Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros10Dossier thématiqueAffective frames and the construc...

Dossier thématique

Affective frames and the construction of the human

Conceptualising selective empathy with Judith Butler
Elise Huchet
Traduction de Katharine Throssell
Cet article est une traduction de :
Cadres affectifs et construction de l’humain [fr]


This article sets out to analyse selective empathy by drawing on Judith Butler’s conception of frame. It re-situates the analysis of empathy within a broader analysis of the way our perceptions and affect are politically regulated. Finally, the article questions the possible modalities for resisting selective empathy and raises the question of the political resources provided by affect.

Haut de page

Entrées d’index

Haut de page

Texte intégral


  • 1 Here I distinguish between empathy and sympathy, which is broadly defined as a form of emotional co (...)

1“Empathy is commonly used to refer to the ability to share one’s emotions with another through a form of identification or an ability to put oneself in the other’s place.1 Yet there are ongoing debates around the definition of this notion, and how it functions. There are two contradictory poles structuring the different approaches to empathy, “between immediate sharing and the understanding of representations and affect” (Attigui & Cukier, 2001, p. 9-36), that is, between the comprehension of empathy as an immediate affective relationship between myself and the other on the one hand, and on the other, as a more interpretative and cognitive process through which I put myself in the other’s place.

2The field of moral philosophy (Canto-Sperber, 2004; Hume, 1999; Smith, 2014; Scheler, 2003; Husserl, 2000; Slote, 2007; Hoffman, 2008) has focused on the fundamental tension that is characteristic of empathy. This plays an essential part in morality because it allows for the mediation between the self and the other, and the creation of an affective link to the other. Yet the empathic connection by no means functions all the time, and does not have the same level of intensity in all circumstances. There are many situations of indifference to the suffering of the other and their emotions, or a lack of understanding of them, in other words, blockages in the empathic connection.

3Does this mean that morals based on empathy should be seen as suspicious, given that on the one hand it is never possible to distinguish what we feel spontaneously from the injunctions about what should be felt (Cukier, 2011), and on the other hand, given that empathy is more or less intense given the degree of proximity between the self and the other, even though that selectivity of empathy cannot be justified on a moral level? If the selectivity of empathy results from its embeddedness in more general social relations, should this be considered a deformation of a kind of natural empathy that might be non-selective? Or, on the contrary, can we argue that social categories are not obstacles to empathic relations (Lazzeri, 2001)? Finally, should the fact that empathy is selective lead us to conceive a form of morality that has no need of it (Bloom, 2016), to seek remedies for what would be considered deformations of the empathic connection? Or can we defend a notion of morality based on empathy, even considering its insurmountable selectivity?

  • 2 Here I am following Christian Lazzeri’s analysis, which, in studying the connection between empathy (...)

4There are many factors that can explain why empathic reactions may be more or less intense. Among these, our distance from the other, what Hoffman calls the “proximity bias” (Hoffman, 2000), seems to play a central role, whether this distance is understood as geographical, cultural, or social (Boltanski, 1993). Where empathy supposes the perception of similarities with the other, distance is indeed what tends to attenuate these similarities, or in any case our perception of them, drawing a clear line between what is same and what is other. Yet distance alone does not seem sufficient to explain the weakness of certain empathic connections. I also defend the need to consider the social mechanisms for building empathic connections and what might obstruct them. In opposition to approaches that present low levels of empathy in certain situations as linked to a weakening of social ties, or being too distant from the other,2 I show that there is a political construction of the denial of empathy, which involves the regulation of the sphere of perception, judgment, and affect.

5To demonstrate this, I present the rich notion of “frame” that Judith Butler introduced in their essays dedicated to the analysis of political reactions in the United States in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, in particular Precarious Life (Butler, 2004b) and Frames of War (Butler 2009). This notion of “frames” allows us to shed light on the active mechanisms for constructing a relationship with the other, which play a central role in whether empathy is possible or not. Moreover, Butler’s thought re-situates the analysis of ethical relations in the context of a more general analysis of the ways we apprehend what is real, and particularly the regulation of our perceptions.

