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Intimacy, Peripersonal Space, and the Boundaries of the Self in the Digital Age

This webinar, organised by Noga Arikha and Frédérique de Vignemont, will focus on the notion of “peripersonal space” (PPS), which de Vignemont has defined, in a widely read article on the subject in Aeon, as a “buffer”, the “byproduct of our evolutionary history, which has equipped our brains with a way to acknowledge and track the importance of our immediate surroundings”. Just as the notion of the mind as embodied and embedded within its environment is gaining increasing traction in the psychological, social and political sciences, as well as in the humanities, so that of peripersonal space is proving of great interest to our self-understanding as a social, interacting species. 

The time has come to bring to the public the groundbreaking research around PPS and to discuss its social implications. This two-hour webinar will do just that. It will bridge the dimension of PPS as studied within neuroscience and psychology with its dimension as a phenomenon that can be studied within social epistemology and political science, in order to gauge the relation of skin and space to the social definition of the affective and aesthetic self. Given how much of our interacting and social life is spent online, we will also discuss how the mechanisms at work in PPS may bear on the corporeal dimension of our digital lives. Historical and anthropological dimensions will be considered too, given the cultural variability of PPS, and the shifting nature of actions, situations and behaviours that may be considered acceptably intimate in one time and place, and repugnant or dangerous at another. 

The approach we propose is on a continuum with Aby Warburg’s own interest in the moving and emoting body as communicative agent, and will give the participants the chance to discuss the topic, between themselves and with invited discussants. 

  • Vittorio Gallese, Professor of Psychobiology at the University of Parma, professor in Experimental Aesthetics at the University of London. An expert in neurophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, social neuroscience, and philosophy of mind, known for his discovery of mirror neurons and his later theory of embodied simulation.
  • Gloria Origgi, Philosopher, CNRS Senior Researcher, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and leader of the Epistemic Norms group at the Institut Jean Nicod, member of the PeriTia European project on policy and trust in science. 
  • Andrea Serino, Head of MySpace Lab at the University of Lausanne, SNSF Professor at the University Hospital of Lausanne, Head of Neuroscience at MindMaze and Invited Professor at the Center for Neuroprosthetics of the EPFL. Foremost expert on PPS.
  • Frédérique de Vignemont, Philosopher, CNRS Senior Researcher, Deputy Director of the Institut Jean Nicod and leader of the BoSS (Body, Space, and the Self) research group there.

  • Anna Ciaunica, Philosopher and cognitive scientist, Research Associate at the Institute of Philosophy in Porto and Research Associate at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, coordinator of Network for Embodied Consciousness and the Arts (NECTArs)
  • Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Professor of Psychodynamic Neuroscience, Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London 
  • Mériam Korichi, Philosopher, essayist and theater director, founder of the Night of Philosophy events 
  • Giulia Oskian, Associate Professor of Political Science and at the Humanities Program, Yale University

  • Noga Arikha, Philosopher and Historian of ideas, essayist, Associate Fellow of the Warburg Institute and of the Center for the Politics of Feelings, Research Associate at the Institut Jean Nicod
  • Manos Tsakiris, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, Leader of the BIAS project at the Warburg Institute, and Director of the newly created Centre for the Politics of Feelings


14:30: Introduction by the organisers

Session 1: Experiments and Findings 
Andrea Serino: 'Peripersonal space as an interface for self-environment interactions'
Frédérique de Vignemont: 'Peripersonal space and the tactile sense of presence'
Moderator: Manos Tsakiris

Session 2: Interpretations and Applications  
Vittorio Gallese: 'The skin-screen: peripersonal space and performative vision in the digital age'
Gloria Origgi: 'The space of social emotions: respect, humiliation and dignity'
Moderator: Noga Arikha


16:30: Close