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Arts & Culture

Hedgehog Humanities: Cultures and Cultivations of Distance in the Long Twentieth Century

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Schopenhauer’s ‘hedgehog dilemma’, a parable of freezing porcupines that struggled to keep warm without poking one another, provides a powerful image for the human need for distance even in the most intimate relationships.

For her project Hedgehog Humanities: Cultures and Cultivations of Distance, Branco Weiss Fellow Marie Kolkenbrock examines the function of cultivated physical, emotional, and interpersonal distance in 20th and 21st century conceptualizations of the public sphere. Although Covid-19 has given ‘social distancing’ an omnipresent urgency, the concept of distance – in its spatial meaning and in its metaphorical use for emotional detachment, interpersonal boundaries, and socially constructed difference – has been central to theories, practices, and ethics of modern sociability.

Through interdisciplinary readings from sociology, anthropology, political philosophy, and psychology, the project explores how normative notions of distance can inform attitudes and practices of resistance, but often also tend to reproduce social hierarchies of political emotions and in this way prioritize the stability of the current system and social cohesion over justice.

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Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: The Branco Weiss Fellowship

Amount: CHF 500.000

Period: January 2020 - January 2025