6I will begin by defining Butler’s notion of frame, demonstrating the active dimension at work in the denial of empathy. I will then analyse the specific application of the notion of frame to the affective sphere. Focusing on affect, I will look more closely at the regulation of the relation to the other that is at the heart of the empathic connection, and show the role of affective frames in the emergence of empathic communities (Quemener, 2018). Finally, I will investigate the possibilities for resistance against the selectivity of empathy. Is it possible to increase our abilities for empathy, to subvert the frames regulating affect, and, if so, how?

Conceptualising the selectivity of appearance: Judith Butler’s notion of “frame”

The emergence of Butler’s notion

7The starting point for the reflection Butler develops in Precarious Life, and then in Frames of War, is the analysis of US government policy after the 9-11 attacks, and particularly the justification and implementation of the wars launched in Iraq and Afghanistan. Butler sees the reaffirmation of all-powerful American imperialism and the decision to go to war as the result of the US’s inability to accept the vulnerability that is characteristic of politics, a vulnerability that is understood here as an interdependence between states at the global level, and the possibility of being wounded (“injurability”).

8This interdependence is denied in favour of a claim to mastery and autonomy associated with a discourse insisting on legitimate self-defence when threatened. From this observation, Butler seeks to explain this denial and the justifications underlying it. They particularly emphasise the way in which both power and public opinion construct a clear opposition between two kinds of lives: the lives of American citizens—which must be protected and mourned—and the lives of others who are barely even considered as living and whose deaths are not apprehended as a loss, specifically the civilian victims of American strikes. This distinction relies on a political regulation of our perception and affect, which the notion of frame allows us to analyse.

What can appear? An active production of the selectivity of empathy, through the construction of a visible, audible human

9The frame can be succinctly defined as the mechanism—whether conceptual, perceptive, affective, or media—through which we apprehend what is real, “the frame of the photograph, the framing of the decision to go to war, the framing of immigration issues as a ‘war at home’, and the framing of sexual and feminist politics in the service of the war effort” (2009, p. 26).

  • 3 On this point there is a clear difference with the way the notion of frame is used in Goffman’s soc (...)

10In referring to fames of appearance, it is important to describe a certain selectivity in the way the real appears to us, “these constraints are […] what ‘can’ be heard, read, seen, felt, known. The public sphere is constituted in part by what can appear, and the regulation of the sphere of appearance is one way to establish what will count as reality, and what will not” (Butler, 2004b). Butler therefore develops a constructivist thesis that invites us to consider the way our experience is constructed, and how reality is constituted.3 This constructivism also concerns the sphere of what is perceptible, as much as the knowable or affective spheres. Our perceptions, such as sight or hearing, are denaturalised in the sense that we must analyse the ways they are affected by the social contexts in which they are activated. In the case of social invisibility for example, which has been widely studied in both social sciences and in philosophy (Honneth, 2004; le Blanc, 2015; Voirol, 2005), the issue is not a vision problem in the literal sense, but a form of perceptual avoidance.

11Butler describes frames as “operations of power” (Butler, 2009, p. 1) where power should be understood in its productive dimension, not as simply that which prohibits or censures. In Excitable Speech Butler, drawing on Foucault’s definition of power, was already critical of an overly restrictive understanding of power, understood as only limiting the circulation of discourse. This in opposition to Butler’s own thesis of productive power, which provokes discourse and defines an order of discourse, a “field of what is sayable” delimiting what can be said or not (Huchet, 2022). In their following texts, Butler raises the question of the force that is constitutive of power at the ontological level (Charpentier, 2019)—to what extent is our perception of reality itself prescribed by power?

12The non-receptivity of certain discourses, the invisibility of certain images or certain subjects is therefore not so much to do with their explicit prohibition as to a selective delimitation of what counts as real. In the cases of deaths that are not mourned, lives that are not considered human, violence stems from the exclusion from the sphere of what is perceptible. This violence, that characterises the process of derealisation of subjects, is different from that of oppression.

