

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Students under Deborah Cohen

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