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Communication instinct: Husserl and the embodied temporality of the social

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posted on 23.05.2021, 12:26 by Boris Pantev
This dissertation revisits the question of the temporal constitution of sociality. What is the role of subjective time-experience in the understanding of other people and the formation of communicative environment? This problem is considered in a generative phenomenological context. The investigation traces analytically the “stages” of communicative constitution: from the explicit intentional modes of interaction back to the pre-affective and habitualized social sense-accomplishments. The task is approached through a systematic exposition of Edmund Husserl's generative concept of communication proper (Mitteilung, Kommunikation). A widespread view in the classical and more recent phenomenological scholarship is that Husserl’s concept of communication must be derivative of the more fundamental categories of empathy and intersubjectivity (Einfühlung and Intersubjektivität; Schütz 1957; Held 1972; Zahavi 1996). The theoretical potential of the concept of communication for a phenomenology of sociality has thus been largely overlooked. The dissertation challenges this long-established model and attempts to reaffirm the central constitutive role of communication, to redefine its function in contradistinction with that of empathy. It does so by considering Husserl’s later “genetic phenomenology” where temporal experiences are construed in the background of the sphere of “primal flowing living present” (urströmende lebendige Gegenwart). On this basis, the notion of communication is uncovered as transcendentally rooted in the structure of pre-conscious instinctual Ineinander. This perspective is radicalized and validated through an extensive analysis of Levinas’s implicit debate with Husserl regarding the temporal constitution of alterity and also translated into a problem of the ethical meaning of objective forms of social communication. The central argument of the dissertation is that an interpretation of Husserl’s concept of communication in connection with the notions of primal temporal flow, instincts, and pre-intentional passive synthesis affords the elaboration of a generative phenomenological concept of “intermonadic communication” which grounds empathy rather than deriving from it. Such an interpretation might further prove productive for the study of both nonverbal interaction (also in relation to treatments of autism) and the developmental basis of social behaviour. Its potential to validate an ethical theory of interpersonal understanding is also affirmed through a comparative analysis of Husserl and Levinas's concepts of subjectivity, sensibility and common time.





Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type


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Communication and Culture (Theses)