To be oppressed you must first become intelligible. To find that you are fundamentally unintelligible (indeed, that the laws of culture and of language find you to be an impossibility) is to find that you have not yet achieved access to the human, to find yourself speaking only and always as if you were human, but with the sense that you are not, to find that your language is hollow […]. (Butler, 2004a, p. 30)

If I cannot empathize with certain lives, it is because they cannot be perceived as lives that count, as human lives. That implies an imperceptibility of these lives, which are invisible and inaudible; they are the “zombies” that Sartre evokes in his preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961/2004, p. xlviii).

The materiality of frames: practices and institutions at work in the construction of an empathic connection

13However, Butler’s thesis is by no means an idealism claiming that power concerns our representation of the world, and that we simply need to change our perceptions to change reality. Instead, it is attentive to the material practices through which frames operate. The first chapter of Precarious Life is thus dedicated to an analysis of the role of the media in the construction of public opinion and the way anti-war positions are excluded from the media field. Butler looks particularly at certain practices in journalism and how they frame reality, including in terms of ethics. For example, they discuss the practice of embedded journalism, which consists in reporting from within military units, the only possibility of accessing the field.

14Butler emphasises the intricate connection between our perceptual categories and the shaping of material reality.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to decide whether the regard”—or the failure of regard”—leads to the material reality or whether the material reality leads to the failure of regard, since it would seem that both happen at once and that such perceptual categories are essential to the crafting of material reality (which does not mean that all materiality is reducible to perception, but only that perception carries its material effects).” (Butler, 2009, p. 25)

The place of materiality at the heart of Butler’s constructivism should lead us to question the way institutions incarnate the production of frames of perception, knowledge, and affect. This institutional dimension is central to understanding the selectivity of empathy. For example, we could look at how the narrative of the self, that state institutions require in applications for asylum, is structured by norms that severely restrict the form of that narrative and the effect it has on those who read it (Ferron et al., 2022).

From epistemology to ethics: affective frames, empathic communities, and sensitive democracy

15Although the notion of frame raises epistemological issues, Butler uses it above all for ethical purposes, to conceptualise the conditions of possibility for an empathic connection to the other. They therefore propose a reflexion on the scandal of lives that are not considered worthy of mourning, and thus not considered lives as such (Fassin, 2018). The lives of civilians killed in American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also the lives of people excluded from society and dying of AIDS, the lives of racialised people subject to all kinds of violence, or the lives of vulnerable people more generally who are made more fragile by a lack of social support. Butler thus establishes a direct link between the epistemological problem of framing, and the ethical problem of apprehending the precariousness of lives, writing that “[t]he normative production of ontology thus produces the epistemological problem of apprehending life, and this in turn gives rise to the ethical problem of what it is to acknowledge or, indeed, to guard against injury and violence” (Butler, 2009, p. 3)

16The normativity at work in our perceptions and knowledge also concerns the affective reactions that we are liable to develop toward the other. There is no such thing as natural, immediate empathy, in the sense of primary affective relations, that would occur spontaneously outside of any social frame.

Affect depends upon social supports for feeling: we come to feel only in relation to a perceivable loss, one that depends on social structures of perception; and we can only feel and claim affect as our own on the condition that we have already been inscribed in a circuit of social affect. (Butler, 2009, p. 50)

Envisaging our feelings as inscribed in a social circuit makes it possible, firstly, to emphasize their collective dimension and their circulation between social subjects. Whether this circulation occurs in the form of emotional contagion (Spinoza, 2010), or in more media-centred ways, it is probable that I would be more likely to show empathy to someone if others around me develop the same empathic connection (Boltanski, 1993). The role of the media in this circuit of social effect is by no means negligeable.

