Honorary Research Fellow
The University of Aberdeen
Department of Anthropology
G05 Edward Wright Building
College of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Aberdeen
AB24 3QY Aberdeen, Scotland
PhD Anthropology - Feldenkrais practitioner ® - Marathoner
If you want to go in a place that you don't know
you have to take the way that you don't know
St. John of the Cross
After fifteen years as an architect, a quote by Heidegger in my student notes, saying: “only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build” signed a turning point in my life. I stopped with architecture and started running! A crazy idea that changed many things in myself and in my life. After undertaking different trainings (anthropology - 2010-2013, Feldenkrais method ®, somatic educational method based on movement - 2011-2015 and philosophical practices - Philo 2009-2014) I completed a PhD in anthropology (2019) titled: Through these walls. Steps to an anthropology of the limit (supervised by Prof. Tim Ingold and Dr. Jo Vergunst). I am currently Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen and practice as an anthropologist and Feldenkrais practitioner working on the edge of different academic traditions and developing experimental projects between art, anthropology and education in collaboration with organisations such as The Barn, Banchory (a Creative Scotland revenue funded multi arts centre) as well as the EU funded Knowing from Inside Research programme (PI Prof. Tim Ingold). My way of working fosters pathways of awareness while investigating the notion of limit.
My life and research concentrates into the notion of limit from the unique perspective of movement. This original focus which I am developing through particular practices of somatic movement (Feldenkrais and marathon running), contributes to contemporary efforts to reconceptualise liminality and opens up a direction of inquiry into the anthropology of the limit.
My research started with my passion for running marathons where I encountered the limit of the ʻwall of the marathonerʼ. This experience takes the individual into a ‘no man’s land’ to cross a desert and face emptiness, and possibly opens to a new sense of life. The limit posed by the wall shakes up established and rigid frameworks of value by making the world ductile. As with the physical phenomenon of boiling, where bubbles of air coexist with liquid water and where matter becomes malleable, the wall sets a threshold where the individual feels precarious and exposed to transformation. It works as an unlearning practice by providing awareness and offering an experience that potentially reshapes our conception of self, freedom and intentionality, making us realize our interdependence with the world. Looking at other fields of knowledge (education, ecology, evolutionary biology and mathematics), my study shows how the limit, rather than being a border or a separating line, is a space with high educational potential, which allows one to become exposed and to ʻcut through the worldʼ. Therefore the anthropology of the limit explores the perspective offered by Ingold for anthropology as education in the sense of e-ducere, or ‘leading out’. Hence it takes the form of a philosophical practice leading out along paths of care and awareness. Within this frame, research projects are conceived as “beautiful actions” in the sense highlighted by eco-philosopher Naess (1993) and intended as creative and artistic forms of inquiry that investigate new possibilities of freedom in a neoliberal era. This way of working is situated in the borderlands between art and ecology and explores projects of recovery. An anthropology of the limit is an anthropology through movement of care and inspiration.
The wall of the marathoner determined an existential turn on myself. After an in-depth anthropological study of this phenomenon and a following dedicated monograph, Lungo lento. Maratona e pratica del limite (Maccagno 2015), I decided to work on the idea of the wall as a generative frame to imagine projects in which the limit could be investigated. In recent years I have been carrying out various projects conceived as practices of the limit exploring this path. Three of them have been part of my PhD research: Running walls (Peterhead prison, northeast Scotland), Running north (the Shetland Islands) and Whiteout (several educational institutions in Italy and the UK). These are three experiments in the sense not of testing a hypothesis or exactly reproducing ‘the wall’ but of practices of care where the limit is a condition to make possible existentially relevant experiences, opening exploratory paths of inquiry in human life.
Running Walls (author ©)
What if I run the wall of the marathoner inside the walls of a prison?
