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The phenomenological concept of institution: event, history, symbolic

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A philosophical look at the concept of institution

Over the last two centuries European philosophers have been investigating the concept of ‘institution’ from many perspectives. A more current look at the concept underlines the common thread in one of society’s important manifestations.


The concept of institution in French and English – or ‘stiftung’ in German – has many historic and symbolic elements attached to it, conjuring different images in people’s minds. According to the late German philosopher Edmund Husserl, stiftung reflects the birth, manifestation, experience and history behind an idea, underpinning the dynamic between event and structure, and between fact and essence. The EU-funded project PHENINST (The phenomenological concept of institution: Event, history, symbolic) investigated this important concept from the perspective of Husserl. The philosopher had founded the discipline of phenomenology, based on the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. Husserl saw stiftung as a gateway to new thinking, while other philosophers questioned his train of thought on the topic. Through its research, the project highlighted similarities and differences among philosophers on the concept of institution in order to enlighten the debate surrounding phenomenology. It looked at relevant and parallel research of philosophers Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jan Patočka, Jacques Derrida and Marc Richir. The project team began with a general theoretical analysis on the topic, focusing on frequency of an institutional event and its nature, and the relationship between institution and subject. It then analysed the link between institution and historicity, looking at the dynamic between the empirical and the transcendental, as well as between contingency and meaning. Project research also probed the connection between institution and culture, which involved comparing the phenomenological approach with the structuralist approach. This was followed by an analysis of the linguistic institution and its link with the pre-linguistic experience. Throughout the project, particular focus was placed on the institution-historicity theme, with the concept of institution contributing to the development of phenomenology of historicity. PHENINST findings have been outlined in different publications and a book, as well as through workshops, conferences and seminars. The research refreshes the study of phenomenology and historicity, as well as on the concept of institution. Philosophers and academics now have a more comprehensive study on the topic.


Institution, PHENINST, Husserl, phenomenology, historicity

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