Masks and Sense of Self

Two-year Research Project

PI: Prof. Chiara Cappelletto

Post-doc: Marta Calbi

Our research hypothesis is that the use of the mask—to be understood as a facial and bodily material prosthesis, and not as a veil, second skin, or covering, etc.—produces a feedback loop on its wearer, to the point of modifying their proprioception, kinesthesia, and modalities of intersubjective relation. The hypothesis fits in with studies of Material Engagement Theory (MET) within the main field of new materialisms and expands on the results of analyses in phenomenology and cognitive science that have considered, for example, the effect of manipulating a stick on subjects’ experience of their peripersonal space. 2020 has seen the large-scale use of personal protection equipment (PPE), and in particular masks and facial visors, by the civilian population. The line of thinking that garnered the greatest consensus is that they conceal, or risks hiding, personal identity (along the lines of the controversy surrounding the veil worn by Muslim women). 

With this inquiry we aim to put forth a different interpretation of the psychological and bodily effects of the use of the mask, by privileging its performative capabilities over its value as a sign. To this end, we will conduct a phenomenological survey of first-person experience, to validate (or falsify) existing theoretical hypotheses and neuroscientific research particularly concerning the sense of ownership and agency. A ethnographic research is planned and will be led at the PhiLab at the Philosophy Department of the Milan University.