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Claire Yorke

Department of Political Science and Public Management

Phone: +4565509334

What are your research interests?
I have diverse research interests, ranging from international security, defence, diplomacy, policy, resilience, and leadership. I approach these areas through the lens of emotions and empathy, and the role they play in shaping our lives and the world around us. I am motivated by a fascination with how people live and understand the world and how their experiences, perspectives, and emotions translate to politics and policy. My research explores how we can create a more human-centred approach to security policy and build more inclusive, cohesive, and resilient societies. 

How did you become interested in your field of research?
I have always been interested in emotions and how they shape our perceptions and experiences. Looking back, my research seems like a natural extension of my love of languages and politics, and my desire to travel and understand different countries and cultures. I worked for over seven years in policy and politics in the UK, first in Parliament and then as a Manager at the International Security Department at Chatham House. In these roles I gained valuable insights into foreign affairs, defence and security, and was able to participate in discussions about the nature of the risks and threats we face, and how policy could be improved to address them. However, I was struck by how little we spoke about emotions and how emotional dynamics shape how people experience the world, and informed ideas of security. 

To me, so much of security is about how people feel. And in recent years we have seen the power of anger, disillusionment, shame, grief, pride, and respect once they are translated into collective action. You can have a huge military arsenal, and the best-trained armed forces in the world, but if people do not feel safe, or seen, or valued, and do not trust the people in power to look after them and their interests, then it has an impact on the nature and resilience of your society and its ability to withstand and adapt to crises. 

I think we can create a better kind of politics and design more effective policies that have longer-term and positive implications for the well-being, prosperity, and security of society. But to do this, we have to be much better at articulating what emotions mean and the role they play. And we need to further our understanding of their various dynamics and their impact in both our everyday lives, and in the arena of security, strategy, politics, and policy-making. To me the study of empathy is just one way to help achieve that. 

What research question would you above all like to find the answer to? And why is that?
My central research question is: How can a more nuanced understanding of empathy inform more human-centric approaches to security? I think empathy is critical to good politics and security, but it is no panacea. It has also been used historically in diverse ways, including sometimes discursively to exploit others, or perpetuate detrimental structures of power. By analysing how the meaning and role of empathy has changed over time, and understanding its different dimensions and implications, as well as recognising why it is often constrained and limited, we gain a richer appreciation of the concept. In turn this can help us to harness empathy’s potential for more effective political leadership and offer new and innovative approaches to address some of the challenges we face today. 

Which impact do you expect your research to have on the surrounding society?  
We have seen a lot of attention given to the power of empathy to transform society in the recent US elections, and it has been a central feature of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s approach to politics in New Zealand. However, no research has yet examined the multifaceted nature of its role, or charted the evolution of the concept in the context of international security policy-making. I want my research to contribute to addressing this gap. I want to work with other academics, policy-makers, practitioners, the military, and the public to have a more wider discussion about what empathy means to our politics, and to articulate how empathy can play a valuable role in the creation of a more diverse, inclusive and human approach to security.

Given the divisions and tensions we are seeing in society at present I ideally want to encourage people to be more proactive at engaging with people who think differently from them, and find ways to have richer and more nuanced dialogues that recognise the complexity of the challenges we face, so we can try to find common ground. As part of this, I want my research to contribute to efforts to think differently about ideas of power, security, and what we value, and how these ideas translate to help create more vibrant, resilient, and healthier societies.