Dr Mariagrazia Portera

EURIAS Junior Fellow

Dr Mariagrazia Portera (Centre for Croatian Studies, Department of Philosophy, University of Zagreb)

EURIAS Junior Fellow July 2018 - April 2019

Project: ‘Grasp Your Habits’: Habitual Behaviour, Cultural Transmission and the Arts from the Perspective of the Environmental Humanities

I am a philosopher and I hold a PhD in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from University of Florence. Before joining IASH as a EURIAS junior post-doctoral fellow, I worked as a post-doc at University of Rijeka, at Free University of Berlin, at University of Zagreb and I was a visiting researcher at London’s LSE, at University of Vienna, at University of Freiburg, at the Landesbibliothek & Hölderlin-Archiven in Stuttgart. I have carried out research on themes concerning the history of Aesthetics between the 18-century and 19-century in Germany (with a focus on the relationship between the life sciences and aesthetics); my current areas of interest are contemporary aesthetics, the theory of the arts, the environmental humanities, the relationship between aesthetics and the natural sciences. I am Associated Editor of the international peer-reviewed journal “Aisthesis”. Among my latest publications: 'Habitual Behaviour and Ecology: Why Aesthetics Matters (Preliminary Notes)', Aisthesis. Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico, vol. 11, no. 1, 2018, pp. 159-171; 'Aesthetic Preferences: An Evolutionary Approach', with L. Bartalesi, in E. Serrelli & F. Panebianco (eds), Understanding Cultural Traits. A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Cultural Diversity, Springer, Berlin,  2016, pp. 375-388; L'evoluzione della bellezza. Da Darwin al dibattito contemporaneo, Mimesis, Milan, 2015; 'Tastes of the Parents: Epigenetics and its Role in Evolutionary Aesthetics', with M. Mandrioli, Evental Aesthetics, vol. 4, no. 2, 2015, pp. 46-76.

My current research project at IASH focuses on the relationship between habits, the arts, and the environmental studies. ‘Habit’ is, at its heart, an interdisciplinary concept. From Aristotle to Merleau-Ponty, from David Hume to John Dewey, habits have been a key object of philosophical investigation for centuries. But they also play a decisive role in psychology and the cognitive sciences (with the study of the psychological and neurological underpinnings of human habitual behaviour), in sociology (with Bourdieu’s notion of habitus), in evolutionary theory (“habit” is a pivotal notion in Charles Darwin’s work), in the arts and aesthetic experience, and within the environmental studies field.

How do habits develop and how can we change them? Since a large part of our habitual actions seems to be unconscious and (partially) automatic, how can we bring our habits back to consciousness? According to Michel Proust, the arts are a powerful resource to “to bring us back into contact with the reality of life, by abolishing habits”. What is the potential of literature, theatre and – with an eye to contemporary arts – virtual art installations and virtual immersive environments to make us aware of our habits? Scholars in the environmental sciences have started to realize that there is an urgent need for a theory of “environmental habits” that addresses how habits form and how they can be turned into more sustainable and less environmentally damaging patterns of behaviour. What is an ‘environmental habit’ and why is it important?

The main goal of my research project at IASH – which I see as the first step toward the realization of a major monograph on the role of the notion of "habit" in aesthetics - is a much-needed interdisciplinary exploration of habits from the perspective of their ramifications within aesthetics, history of philosophy and environmental studies.