Intersubjectivity, Community, and Agency

  • Kenneth C. Bessant


There has been longstanding theoretical and philosophical debate over the nature of individual subjectivity and, by implication, intersubjectivity. Language acquisition and shared understandings are among the many aspects of lived experience that are framed in terms of intersubjective relations. One of the pivotal aspects of this discourse involves the problem of how to interpret the meaning of the “person” or “self” relative to the act of “entering into relation.” Intersubjectivity can be understood as a mode of relation between separate pre-given actors, as contrasted with processual interpretations of co-emergence or co-existentiality. Regardless, “being” is always-already “co-being.” This chapter makes the point that intersubjectivity is essential to a relational interpretation of both community and collective agency.


  1. Ahearn, L. M. (2001). Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 109–137. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aigner, S. M., Raymond, V. J., & Smidt, L. J. (2002). “Whole community organizing” for the 21st century. Community Development, 33, 86–106. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anyidoho, A. (2010). “Communities of practice”: Prospects for theory and action in participatory development. Development in Practice, 20, 318–328. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s poetics (C. Emerson, Ed. and Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1963).Google Scholar
  5. Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds. and V. W. McGee, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. (Original work published 1979).Google Scholar
  6. Bakhtin, M. M. (1990). Art and answerability: Early philosophical essay by M. M. Bakhtin (M. Holquist & V. Liapunav, Eds. and V. Liapunov, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bakhtin, M. M. (1993). Toward a philosophy of the act (V. Liapunov & M. Holquist, Eds. and V. Liapunov, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. (Original work published 1986).Google Scholar
  8. Bardsley, N. (2007). On collective intentions: Collective action in economics and philosophy. Synthese, 157, 141–159. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Benjamin, A. (2015). Towards a relational ontology: Philosophy’s other possibility. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  10. Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bessant, K. C. (2011). Authenticity, community, and modernity. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 41, 2–32. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bessant, K. C. (2014). The relational genesis of community: Self-other dialogue. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 24, 467–478. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bratman, M. E. (2007). Structures of agency: Essays. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bratman, M. E. (2009). Modest sociality and the distinctiveness of intention. Philosophical Studies, 144, 149–165. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bratman, M. E. (2014). Shared agency: A planning theory of acting together. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Buber, M. (1958). I and Thou (R. G. Smith, Trans., 2nd ed.). London, UK: Continuum. (Original work published 1923).Google Scholar
  17. Buber, M. (1965). The knowledge of man: A philosophy of the interhuman (M. Friedman, Ed. and M. Friedman & R. G. Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Buber, M. (2002). Between man and man (R. G. Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published 1947).Google Scholar
  19. Buckley, R. P. (1996). Husserl’s rational “Liebesgemeinschaft”. Research in Phenomenology, 26, 116–129. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Buckley, R. P. (2000). Personality of higher order: Husserlian reflections on the Québec problem. In K. Thompson & L. Embree (Eds.), Phenomenology of the political (pp. 105–120). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Clegg, J. W. (2011). The ontological commitments of relational philosophy. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 24, 324–327. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Coleman, J. S. (1986). Social theory, social research, and a theory of social action. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 1309–1335. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Connor, S. (2011). Structure and agency: A debate for community development? Community Development Journal, 46(s2), ii97–ii110. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cronick, K. (2002). Community, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 529–546. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Crossley, N. (1996). Intersubjectivity: The fabric of social becoming. London, UK: Sage Publications, Ltd.Google Scholar
  26. Davis, J. E. (1991). Contested ground: Collective action and the urban neighborhood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Dépelteau, F. (2008). Relational thinking: A critique of co-deterministic theories of structure and agency. Sociological Theory, 26, 51–73. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Derrida, J. (1978). Writing and difference (A. Bass, Trans.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1967).Google Scholar
  29. Derrida, J., & Ferraris, M. (2001). A taste for the secret (G. Donis & D. Webb, Eds. and G. Donis, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. (Original work published 1997).Google Scholar
  30. Donati, P., & Archer, M. S. (2015). The relational subject. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Duranti, A. (2010). Husserl, intersubjectivity and anthropology. Anthropological Theory, 10, 1–20. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Friedman, M. (1999). The interhuman and what is common to all: Martin Buber and sociology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 29, 403–417. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gadamer, H.-G. (1989). Truth and method (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, Trans., 2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Corporation. (Original work published 1960).Google Scholar
  34. Gallese, V. (2003). The manifold nature of interpersonal relations: The quest for a common mechanism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 358, 517–528. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gaon, S. (2005). Communities in question: Sociality and solidarity in Nancy and Blanchot. Journal for Cultural Research, 9, 387–403. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gauri, V., Woolcock, M., & Desai, D. (2013). Intersubjective meaning and collective action in developing societies: Theory, evidence and policy implications. The Journal of Development Studies, 49, 160–172. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gergen, K. J. (2009a). Dialogue as collaborative action. Journal für Psychologie, 17, 1–19. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  38. Gergen, K. J. (2009b). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Gergen, K. J., McNamee, S., & Barrett, F. J. (2001). Toward transformative dialogue. International Journal of Public Administration, 24, 679–707. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gilbert, M. (2006). Rationality in collective action. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 36, 3–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gilbert, M. (2009). Shared intention and personal intentions. Philosophical Studies, 144, 167–187. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Gillespie, A., & Cornish, F. (2010). Intersubjectivity: Towards a dialogical analysis. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 40, 19–46. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Glock, H.-J. (1986). Vygotsky and Mead on the self, meaning and internalisation. Studies in Soviet Thought, 31, 131–148. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Grinnell, F. (1983). The problem of intersubjectivity: A comparison of Martin Buber and Alfred Schutz. Human Studies, 6, 185–195. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Grossen, M., & Salazar Orvig, A. (2011). Dialogism and dialogicality in the study of the self. Culture & Psychology, 17, 491–509. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. Volume 1. Reason and the rationalization of society (T. McCarthy, Trans.). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  47. Haworth, M. (2014). Telepathy and intersubjectivity in Derrida, Husserl and Levinas. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 45, 254–267. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1927).Google Scholar
