Embodied collective reflexivity: an update

At long last, I have a full draft of an article in which I rethink the ontology of performance, in terms of embodied collective reflexivity, and I’ve sent the draft to a couple trusted readers.  The basic issues are the ones I outlined in my blog post of 13 July 2015.  They seemed straightforward enough, but I constantly ran into roadblocks or potential counterarguments, so threading the needle proved quite difficult.  And of course I could be barking up the wrong tree.

The basic points are these:

  • We (more or less) know what reflexivity consists of for individuals: it’s a recursive practice in which one’s thought reflects on one’s own thoughts and actions, assessing past ones and preparing for new ones.  But agents are not just thoughts — they are not just intentional beings, but also embodied and efficacious in the material world.  It should be possible for agents to be reflexive not just through thoughts but through their entire embodied being.
  • If so, however, the structure of the recursion underlying embodied reflexivity can’t be the curvilinear one of thought returning to thought, but one that involves all three of those modes of existence and reflects the relationship between them.  However, intentionality, causal efficacy, and embodiment do not stand in a linear relation: instead, they’re related through emergence, which the recursion must account for.  Peirce’s trichotomies achieve that.  Consequently embodied reflexivity must be constructed on a Peircean basis.
  • Agents also don’t exist alone, they always have social relations with others.  One of their key everyday challenges is sussing out others’ intentions (involving Theory of Mind), which has to occur through perceptions of their speech and actions (including self presentation, e.g, clothing, as an action).  That must be a crucial part of a collective mode of reflexivity.
  • Speech and actions are ways of doing things in the social world.  The basic point is made by Austin’s concept of speech acts, which he calls performatives, but the latter should be expanded to include “acts that speak.”  Theory of Mind is predicated on assessing others’ and producing one’s own performatives; an embodied and collective practice of reflexivity is intrinsically one of performers and spectators.  Hence “Peircean performatives.” (Or perhaps I should say, “public Peircean performatives.”)
  • We can see where that leads!

There’s more than one Scylla and Charybdis along this path, most of them concerning how one distinguishes these activities from ordinary social interactions. Hopefully, however, this approach provides a more thorough and explanatory account of the ontology of performance that I developed previously.