Limits of empathy: The dementia tojisha movement in Japan

A new piece in Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Limits of empathy: The dementia tojisha movement in Japan,” by Junko Kitanaka. Abstract:

How can we imagine someone’s experience of illness—even extreme cases, like, for example, psychosis—to the extent that we begin to empathize as if the experience were nearly our own? Based on 5 years of archival research and anthropological fieldwork, I investigate how different forms of understanding and empathy have emerged through the work of people living with dementia (dementia t?jishas), some of who have advocated for the cause in Japan. I show how those with dementia used to be regarded as incommensurable beings, who were sometimes romanticized as having a transcendental power, and how those who care for them have changed their perspectives as they began to see dementia t?jisha as possible versions of their future selves. I also describe the rise of the t?jisha movement and the ways in which it has raised questions about the limits of empathy and instead asserted rights as a basis of understanding. In doing so, dementia t?jisha may be questioning the very foundation of Japanese society, highly invested as it is in the virtue of empathy for maintaining social relations.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.