17Secondly, and this is related, this approach to the social nature of affect allows us to conceptualise the role they play in the formation of groups or communities. In Butler’s analyses, the construction of the distinction between lives we can empathize with and those we cannot, contributes to the shaping of the American national community defined in closed terms. Butler also explores public mourning ceremonies organised in honour of the victims of terrorist attacks, and notes, by contrast, the indifference to the death of many other victims. Official commemorations and moments of mourning organised by the state are spaces for the expression of affect that is created and regulated by the institution. The group is reinforced by the circulation of affect through empathy, hence the importance of creating counter-spaces for mourning for those whose deaths are not recognised, as a way for affirming their inclusion in a given community. This is the meaning behind the actions of the group “Les Morts de la Rue4 (“those who died in the street”), which involve honouring the homeless who have died in the street, unnoticed and unmourned, with an annual ceremony during which their names are read aloud in the public space.

18Up until now, I have analysed the selectivity of empathy defending, with Butler, a social constructivism that is attentive to the way perception, knowledge, and affect are produced and regulated in normative terms. But how can this selectivity of empathy be challenged? Should we conceive of the possibility of a broader notion of empathy? Or should we, on the contrary, abandon empathy as a foundation for morality?

Resisting the selectivity of our empathic reactions

Affirming widespread vulnerability

19In opposition to the political regulation of our affects which affirms the unequal value of lives, Butler emphasizes the observation of shared vulnerability and interdependence that links all beings. This vulnerability depends on the political and social conditions of existence. Yet it has the status of an anthropological fact with normative implications, and it is from this basis that ethics should be conceptualised. If Butler is so interested in the question of mourning, it is because the difference in our affective reactions when faced with the death of certain individuals provides an exacerbated illustration of the selectivity of our empathy. But it is also because this is the archetypal experience that reveals the relationality that links us to others (Despret, 2017). Even beyond empathy, the mechanism that allows us to communicate affect, Butler affirms that we are always already constituted by others, and therefore also potentially de-constituted by them.

20Therefore, against the interpretative frames establishing sharing between those who are seen as more or less alive, we must gauge the “woundability” of our own lives and their interdependence. In defining an ethic of vulnerability, Butler provides a theoretical model with an anthropological and normative foundation enabling an opposition between the selectivity of our affective reactions, and the (morally unfounded) regulation of our capacities for empathy.

21But to what extent does the affirmation of shared vulnerability constitute the foundation for a critique of selective empathy?

22This question combines two distinct issues. Firstly, we must establish how such an apprehension of the vulnerability of life is possible, beyond selective perceptual frames. Secondly, we can ask ourselves how this apprehension might give rise to an ethical and political opposition. Butler notes that despite an overabundance of images of suffering conveyed through the media, “sometimes, not always, the images that are imposed upon us operate as an ethical solicitation” (2015, p. 100). But how can this solicitation operate, and to what extent can it affect us, beyond community or close ties?

Framing the frame: the task of criticism

23In order to break away from the hegemonic frames that structure our perceptions, our judgements, and our affects, we must firstly determine the strength of these frames and the delimitations they impose. The task of critique is thus to analyse the regulatory dimension of power, aiming to reveal the frame as a frame, or as Butler puts it “to frame the frame” (2009, p. 8), to analyse its purpose of delineation, and thus its exclusionary aspect.

24This is a theoretical task of updating the knowledge/power relations in which our perceptions and knowledge are inscribed. Yet Butler also provides an aesthetic formulation, evoking certain photographs that implement a form of reflexive critique by seeking to photograph the frame itself, in other words, by taking as the object of this representation the restrictions that are imposed on what it is possible to show.

25Moreover, this critical task of framing the frame goes hand in hand with the affirmation of a certain fragility of the frames governing our perceptions and affects. Butler denies the deterministic nature of these perceptual frames. Our perceptions always exceed the frame that governs them, and that is linked to the very way the frame exists. Frames are never established once and for all; any frame must be repeated to become dominant. Butler studies the modifications that necessarily result from repetition by referring to Benjamin’s analysis of works of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (1935). In particular, the analysis focuses on the way images or texts that are produced in a certain context circulate. This circulation alters the very meaning of the works, both in terms of their content, and the perspective they adopt. The emblematic example Butler chooses to illustrate this is that of the photographs of torture used in the Abu Ghraib prison as a means of humiliating prisoners. These documents acquired new meaning when they were revealed in the American press and to the public, becoming testimony to the soldiers’ cruelty and proof of the atrocities committed.

