The phenomenology of collective action

Working hard on getting the core ideas at the base of my defence of (and attempt to move beyond) Margaret Gilbert‘s Plural Subject Theory account of collective actions. The following are part of what I think defines the phenomenological experience of being a participant in a collective action:

<Experience 1>

Tag: Unity

Description: It feels to participants that, in that they are acting together, they must be in some sense united together.

Example: Lovers sharing a cake – Sharing a cake with someone, even where such sharing involves no intimacy in itself (i.e. even where the cake is cut in two), is experienced as requiring a willingness share a certain kind of unity with that someone. Hence, this (as all collective acts) will come easier to those that are pre-set up to share such unity (lovers) than to those who are not (strangers). Example modified from that given by Gilbert in On Social Facts (1992).

 <Experience 2>

Tag: Collective Intentionality

Description: It feels to the participants that their collective action, to be an collective action, must be performed with an aim and that this aim must be one they hold together.

An example: Mountaineers sumitting Everest – Hillary and Tenzing’s collective act of summiting Everest was experienced as necessarily being the result of an aim, held by the two mountaineers together, to intentionally do so. Historical event described by Ullman in Man of Everest: The Autobiography of Tenzing (1956).

<Experience 3>

Tag: Constraint

Description: It feels the participants that each is normatively constrained by the jointly held aim of the collective act such that each feels that they have a pro tanto obligation to act in line with it.

An example: Rugby players pushing a bus – Each rugby player taking part in pushing the bus up the hill, by virtue of their participation in this collective act, feels that they ought to play their proper part in achieving the aim of this act even where they lack other reasons for doing so (moral, prudential etc.)

<Experience 4>

Tag: Detachment

Description: It feels to the participants that the perspective of the collective, which defines the aim of the collective act, is detached from, and thus not necessarily identical with, the perspective of each individual participant.

An example: A residents association campaign – The individual opinions of each resident as to the reasons for their opposition to the development of the local park are felt to not define the groups reasons for tacking action. Instead these are given by the results of a vote.

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About Joseph Kisolo

Philosopher teaching Ethics & Epistemology @ NottsUni and interested in in Social Ontology. Outside academia interested in climbing, design, geekery and radical social justice.
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