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The phenomenological concept of institution: event, history, symbolic

Final Report Summary - PHENINST (The phenomenological concept of institution: event, history, symbolic.)

This research project, conducted at the Archives Husserl in Paris (ENS/CNRS), under the supervision of Professor Dominique Pradelle, investigated myriad aspects of the phenomenological concept of “Stiftung” (institution) across different authors of the phenomenological current. The concept of institution was both a free-standing subject of research and a thread to link analyses of a broader range of questions/topics. The research shed light on the importance and the richness of the concept of institution, which from a general point of view can be defined as the first act or event that opens up a field of experience or a tradition, intended as a series of recurrences and transformations of the original event. The concept of institution fits into the phenomenological account of experience on several levels, from the genesis of subject to the issue of historicity. It also implies a complication in the relations between the empirical and the transcendental, between event and structure, between fact and essence. It is a concept that has proven to be a very fruitful theoretical tool in phenomenological analysis that joins experience with historicity in their various relationships.
The interpretation that arose from this research can be summarised as follows. Through the concept of “Stiftung”, Husserl made a decisive opening to new thinking, solidifying his designs to develop a phenomenology of genesis and opening up a new field of phenomenological research. At the same time, the concept of institution can fulfil its full potential only if one casts doubt on some of the subjectivist and rationalistic presuppositions contained in Husserl’s analysis (such as the primacy of the subject, the distinction between fact and essence, and the ideal nature of the senses). Indeed, the other authors studied in this project question those presuppositions. Naturally, the concept of institution assumes different contours and configurations in the various authors studied, and this can be used as a tool to highlight the similarities and differences between those authors, so as to shed light on debates within the phenomenological circle. I attempted to exemplify this issue by highlighting the different ways in which Merleau-Ponty and Derrida develop the concept of institution.
Overall, the project progressed according to plan, although a few changes were made to the original itinerary. The authors examined were, to different extents, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka, Derrida and Richir. The project was segmented into four phases, corresponding to four distinct lines of research into the concept of institution. 1) The initial phase was a general theoretical analysis of the meaning of the concept and its status, with particular attention to the relationship between a single initial event and the range of repetitions and different manifestations such an event engenders, as well as the relationship between institution and subject. 2) The second phase was an analysis of the connections between institution and historicity in the sense of a field where the empirical and the transcendental, and contingency and meaning, intermingle. For this phase, an interdisciplinary approach was adopted, to incorporate the study of certain recent French historiographical works, as it appeared to me that fruitful interaction could be revealed between phenomenological analyses of institution and some of the more recent debates in the field of historiography over the “return of the event”. 3) Then in the third phase, I analysed the relationship between institution and culture, so as to gain a phenomenological perspective on culture and its various forms, via a comparison between the phenomenological approach and the structuralist approach. 4) Lastly, I analysed the linguistic institution and the link between linguistic institution and pre-linguistic experience. This analysis uncovered a possible interaction between the phenomenological concept of institution and linguistic institution as conceived under Saussure’s theory of linguistics. By interweaving the two theoretical traditions, linguistic institution may be understood as something rooted in the general context of experience and, at the same time, as a discontinuous leap in the experience.
In carrying out the project, I devoted more time and effort than originally foreseen to the topic of institution-historicity, which served as a base from which a broader investigation could be conducted on the relationship between historicity and phenomenology more broadly speaking. The institution-historicity theme proved increasingly central to the entire project and thus warranted greater appreciation and deeper study. Understanding the concept of institution proved particularly fertile in order to develop a phenomenology of historicity and to set up interdisciplinary dialogue with the historiographical perspective. This choice to focus more on institution-historicity also enabled me to better prepare for several invitations to give oral presentations about historicity. It was accompanied by a decision made along with my supervisor to co-organise events centred around phenomenology of historicity.
All of this research led to significant output, including several publications, most notably a book based on a revised version of my doctoral thesis; this publication thus represented a bridge between my past and present research. I also gave talks at several conferences, seminars and workshops, and organised a seminar and a two and a half day international conference on phenomenology and historicity. For more details, see the “Dissemination Activities” section below.
Working at Archives Husserl in Paris and completing this project brought me into the sphere of French academic research, enabling me to establish contacts with several other researchers who work in the same field. Furthermore, I was able to improve my command of the French language. Over the last two years, I also entered several competitive selection processes and drafted a long-term research project for the CNRS researcher selection process.
Although I did not create a specific website for the project, I regularly posted news about publications and events related to the project on my personal CNRS web page: