Author Archives: James Dawes

About James Dawes

Professor of English and founder of the program in human rights at Macalester College. He is the author of Evil Men (Harvard, 2013); That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (Harvard, 2007); and The Language of War (Harvard, 2002).


How does narrative affect, and how is it affected by, the development and promotion of human rights? This article analyzes three schools of thought: (1) sympathetic narratives have, over significant arcs of time, cultivated our sensibilities, expanded our range of felt moral responsibility, and fundamentally altered the social function of empathy; (2) sympathetic narratives fail to promote human dignity because they allow the experience of emotional response to substitute for the experience of moral responsibility; and (3) neither of these general claims is useful; instead we should track the cultural functions of particular narrative forms in specific legal/organizational contexts. Continue reading →