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Climbing the Wall of Empathy: Researching “The Other” Through Academic and Artistic Research


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Topics and Disciplines:
Key scientific and societal topics will be covered.
Othering, bordering, migration, integration, citizenship, (super)diversity, social cohesion, social inclusion and exclusion, implicit bias, social distantiation, social control, stigmatisation, stereotyping, empathy, etc.

This course will draw from insights from the following disciplines:
Sociology, Criminology, Migration Studies, Border Studies, Law & Society, Anthropology, Arts, History.

Key skills to be learned by the students:
Empathy, self-awareness and self-reflection, storytelling (both orally and in writing), radical listening, socially engaged art, a broad variety of qualitative research skills, project management,social change writing.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on academic background and motivation. A GPA of 7 is recommended.

In their letter of motivation, students (a) reflect on the notion of ‘othering’ and social exclusion and, in so doing, indicate why these topics are of interest to them. They (b) also reflect on their own creativity – or what ‘being creative’ means to them.


‘In creating policies to manage the dangerous and the undeserving, dominant social groups necessarily project certain phantasies and anxieties of their own – images of the dangerous other, self-images of respectability and decency, fears about costs and dangers, self-serving myths about the sources of social success – and they ‘realise’ these projections in the practice of institutions.’ (Garland, 2004, p. 173-174).

This Master’s Honours Class will address the notion of ‘othering’, the stereotyping of groups within society often accompanied by inclusionary and exclusionary practices, as well as a strong focus on the dichotomy between “us” and “them”. Throughout this course, students will reflect on ‘the other’, both through academic and artistic research. Students will be invited to critically reflect upon the different societal challenges by applying theories from various disciplines on the topics of othering, bordering, in- and exclusion, stigmatization, and social cohesion. Special attention will be paid to the stigmatization and marginalization of migrants and refugees; institutionalized racism and the discriminatory practices embedded in governmental organizations; societal unrest and the rise in conspiracy theories, and divisions based on socio-economic status/class. Over the course of ten weeks, we will focus on the various processes behind the creation of these literal and figurative borders, but also more broadly on the role of law and technology in the establishment and regulation of these borders.

Besides analyzing the different forms of borders between “us” and “them”, students are encouraged to actively think about manners to bridge these borders, thereby focusing on the notion of empathy and the sociology of emotions. The course will build specifically on the work of sociologist Arlie Hochshild and her notion of deep stories.

Transforming society through art is a central premise in this Master Honours Class. Art is used in various manners; as a method of gathering data, a practical tool for discussion, and as a means to translate the outcomes to a broad and diverse audience. By combining scientific research with artistic research this Honours Class will challenge students to think and act out of the box, thereby aiming to take them out of their comfort zone and to spark both personal and societal change. You do not need prior experience with artistic research for this course; an affinity with art/artistic research is sufficient.

For impressions, please read:

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Apply principles of critical thinking to complex societal challenges.
  2. Apply theories from various disciplines on the topics of othering, bordering, in- and exclusion, stigmatization, social cohesion etc.
  3. Develop tools to empathically connect with people and use these tools in practice.
  4. Identify your own (implicit) biases and privileges and reflect on them.
  5. Prepare and conduct qualitative research using the methods of interviewing and observation.
  6. Apply techniques from art-based thinking to scientific research problems and research outcomes.
  7. Present your work for both academic and non – academic audiences.
  8. Work within a group of students with diverse backgrounds.
  9. Reflect on your personal progress and role within your group.

Programme and timetable
Attendance during all sessions is mandatory (lectures & workshops). The meetings will start at 17.30 and end around 20.00. Note that online attendance is not an option as the nature of the class is highly interactive.

Week 1: Introduction to the field(s)
21 March (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B.016)
Lecture 1: Introduction to the course, Why bother about the Other? – Prof. Maartje van der Woude
23 March (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 1: Introduction to artistic research

Week 2: Creating the Other
28 March (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 2: Bias, Intersectionality and Positionality - Alison Fischer JD BA
29 March (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.14)
Workshop 2: Bias and Positionality through the eyes of an artist

Week 3: Data collection through scientific and artistic methods
4 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 3 – Empathic interviewing and deep listening to get to the deep stories - Dr. Amalia Campos Delgado & Prof. Maartje van der Woude
6 April (Lipsius building, room 0.30)
Workshop 3: Collecting data through art – getting to the deep stories through artistic practice

Week 4: Observing and listening to the Other
11 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 4: The power of ethnographic research in understanding ‘the other’ – using all senses. Drs. Wiebe Ruijtenberg
13 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 4: Field trip to The Hague

