Students’ responses to vignettes featuring cultural differences: Pondering empathy gaps, value judgments, and the promotion of ‘partiality’ in teaching empathy


  • Susan Gair James Cook University


Empathy, Social work education, Non-judgmental, Diversity, Partiality


The promotion of empathy and non-judgmental helping is familiar discourse in social work education and practice. These concepts are considered to be crucial to effective intervention. The primary aim of qualitative classroom-based research undertaken at a regional Australian university in 2009 and 2011 was to explore the concept of empathy through the use of selected, real life vignettes. Pondering students’ responses to two, of a total of eight, vignettes across very similar projects, those vignettes featuring an Aboriginal elder, and inter-country adoption, extends previous discussion of these findings. The combined findings offer suggestion that more proactive engagement on the topic of empathy could transform students’ cognitive understanding of empathy and non-judgmental helping, into a mastery of deeper, felt empathy, particularly for working across diverse cultural contexts. Considering the concept of ‘partiality’ may offer direction in this regard.


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