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Prestigious ERC Starting Grant 2016 for FRIAS Fellow Marco Caracciolo

Dr. Marco Caracciolo, Junior Fellow on an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), receives the Starting Grant 2016 of the European Research Council (ERC) for his project “Narrating the Mesh”, which explores the connection between humans and nature in contemporary fiction and oral storytelling.

His fellowship at FRIAS allowed him to prepare his application to the European Research Council. While there have been several ERC Grants for FRIAS Fellows in the Natural Sciences, Marco Caracciolo and Eva von Contzen are the first FRIAS Fellow to have been awarded an ERC Grant in the humanities (overview of ERC grants for FRIAS Fellows). The project will be funded with 1.1 million Euro for a period of five years. He will work together with a postdoc and two student assistants.

The ERC Starting Grant is one of the most prestigious scientific awards in Europe, supporting young researchers after their doctorate, who are starting their own careers. This year there have been approximately 3000 applications, of which 350 projects will be funded.

“This is an outstanding achievement, to which we congratulate him wholeheartedly”, says FRIAS Director Bernd Kortmann. “His success also shows the great potential of Junior Fellowships, allowing scholars in their postdoctoral phase to advance their research.”


What do humans feel when they encounter other animals? How do they characterize their relationship with nature? How do they capture this affectively charged relationship in narrative form? These are the questions Marco Caracciolo addresses in his project Narrating the Mesh”. “Many contemporary thinkers have argued that the current ecological crisis challenges our attitudes towards nature”, the researcher says. “While modernity tends to see humans as fundamentally different from and superior to their non-human environment, the first consequences of climate change show how interconnected these two worlds really are.”

Based on the metaphor of the human/non-human “mesh” introduced by ecological theorist Timothy Morton, Marco Caracciolo analyses and compares oral and literary accounts of the enmeshment between humans and a vast gamut of non-human – i.e., environmental and geophysical – processes. In his project, he examines 20 works of the last two decades, such as Haruki Murakami’s collection of short stories After the Quake and Ian McEwan’s novel Solar. These books center on catastrophic scenarios, climate change, and scientists’ personal and professional dilemmas.

Caracciolo compares the conceptual metaphors and plot strategies used in these novels with those emerging in oral stories narrated by volunteers from different social and geographical contexts. In a series of interviews, the participants are asked to narrate an episode of their lives in which they came face to face with natural phenomena. The purpose of the comparison is to study whether and how fictional and oral narratives about the mesh differ from one another and what affective impact they can have on both storytellers and audiences.

“Storytelling helps us understand our experiences by establishing temporal and causal relations”, explains Caracciolo. Yet most stories tend to focus on the human-scale realities of social interaction. Talking and writing about nature puts pressure on storytelling, and can therefore challenge our belief in the self-sufficiency of the human. “This is exactly why it is so productive to see how people narrate these experiences”, says Caracciolo. During his fellowship at FRIAS, he taught a course for students of the University College Freiburg (UCF) on the representation of animal minds in 20th century literature. The students were also asked to write their own texts about an encounter with an animal. “It was really exciting to read how the students described different kinds of closeness to an animal – what narrative devices they employed, and how these devices conveyed specific ethical and emotional stances”, Caracciolo adds. The goal of his ERC-funded project is precisely to show how narratives can be used as a tool to heighten people’s awareness of their interconnection with nature.

He will use the remaining time of his fellowship at FRIAS in order to finish his current project “Embodiment and Cosmic Perspective-Taking in 20th Century Fiction”, which is also concerned with how authors describe experiences that transcend the everyday human understanding of time and being.

More information about Marco Caracciolo

Further information about awards and prizes for FRIAS Fellows

ERC Grants for FRIAS Fellows

2016: ERC Starting Grant Marco Caracciolo (Literaturwissenschaft) Junior Fellow 2015-17
2016: ERC Starting Grant Eva von Contzen (Englische Literatur) Junior Fellow 2013-14
2015: ERC Consolidator Grant Tobias Schätz (Physik) Internal Senior Fellow 2014-15
2015: ERC Starting Grant Miriam Erlacher (Medizin) Junior Fellow 2013-14
2015: ERC Starting Grant Karen Lienkamp (Chemie) Junior Fellow 2013-14
2011: ERC Advanced Grant Jan Korvink (Informatik) Internal Senior Fellow 2008-13
2011: ERC Advanced Grant Ingo Krossing (Chemie) Internal Senior Fellow 2008-13
2011: ERC Starting Grant Natalie Stingelin (Materialwissenschaft) External Senior Fellow 2010-13
2010: ERC Starting Grant Florian Mintert (Physik) Junior Fellow 2010-13
2010: ERC Advanced Grant Peter Jonas (Neurophysiologie) Internal Senior Fellow 2008-10