The “Instituting Subject”: Time, Materiality, and Agency in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy
The question of agency has emerged as a central concern in recent philosophy. There are at least three reasons for this: first the question is motivated, particularly among feminist theorists, by concerns about the possibility of resistance to various forms of power and oppression; second, the prevalence of reductive neuroscientific accounts of the brain have provoked questions about the possibility of free agency; third, new materialists and actor-network theory have been thinking productively about the way in which agency is situated within socio-material networks. In this paper, I show how Merleau-Ponty’s account of “institution” (Stiftung) offers us resources for a rich phenomenological account of agency. It does this by connecting Merleau-Ponty’s account of subjectivity (as inhering within an intercorporeal fabric) to an account of the temporality and historicity of creative action, of social and personal transformation.