Week 5: Sexuality, Gender & the Law
18 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 5: Deconstructing borders
20 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 5: Visualizing borders through artistic practices

Week 6: The ‘Crimmigrant other’
25 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 6: Creating the ‘crimmigrant other’ through discourse and practice - Drs. Maryla Klajn
26 April (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B-.14)
Workshop 6: The Semantic Other: Language as literal and figurative border

Week 7: The socio-economic other
2 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, B0.16)
Lecture 7: Othering along the lines of class and social status - Anne Jonker MSc.
4 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 7: Breaking the ceiling – breaking away from “class”ification

Week 8: The Ideological Other – Societal unrest and the rise in right wing sentiment
9 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 8: Conspiracy thinking and the rise of extremism
11 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 8: TBD

Week 9: The 'Other' Body
16 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 9: TBD
17 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.14)
Workshop 9: TBD

Week 10: Creating an Us
23 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room B0.16)
Lecture 10: Mind the gap? Reflecting on the possibility to create empathy bridges. - Prof. Maartje van der Woude & Anne Jonker MSc.
25 May (Kamerlingh Onnes building, room C0.20)
Workshop 10: The art of shared dining and sharing while dining

In week 22 (May 29) we will organize a festive book launch session to conclude the course. This date will be picked during the first week of classes.


Kamerlingh Onnes building, rooms B016, B014, C0.20

Reading list (excerpt)

  • Van Houtum, H., & Van Naerssen, T. (2002). Bordering, Ordering and Othering.
    Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie, 93(2), 125–136.
    Vertovec, S. (2018). Towards post-multiculturalism? changing communities, conditions

  • and contexts of diversity. International Social Science Journal, 68(227-228), 167–178.

  • Young J. (2003). Merton with Energy, Katz with Structure: The Sociology of
    Vindictiveness and the Criminology of Transgression. Theoretical Criminology. 7(3),
    389-414. doi:10.1177/13624806030073007

  • Kusenbach, M. (2003). Street phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research
    tool. Ethnography, 4(3), 455-485.

  • Lesan, M., & Gjerde, M. (2020). A mixed methods approach to understanding
    streetscape preferences in a multicultural setting

  • Lesage, D. (2009). 'Who's Afraid of Artistic Research? On measuring artistic research
    output'. Art & Research. A journal of ideas, contexts and methods, 2(2), 1-10.

  • Giuliani, G., Garraio, J., & Santos, S. J. (2020). Online social media and the construction
    of sexual moral panic around migrants in Europe. Socioscapes. International Journal of
    Societies, Politics and Cultures, 1(1), 161-180.

  • Deras, A. J., Leger, A., Alturaifi, A., Begue, J., Blake, J., Bologna, C., ... & Young, B. (2020). Understanding and overcoming empathy walls: The first steps toward civic conversation. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 12(2), 73-75.

  • Harmer, E., & Lumsden, K. (2019). Online othering: An introduction. Online othering: Exploring digital violence and discrimination on the web, 1-33.

  • Jensen, S. Q. (2011). Othering, identity formation and agency. Qualitative studies, 2(2), 63-78.

  • Montoya, C., & Rolandsen Agustín, L. (2013). The othering of domestic violence: The EU and cultural framings of violence against women. Social Politics, 20(4), 534-557.

  • Krumer-Nevo, M., & Benjamin, O. (2010). Critical poverty knowledge: Contesting othering and social distancing. Current Sociology, 58(5), 693-714.

Course load and teaching method

This course is worth 10 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 280 hours.

  • Lectures: 10 mandatory lectures of 3,5 hours;

  • 10 Weekly online non-mandatory chat sessions of 2 hours;

  • Seminars : 10 workshop moments of 3,5 hours;

  • Literature reading & assignments for workshops: 9 hours p/week (for duration of 10 weeks and this includes the fieldwork weeks in which data should be collected so there will be weeks when students will use 10 hours whereas in other it might be less, this is an average);

  • Fieldwork and individual working hours on final artistic piece: 100 hours (spread out over the course of 12 weeks).

Examination/ Assessment methods

  • Participation, which means: handing in your weekly assignments and actively participating in and attending class – 15 %

  • Learning journal and reflection - 25%

  • Data collection – 25 %

  • Final artistic outing - 35%

Brightspace and uSis

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 30 January up to and including Sunday 12 February 2023 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Master Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Prof. dr. mr. Maartje van der Woude (Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance & Society – Leiden Law School)