  49. Heidegger, M. (2000). An introduction to metaphysics (G. Fried & R. Polt, Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1953).Google Scholar
  50. Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7, 243–281. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hermans, H. J. M. (2002). The dialogical self as a society of mind: Introduction. Theory & Psychology, 12, 147–160. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hicks, D. (2000). Self and other in Bakhtin’s early philosophical essays: Prelude to a theory of prose consciousness. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 7, 227–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Hiddleston, J. (2005). Reinventing community: Identity and difference in late twentieth-century philosophy and literature in French. London, UK: Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing.Google Scholar
  54. Husserl, E. (1970). The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology (D. Carr, Trans.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. (Original work published 1954).Google Scholar
  55. Husserl, E. (1999). Cartesian meditations: An introduction to phenomenology (D. Cairns, Trans.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (Original work published 1950).Google Scholar
  56. Isaacs, W. N. (2001). Toward an action theory of dialogue. International Journal of Public Administration, 24, 709–748. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kutz, C. (2000). Acting together. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 61, 1–31. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Levinas, E. (1979). Totality and infinity: An essay on exteriority (A. Lingis, Trans.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. (Original work published 1961).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. List, C., & Pettit, P. (2011). Group agency: The possibility, design, and status of corporate agents. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Marková, I. (2003). Constitution of the self: Intersubjectivity and dialogicality. Culture & Psychology, 9, 249–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (C. W. Morris, Ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  62. Miller, B. (1992). Collective action and rational choice: Place, community, and the limits to individual self-interest. Economic Geography, 68, 22–42. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nancy, J.-L. (1991). The inoperative community (P. Connor, Ed. and P. Connor, L. Garbus, M. Holland, & S. Sawhney, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  64. Nancy, J.-L. (1992). La comparution /the compearance: From the existence of “communism” to the community of “existence” (T. B. Strong, Trans.) Political Theory, 20, 371–398. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nancy, J.-L. (2000). Being singular plural (R. D. Richardson & A. E. O’Byrne, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. (Original work published 1996).Google Scholar
  66. Peperzak, A. (2000). Intersubjectivity and community. In K. Thompson & L. Embree (Eds.), Phenomenology of the political (pp. 55–64). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pettit, P., & Schweikard, D. (2006). Joint actions and group agents. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 36, 18–39. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Schutz, A. (1970). On phenomenology and social relations (H. R. Wagner, Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  69. Searle, J. R. (1990). Collective intentions and actions. In P. R. Cohen, J. Morgan, & M. E. Pollack (Eds.), Intentions in communication (pp. 401–415). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  70. Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & O’Mara, E. M. (2011). Individual self, relational self, collective self: Hierarchical ordering of the tripartite self. Psychological Studies, 56, 98–107. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Shotter, J. (1998). The dialogical nature of our inner lives. Philosophical Explorations: An International Journal for the Philosophy of Mind and Action, 1, 185–200. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Smith, W. A. (1993). Intersubjectivity and community: Some implications from Gadamer’s philosophy for religious education. Religious Education, 88, 379–393. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stein, E. (1970). On the problem of empathy. The Hague, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff. (Original work published 1917).Google Scholar
  74. Talamo, A., & Pozzi, S. (2011). The tension between dialogicality and interobjectivity in cooperative activities. Culture & Psychology, 17, 302–318. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Taylor, C. (1991). The dialogical self: Philosophy, science, culture. In D. R. Hiley, J. F. Bohman, & R. Shusterman (Eds.), The interpretive turn: Philosophy, science, culture (pp. 304–314). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Taylor, C. (2016). The language animal: The full shape of the human linguistic capacity. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tilly, C. (1973). Do communities act? Sociological Inquiry, 43(3–4), 209–238. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tönnies, F. (1957). Community and society: Gemeinschaft und gesellschaft (C. P. Loomis, Ed. & Trans.). New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers. (Original work published 1887).Google Scholar
  79. Vandenberghe, F. (2007). Avatars of the collective: A realist theory of collective subjectivities. Sociological Theory, 25, 295–324. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Ware, R. (1988). Group action and social ontology. Analyse & Kritik, 10, 48–70. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Warren, R. L. (1978). The community in America (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  83. Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology (G. Roth & C. Wittich, Eds. and E. Fischoff et al., Trans.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  84. Westoby, P., & Owen, J. (2009). The sociality and geometry of community development practice. Community Development Journal, 45, 58–74. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wiesenfeld, E. (1996). The concept of “we”: A community social psychology myth? Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 337–346.<337::AID-JCOP4>3.0.CO;2-R CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wilkinson, K. P. (1991). The community in rural America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  87. Zaibert, L. A. (2003). Collective intentions and collective intentionality. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 62, 209–232. Retrieved from CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth C. Bessant
    • 1
  1. 1.Brandon UniversityBrandonCanada

Personalised recommendations