26The circulation of photographs revives the possibility for empathy by presenting reality in a new light, operating a break in the frame. This idea of the circulation of frames is central in understanding the possibility of opening up empathy, it is the condition that makes it conceivable. Mechanisms of selectivity are always fragile because they must be continually re-established.

27Yet it is not sufficient to simply note this fragility. The goal is not merely to observe this necessary circulation of frames but to conceptualise the active subversion of the dominant frames through the establishment of new frames which allow us to oppose the selectivity of empathy.

The emergence of new frames: providing the “affective conditions of social critique5

  • 5 Butler, 2009, 34.

28In “What is critique,” commenting on a conference by Foucault on critique as a practice of self-invention (2015), Butler defines the task of philosophy not only as the suspension of dominant categories of judgment, but also as proposing “a new practice of values based on that suspension” (2002, p. 212). Following on from Foucault, Butler defines critique as a virtue, involving an act of self-transformation and allowing the self to be touched by affects from “outside the frame.” Through this ethical alteration of the self, critique can act on existence and modify not only modes of perception and thought, but also affect.

29However, Butler does not sufficiently consider the subversive force of affects in their ability to undo the regulations imposed by hegemonic frames. Although it is essential to understand the social life of affects, that is the way they are regulated and how an empathic connection to the other is possible or not, it seems to me equally necessary to recognise a certain autonomy, to envisage a critique of the selectivity of empathy in its affective form. This implies distancing ourselves from Butler’s frame on two points: through the questioning of the primacy of the perceptive over the affective; and through a closer analysis of what we might call the politics of affect.

30An initial argument that can be levelled at Butler results from their conceptualisation of the link between the perceptual and the affective. In an article entitled “Institution de vulnérabilité, politique de la vulnérabilité” (2019) the philosopher Estelle Ferrarese criticises Butler’s approach centred on frames of apprehension, focused on the purely cognitive moment of apprehending the other, and not on the “ethical call” that the other addresses to me. According to her, this is tantamount to considering the selectivity of our ethical reactions as a mistake (that is, a reading of the world that is epistemologically false), rather than as a wrong (that is, an injustice that is specifically ethical). This distinction between the cognitive and the ethical, or between the perceptual and the affective, does not seem to me to be quite so clear in Butler’s thought. Butler asks, for example, how alternative frames of thought can “not only act upon affect but take form and become effective as affect itself” (2009, p. 52). This implies that our affective reactions are mediatised by frames that regulate our perceptions, but which may also throw them into question.

31On this point, Butler’s critical discussion of Susan Sontag’s position is particularly interesting. In response to Sontag’s argument that photographs are unable to affect us because they are so widespread (1977), or if they do move us, they are unable to provoke an ethical response beyond shock and indignation (2003), Butler affirms that images can produce an ethical response, both through affect and because affect challenges the dominant frame of interpretation. Butler briefly defends the idea of affect being “not just the basis, but very stuff of ideation and critique” (2009, p. 34).

32Although Ferrarese’s critique of Butler seems to me only partially justified, it nevertheless has the merit of drawing attention to a certain primacy of the perceptual over the affective in Butler’s thought, which can be questioned. Indeed, the affect that I may feel, or not, towards the other may be considered not merely the simple consequence of power relations or frames governing perception, but as contributing to the construction of these power relations and perceptions. In the introduction to The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2014), Ahmed looks at xenophobic discourses in part of the English extreme right, and shows how the much-discussed figure of the foreigner is constructed by resorting to emotions such as fear and hatred. Perception is primarily affective here. More generally, and based on her perspective inspired by phenomenology, Ahmed analyses the way our perceptions and affects are intrinsically combined. Our way of constituting the objects of our experience is marked from the outset by an affective connection to them. She writes, “[w]e are moved by things. In being moved, we make things” (2010, p. 25). The verb “make” should be understood in the sense of intentionally constituting the objects of our perception.

