Mariagrazia Portera

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline Philosophy
Postdoctoral fellow, University of Zagreb

Research project

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


The last decade has witnessed the emergence of a new multidisciplinary matrix, the 'environmental humanities', the main aim of which is to incorporate humanistic modes of inquiry into the discussion of current environmental change issues. Despite the increasing number of publications in the field, no comprehensive study has yet looked into: (i) the role of habitual practices or dispositions (habits, habitus) in human life, how they develop and spread within social groups and communities and how they may promote or hamper the adoption of pro-environmental behaviour; (ii) the constitutive role played by the aesthetic dimension — directly related to (but not entirely coincidental with) the artistic dimension — in the process of habit formation and stabilisation, as well as the more general significance of the aesthetic dimension in the production and transmission of cultural contents, intra- and across human generations.


It is widely recognized that, during much of our lives, we act according to our habits: they are flexible, embodied and embedded sets of bodily patterns and schemes that operate in most cases (although not necessarily) beneath the level of consciousness and that result from the repeated interactions between individual organisms and their environment. The process of production, acquisition and transmission of habits is markedly aesthetic: it takes place through the mimetic-aesthetic bodily repetition of gestures, practices, behavioural patterns, that become therefore habitual. In order to tackle effectively current environmental issues and to promote pro-environmental behaviour, an analysis of the habitual component of human behaviour, including its aesthetic dimension and significance, is therefore strongly desiderable. However, there has been so far very little research on this topic.


Adopting a strongly interdisciplinary methodology, the proposed research plan will address these fundamental issues by examining: (i) the role, modes of development and ways of transmission of human habits, with particular reference to our 'environmental' habits, that is those habits that refer to and have to do with our relationship with the surrunding environment; (ii) the relationship between habits and the aesthetic/artistic dimension of human life, both in theory and in practice (through the analysis of a selected number of relevant case studies concerning environmental art and aesthetic experience).


The main aim of my research plan will be to show how the notion of '(environmental) habit' (at the crossroads between philosophy, neurosciences, anthropology, cultural evolution, psychology and aesthetics) has the potential to re-orient the current debate on the environmental crisis towards a new global/local environmental education project. Moreover, it will offer new insights into the aesthetic and artistic dimension as having a constitutive role in human life and cultures, rather than a merely ornamental or accidental one.




Mariagrazia Portera holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Florence and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Universities of Rijeka, Berlin, Zagreb. She is Associate Editor of the peer-reviewed international online journal “Aisthesis”. She moved from themes and topics concerning the history of Aesthetics between the 18-century and the 19-century in Germany and the German literature (with a focus on the relationship between the life sciences and aesthetics) to themes and topics concerning the history of Darwinism, Charles Darwin's aesthetic theory, contemporary evolutionary biology and neurosciences, gaining therefore a significant intersectoral and interdisciplinary experience.


Selected 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.


Poesia vivente. Una lettura di Hölderlin, Aesthetica Supplementa, Palermo, 2010.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Comparative Studies
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Sociology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Literature
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Sociology