Empathy and Storytelling

My central research interests are empathy and storytelling. My focus is the connection between our human capacity for fellow-feeling and our desire to tell and engage in stories. I believe that empathy is key in creating deeper and more meaningful stories - and that such stories in turn foster empathy in audiences and other stakeholders.

My dissertation Making the Strange Familiar: the Functions of Empathy in Intercultural Film Narrative (2019) is based on my personal experiences as a writer and teacher. My next step is to uncover ways and practical strategies for how empathy can be enhanced in audiovisual stories and between different participants of the narrative process. I believe this is a way to undo otherness and counter stereotypical representations.

Learn more:
A woman laying on her back floating in the water

Comprehending Compassion

Comprehending Compassion is a research project (2019- ) at Arcada UAS, where we explore compassion as a practice in different organizations and work environments. Compassion is vital for organizations and individuals and can be transformative for an organization as it creates relational resources such as trust and shared values. The project rests on the premise that compassion is best understood and theorized as a form of practice – what people do and experience in their everyday work.

Our focus is health care and social work -organizations, private sector work environments, and media organizations and work spaces. In 2021 we gave a practical course to students of health care and media called Compassion at Work. We are curious how organizations and leaders can encourage compassionate acts and how students of different professions can be taught compassion. 

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A collage of many people

The Barefoot Project

We are born barefoot. We are buried in our shoes. Between these two key events, we spend a large portion of our lives in various footwear, especially in cities, but also when in contact with the living earth. Nature is something we look at, often through screens – to smell and feel nature is increasingly rare. When we do move through the world, we seldom do it with bare feet. The technology that we call shoes is truly universal. This state of affairs is so ingrained in our everyday existence, particularly in the Global North, that we hardly think about it, much less question it. This is where the The Barefoot Project comes in.

The Barefoot Project is a transdisciplinary research project, which aims at a holistic understanding of the social, cultural, psychological, and physiological meanings and possibilities of bare feet. The overall goal of the The Barefoot Project is to reduce alienation and to increase a feeling of connectedness and empathy with nature, work, others, and the self. This is done by researching the benefits of going barefoot, and thus raising awareness of such benefits. An additional goal is to map out – and perhaps carry out – practical measures that will allow people to walk and run barefoot.

The research areas of interest include a) running, b) spaces, c) personal history, and d) health. Running is a logical point of departure, as it is through barefoot running that many, including myself, in the Global North have rediscovered walking and running barefoot. Another area of interest is real and imagined spaces that allow for people to be barefoot. Do these places exist in urban settings, or are they confined to nature? Can such spaces be constructed? A third approach is the stories that people tell of being barefoot, which I choose to call Barefoot stories. Through such an open and artistic approach we are positioned to understand the attitudes, feelings, hopes, and fears associated with bare feet on a deeper level. The fourth area of interest – health and well-being – overlaps with the three areas above. The real and imagined benefits of bare feet are connected to running, barefoot spaces, as well as the personal history of individuals. 

Learn more: Nåls working paper pdf
Someone's bare feet in the forest


Islands is a Nordic artistic research project and an ongoing Nordplus collaboration between Arcada UAS in Helsinki, HDK-Valand in Göteborg and Høyskolen Kristiania, Westerdals institutt før film og medier in Oslo which involves staff and student mobility and joint courses. Islands looks at the island as a concept, as both as physical and historical space and as a cultural and social concept. Islands have always inspired the artistic imagination. They have been places of isolation and exclusion as well as paradises and exclusive hide-aways. Politically islands have been used for exile, imprisonment and social exclusion for nonconforming behavior. These dichotomies are the framework for the courses and activities of the project.

The overarching method is artistic research, where creative practice is seen and used as a scientific method – art as a main source of inquiry. In 2022, the project arranges an intensive course on the island of Själö in Finland where a mental asylum for women was active until the 1960s. Other intensive courses on islands in Sweden and Norway are planned for 2023 and beyond.
Island in the fog