33In addition to this need to think more closely about the link between perceptions and affect, it seems to me that Judith Butler’s thought does not sufficiently take into account the way that affect can constitute a resource for the subversion of forms of selective empathy, and be a site for resistance. Ahmed thus opposes a classical perspective on emotions, which sees them as internal subjective states, in order to analyse their sociality. The object of her analysis is what is known as “affective economies,” “where feelings do not reside in subjects or objects, but are produced as effects of circulation” (2014, p. 8)

34This perspective leads Ahmed to question the way new affective frames can be actively implemented, as is the case for example during pride marches, which are important events for the LGBTQIA+ movement, aiming to replace shame and stigma with a form of pride.

35Although in Notes toward a performative theory of assembly Butler develops an analysis of protest movements in the public space aimed at establishing new regimes of visibility—and thus understanding them as a critique of dominant perceptual frames—through the exhibition of vulnerable bodies, we should endeavour to extend this by conceptualising the movements whose object is to establish new affective frames and thus oppose the dominant affective regulation (Howard, 2019).


36This article has sought to establish the relevance of the notion of “frame” as it has been conceptualised by Judith Butler, in order to analyse the phenomenon of selective empathy. The Butlerian perspective appears fruitful on several levels. Firstly, because it enables us to re-situate the analysis of the empathic connection within the more general frame of an analysis of the regulation of our perceptions. I have therefore established that the selectivity of empathy is linked to an active political saturation of the visible, revealing certain lives as human and worthy of grief, and others as only meriting indifference. The polysemous nature of the notion of frame, and particularly the aesthetic origin of the notion, paves the way for an operationalisation of Butler’s thought in the field of media studies, for example. Secondly, the notion of frame allows us to question the connection between our perceptions and our affects. I have shown that Butler’s reflection on frames for the apprehension of reality has an immediate ethical meaning, and that in this respect we can talk about “affective frames.” I then focused on the question of affect, to the extent that this is central to the phenomenon of empathy. Yet it seems to me that here Butler’s philosophy reaches its limits in understanding resistance to the selectivity of empathy, in the extent that it does not sufficiently take into account the subversive force that is specific to affect, and the possibility of actively producing new affective frames.

Haut de page


Ahmed, S. (2010). The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2014). Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh University Press.

Attigui, P., Cukier, A. (2011). Les paradoxes de l’empathie. CNRS Éditions.

Benjamin, W. (1935). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Schocken/Random House.

Bloom, P. (2016). Against Empathy. The Case for Rational Compassion. Ecco.

Boltanski, L. (1993). La souffrance à distance. Morale humanitaire, médias et politique. Métailié.

Boulanger, C., Lançon, C. (2006). “L’empathie: réflexions sur un concept,” Annales médico psychlogiques, 164.

Butler, J. (1997). Excitable Speech. A Politics of the Performative. Routledge.

Butler, J. (2002). “What is critique? An essay on Foucault’s virtue,” The Political. Readings in Continental Philosophy. Basil Blackwell.

Butler, J. (2004a). Undoing Gender [Trans. Défaire le genre]. Amsterdam.

Butler, J. (2004b). Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso.

Butler, J. (2009). Frames of War. When is Life Grievable. Verso. [Trans. Ce qui fait une vie. Essai sur la violence, la guerre et le deuil. Zones.]

Butler, J. (2015). Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Harvard University Press.

Butler, J. (2021). La force de la non-violence. Une obligation éthico-politique. Fayard.

Canto-Sperber, M. (2004). Dictionnaire d’éthique et de philosophie morale. Presses universitaires de France.

Charpentier, A. (2019). “On Judith Butler’s ‘Ontological Turn,’” Raisons politiques, 76(4).

Despret, V. (2017). Au bonheur des morts. La Découverte.

Fanon, F. (2002). Les damnés de la Terre [1961]. La Découverte. [Trans. Richard Philcox (2004). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove].

Fassin, D. (2018). La vie. Mode d’emploi critique. Points.

Ferrarese, E. (2019). “Institution de la vulnérabilité, politique de la vulnérabilité,” Raisons politiques, 76(4).

