Carolin Behrmann (Florenz): Towards a Visual Common Sense? Navigating Visual Normativity in Times of Uncertainty


The ongoing global pandemic challenges critical and historical approaches to questions of norms and the "common sense". The Covid19-crisis that seemingly unites humanity under the same conditions of vulnerability, changes the life of communities and their „common spaces of appearances“ profoundly. Hannah Arendt has called the sensus communis a “sixth sense that we not only all have in common but that fits us into, and thereby makes possible, a common world”. Common sense denotes the sense "for" the community, not the self-evident in daily life. But what we have known as a common and shared reality has changed radically, lost its visibility and left public spaces. Then again in times of increasing mediatization and digitalization a "visual common sense" seems to increase, as we experience the mutual shaping of visual media and social life, that change social practices and cultural life fundamentally. In times of increasing internationality and wide-ranging cultural encounters and global conflicts, from the 17th century on, the question of a common ground of different cultures, communities and societies has gained in topicality. Especially in times of crisis when the community itself might be called into question, culture upholds and preserves what binds a community together. The presentation will address the production of a "common sense" as an organized body of thought that will be approached from a cultural and phenomenological perspective. Considering Giambattista Vico’s famous shift towards iconic thinking and the iconicity in language, it focuses on the question, to what extent visuality, understood as the making of visual experiences of seeing, imaging and picturing, shaped the notion of a "common" or "community sense" and thus also the notion of legal normativity. The working hypothesis is, that the widely discussed notion of a common ground of humanity is connected to the consumption and production of a rising awareness and self-awareness of the visual field. Along with recent discussions about symbolic norm enforcement regimes that assume it is culture itself that produces legal normativity, it will ask how regimes of visibility are constitutive for the larger imaginary of humanity and the notion of the "common sense“.

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Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Carolin Behrmann studied art history, philosophy, European ethnology as well as social and cultural sciences in Berlin, Tübingen and Bologna. From 2005 to 2011 she was a researcher at the Institute of Art and Image History at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where she obtained her doctorate with a thesis on Tyrant and Martyr. Image and History of Ideas of Law around 1600. Her research was supported by a fellowship from the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, from 2008 to 2009. Following the successful completion of her doctorate, Carolin Behrmann worked as a researcher at the Art History Institute in Florence, Max Planck Institute. From 2014 to 2019, she was a Max-Planck research group leader (W2 position) directing the Minerva-project „The Nomos of Images“. In 2020, Dr. Carolin Behrmann was a Fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University, New York, where she worked on the topic Visual Common Sense (17th-18th century). Furthermore, she has been an Affiliate Researcher at the Institute of Art History in Florence, Max Planck Institute.

Since October 2020 Dr. Carolin Behrmann has been a Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture” in Bonn.