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Mediated Autonomy. Ideal and Reality of Aesthetic Practice

Project leader:
Judith-Frederike Popp (IKW)

3 years

Funded by:



led by Judith-Frederike Popp, Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies
Duration: 1.10.2022 – 30.9.2025


The question of the relevance of art, design and other aesthetic phenomena is an integral part of philosophical discourse and presents itself as an urgent topic today.
The research project explores this question as a linkage of aesthetic and ethical questions in three steps: First, it investigates the extent to which aesthetic processes fundamentally imply normative claims. The hypothesis here is that these processes are driven by human actions and thus are rooted in a tension field between ideal claims for creativity, authenticity and intensity and actual realizations under daily life conditions. Particular attention is paid to the question of the status accorded to the productive and receptive agents in aesthetic processes. In this way, it is worked out to what extent aesthetic practices operate with attributions of exceptionality, but also of mediation between ordinary and exceptional positioning. This step is backed up by hermeneutic and praxeological analyses of selected examples from two contemporary borderlands of art and design: the borderland of digitalization and virtualization and the borderland of activism and participation.
Second, the integration of these considerations into more extensive normative contexts is examined. This is done by confronting artistic and everyday perspectives. In this way, it is explored how the ideals and claims of art and design worlds get along with late-modern realities of life and their own aesthetic demands. This second step is concretized by an analysis of examples for practiced everydayness and its aesthetic capacities, which is focused on leisure activities.
Third, the previous linking of aesthetic and ethical claims is concretized by a reference to practical subjecthood as intersection point of these claims. The vanishing point for this step is provided by a conception of autonomy that focusses on relatedness and mediation between ordinariness and exceptionality, the latter polarity being actualized between being a dependent part of a bigger context and thriving for individuality. This concept of mediated autonomy is combined with the idea of a psychodynamic interplay between inside and outside in order to reach an approach towards practical subjectivity that takes into account the diverse presence of aesthetic dimensions in human agency.
Based on these three steps, it is finally argued for the position that the ethical relevance of aesthetic practices is shown by them bringing their acting subjects into practical contact with their capacities and limits beyond one-sided ideals of isolated exceptionality.
The results of the research process are presented in academic events and publications and will be brought together in a monograph at the end of the project term.

Short biography

Dr. Judith-Frederike Popp; Philosopher; 2018: PhD at the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main with a doctoral thesis about the topic "Daring to be irrational. Philosophical Theory und Psychoanalytical Practice" (supervisors: Martin Seel and Axel Honneth); 2018-2022: Post-Doc at the Faculty of Visual Design at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt; Research expertise: Conceptions of the relationship between rationality and irrationality, Philosophy of Psychoanalysis, Film und Design Philosophy, intersections of Ethics and Aesthetics; Habilitation project: "Crafted relations. Production aesthetics of being a subject" (working title)