Running walls is an educational project where I worked with prisoners through marathon running, Feldenkrais method and autobiography. After a first experience in the prison of Bollate in Italy (2013-2014), the project has been developed in Scotland in the prison of Peterhead (January-June 2016) in collaboration with the Edinburgh-based NGO Familiesoutside and with NHS funding. The project contrasted imprisonment with marathon running and explored the potential of juxtaposing two very different experiences that both test the human being’s capacity. It proposed a limit experience to activate the prison and see through it a social system where the neoliberalism is expressed. Running Walls represents a pilot project for wider research at the unique intersection of different academic traditions pointing towards a new direction for a critical engagement with performance. It received the prize as best project connected to running at the Milano Marathon Awards 2014 and a recent academic publication on the Scottish Journal of performance (Maccagno P., 2015. Running walls. The performance of the limit in prison).
See video: The dream of the marathon
Patucchi, M., 2016. Dieci km per correre oltre il muro. La Repubblica [Online]
Patucchi, M., 2015. Correre oltre il muro, la sfida dei detenuti. La Repubblica [Online]
Running North - postcard for crowd funding (author ©)
What if I take a north-oriented line and run it?
Running North suggests to run along a north oriented line (as along a wall) without a programme and without an end and becoming vulnerable. It has been a pilot project where running opened ways of listening to rhythms of nature, sounds of natural elements, migrations and movements of animals. Following the inspiration of walking artist Hamish Fulton, the project includes several runs in the Cairngorms and one major run in Shetland in June 2016, when I ran Shetland from south to north, up to the island of Unst, over a period of around two weeks. It was developed in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen and CAI (the Alpine Italian Club), and received funding from the Aberdeen University Development Trust and independent crowd funding. It suggested that a movement never really begins and ends, but emerges in entanglement with others and the environment. Running is “dwelling poetically”.
See video: Running North
See article: Running North. La Repubblica [Online]
Whiteout (author ©)
What if everything flattens and becomes white?
The whiteout is a disorienting meteorological phenomenon, generally happening at high altitudes or latitudes, in which visibility is severely reduced by snow and everything becomes white. Experiencing it is like facing a ‘white wall’. This phenomenon evokes existential moments as when one faces a loss, a trauma or an economic crisis. Rather than studying it as a natural phenomenon, the project explored it as an experience of limit and investigated it from the point of view of movement through the Feldenkrais method and autobiography, by asking: How can we move without any possibility of moving forward? What is being still? Where should I direct my attention? How can we use laterality? Whiteout is research into the human potentialities of facing a ‘wall’ and discovering new possibilities of movement. It consisted of workshops (November 2015-May 2016) held in collaboration with different educational institutions in Italy and the UK (University of Aberdeen, Woodend Barn, Citymoves, University of Milan-Bicocca, Unitre, Thinkdog), and it has been developed into an art performance (August 2016). Whiteout has been presented in several academic conferences and participated to the Festival for contemporary dance, DanceLive 2016 in Aberdeen.
2014-2017 Elphinstone Scholarship (PhD Studentship Award)
2016 NHS funding Running Walls project – Prison of Peterhead, UK
2016 Development Trust funding and independent crowd funding, Running North project
2016 Citymoves Dance Agency professional residency support, Whiteout project
2014 Milano Marathon crowd funding, Running Walls project – Prison of Bollate, IT
Contract Professor – Pedagogy of the body. Faculty of Education, University Milan-Bicocca (Italy)
Feldenkrais method ® teacher. Different educational institutions in Italy (University of Milan-Bicocca, Philo-Superior School of Philosophical Practices – Milan, Unitre,Thinkdog) and in the UK (University of Aberdeen,The Barn - Banchory, Citymoves Dance Agency)
Feldenkrais method ® teacher. 5 days workshop for the EU funded Knowing from Inside (PI Prof. Tim Ingold) - Aberdeen. Contribution to designing a curriculum for higher education within the KFI agenda.
Tutor SX1501 Humans and Other Animals. Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen (UK)
Tutor AT1003 Introduction to Anthropology. Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen (UK)
Feldenkrais method ® teacher. Philo-Superior School of Philosophical Practices – Milan. Two teaching modules
- Further Info
When I run I forget who I am!
Running is dwelling poetically
Honorary Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen
Scottish University Prison Network – University of Glasgow
Educere Alliance – University of Oxford
Research Affiliate EU funded Knowing from Inside (PI Prof Tim Ingold) - University of Aberdeen
UK Feldenkrais Guild