Ferron, B., Née, E., Oger, C. (2022). Donner la parole aux “sans-voix”? Construction sociale et mise en discours d’un problème public. Presses universitaires de Rennes.

Foucault, F. (2015). Qu’est-ce que la critique? Suivie de La culture de soi. Vrin.

Hoffman, M. (2008). Empathie et développement moral. In Press.

Honneth, A. (2004). “Visibilité et invisibilité. Sur l’épistémologie de la ‘reconnaissance,’” Revue du MAUSS, 23.

Howard, K. (2019). “The apparitions of emotion: Toward a performative affect-theory of assembly,” Raisons politiques, 76(4).

Huchet, E. (2022). “Quand vaut-il mieux se taire? Réflexions sur les usages stratégiques et politiques du silence,” Le pouvoir d’être affecté. Souffrances, résistances et émancipation. Hermann.

Hume, D. (1999). La morale. Traité de la nature humaine, III. Flammarion.

Husserl, E. (2000). Méditations cartésiennes. Vrin.

Lazzeri, C. (2011). “Catégorisation sociale et empathie,” Les paradoxes de l’empathie. Philosophie, psychanalyse, sciences sociales. CNRS Éditions.

Le Blanc, G. (2015). L’invisibilité sociale. Presses universitaires de France.

Quemener, N. (2018). “‘Vous voulez réagir?’ L’étude des controverses médiatiques au prisme des intensités affectives,” Questions de communication, 33.

Scheler, M. (2003). Natures et formes de la sympathie. Contribution à l’étude des lois de la vie affective. Payot.

Smith, A. (2014). Théorie des sentiments moraux. Presses universitaires de France.

Slote, M. (2007). The Ethics of Care and Empathy. Routledge.

Sontag, S. (1977). On photography. Farran, Straus and Giroux.

Sontag, S. (2003). On the Pain of Others. Farran, Strauss and Giroux.

Spinoza, B. (2010). Éthique. Seuil.

Voirol, O. (2005). “Présentation. Visibilité et invisibilité: une introduction,” Réseaux, 129-130(1-2).

Haut de page


1 Here I distinguish between empathy and sympathy, which is broadly defined as a form of emotional contagion (Boulanger & Lançon, 2006).

2 Here I am following Christian Lazzeri’s analysis, which, in studying the connection between empathy and social categorisations, proposes a denaturalisation of the empathic connection that is similar to what I am suggesting. He criticises the assumption according to which empathy is seen as “a natural mechanism, the suspension of which would be due to interference from several factors, including the application of a social categorisation that would deactivate the perception of similarity between individuals, as though that perception was itself entirely natural and not partly socially constructed” (Lazzeri, 2011, chap. 3, §2). He therefore argues that categorisation may indeed block the empathic process, but it may also facilitate it, or even condition it.

3 On this point there is a clear difference with the way the notion of frame is used in Goffman’s sociology, for example, which seeks to conceptualise the multiplicity of constructions of reality, but which maintains the idea of “primary frameworks” which reflect “reality” and of which secondary frames are transformations, and which also does not take into account the power relations at work in constructing these frames.

4 See the website:

5 Butler, 2009, 34.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Elise Huchet, « Affective frames and the construction of the human »Hybrid [En ligne], 10 | 2023, mis en ligne le 28 septembre 2023, consulté le 04 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Elise Huchet

Elise Huchet is a graduate of the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, and is agrégée in philosophy. She is currently post-doc in feminist philosophy at Utrecht University (Netherlands)and associate researcher at the Centre March Bloch in Berlin. Her research explores the inequality in political subjects’ voices, which she analyses by developing the concept of social inaudibility. She proposes several conceptual paradigms for this, through a comparison of the work of Judith Butler, Aexl Honneth, and Jacques Rancière. She has published several articles on this subject including: “Les femmes peuvent-elles parler? Le problème de l’expression linguistique des identités de genre chez Monique Wittig et Judith Butler” (Savoirs en prisme, 10, 2018); and “Faire entendre les subalternes. La fonction de la littérature chez Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak” (Trajectoires, 15, 2022).

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search