Troubling Sympathy: Teaching Refugee and Child Soldier Narratives

Michael T MacDonald


Although the choice to assign stories about refugee experience and other narratives of human suffering can help teachers cultivate a global perspective with students, there is a risk that readers will reproduce asymmetrical discourses of sympathy and pity. Such discourses reinforce the perceived distance between the self and Other, positioning the reader as one who can and should uplift the protagonists of the stories. This article applies Luc Boltanksi’s theory of “distant suffering” to excerpts of student writing in order to complicate the relationship between reader and text. By examining student written responses, this article proposes that performances of sympathy be replaced with reflections on complicity in the consumption of human suffering.



pedagogy, refugees, child soldiers, global perspective, reflection, sympathy

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