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Researchers’ reflections of empathy following interviews with migrants

M. Laura Vazquez Maggio (School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Harriet Westcott (School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore empathy in the research process by drawing on findings from interviews to investigate the experience of empathy when two migrant researchers interviewed other migrants. Empathy is an emotion that can be experienced at both the cognitive and affective levels, and which can reflect feelings of sharing and identification.


This paper draws on findings from two separate and distinct but similar research projects, that both used semi-structured interviews to investigate a range of themes about the experience of migration.


During interviewing the researchers experienced empathy when respondents drew attention to particular aspects of their migration experience which were: the challenge of language expression when speaking English as an additional language; feelings of loneliness, including for friends or family; and challenges initiating and enacting friendship following migration. The researchers experienced empathy during interviews; however, they felt challenged by how to respond to these feelings.


This experience of empathy was novel because both researchers were migrants, hence, their emotions were triggered in relation to their own migration as well as that of their participants. Both researchers concluded that their own migration biographies together with their professional role influenced the extent and intensity of their empathy, and the ways that this emotion was handled. This work contributes to an understanding of the reflexivity of the migrant researcher undertaking migration research which has been a previously neglected area.



The authors would like to thank their participants for their insights and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.


Laura Vazquez Maggio, M. and Westcott, H. (2014), "Researchers’ reflections of empathy following interviews with migrants", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 214-227.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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