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The following paper explores the categorisation of groups. Indeed, there are different ways to distinguish human groups from one another: on the one hand, sociological analyses focus their attention on the distinction between being inside and outside of groups; on the other hand, collective action theories mainly focus on the distinction between collectives and aggregates, based on the kind of action that groups can perform, i.e., joint or not. In this paper, we offer an alternative view by adopting the agent’s perspective and creating a scale based on the importance the agent attributes to his or her membership to different groups. While this perspective seems to lose objectivity as it does not allow the formulation of an unambiguous scale that applies to all individuals, it does allow us to understand the process of identification and the consequent phenomenon whereby very often we act in accordance with other people’s actions, in a collective way, without prior coordination. A practical example based on the so-called “acting white” will be explored in order to test the paper’s proposal. The analysis intends to offer a common ground on the basis of which it would be possible to have further inquiries on the social dimension of self-experience.

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  • 1 For instance, this kind of analysis could provide an answer to the pressing question of the relatio (...)

1In literature, the most diverse types of groups are considered and discussed, spanning from a couple of friends who decide to go for a walk or help each other to move, to chess clubs or reading groups, as well as nations and corporations. Although their specific categorisation is largely dependent on cultural factors and may therefore appear to be a task for the social sciences alone (so for example, Ritchie 2020; Horden and De Sa 2020), we believe that some elements of interest concern the theoretical level.1

  • 2 In this case, we speak of multiple realisability for the group “family”, such as the strictly biolo (...)

2Indeed, there are different ways to distinguish human groups from one another. On the one hand, sociological analyses distinguish between fixed kinds of grouping, such as crowd, class, institution, and small group (cf. Epstein 2015: chap. 10) which possess clearly recognisable features and allow social scientists to deal with them even among different cultures. So, for instance, we can recognise a family among different cultures on the basis of the relations among their members.2 In this sense, they are objective groups that can be recognised as such by outside observers and could be of no relevance for their members, being useful for statistics only (Turner 2006: 256). As such, they are distinguished from proper social groups, i.e., groups recognised by their members.

3On the other hand, philosophy in general and social ontology in particular have dealt with human groups from a different perspective. Focusing especially on the kind of action that groups can perform, they have mainly dealt with the distinction between collectives and aggregates: the first can act jointly, whereas the second cannot. So, for instance, following Margaret Gilbert’s account we can state that two people jointly committed to go for a walk constitute a collective and, as a consequence, they act collectively, while the same two people casually walking next to each other are an example of an aggregate and they do the same action – walking – but in a non-collective way. Examples of aggregates proposed by Gilbert (2013: 59) are “the worldwide population of people with blue eyes, the population of people named ‘Susan’, the population of people currently capable of reaching high C”, indeed these are cases of people grouped for the possession of a common feature and not because of a shared plan, goal, or intention. Of course, several ways to conceptualise this dichotomy are possible, and different attempts have been made within the broader objective of defining the metaphysics of social groups (Thomasson 2019) as that of distinguishing between groups of Type 1 and 2 (Ritchie 2013), which still can be meant as the expression of collectives and aggregates. Generally speaking, we can state that aggregates are random collections of people, while collectives are proper social groups, made of people committed to do something together. Epstein (2019) showed that this strict dichotomy is inconsistent and that looking at many instances of groups leads us to the need of a more complex metaphysics of groups. We will not explore Epstein’s point of view, but we accept his way of criticising the standard distinction among groups in social ontology.

  • 3 Epstein (2019) refers to them as follows: “construction” profile, “extra essentials” profile, “anch (...)
  • 4 This specific feature has been also explained by social psychology through the reference to salienc (...)

4In his line of thought, we believe there is another fruitful way to explore the distinction. If he mostly focused on the metaphysics of groups, distinguishing them on the basis of four main categories,3 our attempt will consist in the adoption of the agent’s perspective, in particular in relation to their feeling of being part of a specific group. Adopting the individual point of view allows us to shape a scale based on the importance the agents attribute to their membership to different groups.4

5This seems to be a subjective criterion whose ultimate determinant is each individual’s social identity. However, we can notice some regularities in our societies according to which we can state that being part of a socio-economic community has more effects on us than being part of a sports club, for instance, as the first could in principle lead to the formation of new proper social groups while the second cannot. In this sense, there are groups recognised as relevant in our societies both from their members and from outsiders that could affect our perception of ourselves and as a consequence lead us to behave differently. But even if this were not the case and every single individual employed a different scale, the possibility of using a scale based on the degree of importance attached to membership could be nonetheless useful in order to understand our behaviour: we could predict that people attaching importance to a group would act more in accordance with that group’s values, even though those values are not universal (changing both from culture to culture and from individual to individual), in that we cannot predict if they give more importance to being part of their State or family just by their external appearance.

6In this perspective, a significant reference is the phenomenological analysis of being part of a group made by Max Scheler (1913/1927). According to such an analysis, four kinds of groups can be distinguished, namely Masse, Lebensgemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, and Gesamtperson. They are based on a hierarchy of values which depends on their divisibility – namely the possibility to distribute the goods which derive from the values among people of the same group. According to this distinction, we can state for instance that economic wealth is more divisible than love. In the first case we have a fixed quantity of goods which is distributed among people: an amount of money distributed among the citizens of a country; while in the second we have an asset, i.e., the benefits arising from love, which is not subject to division so that in principle all of us can love equally without diminishing the amount of love possessed by others. In each case, the individual involved acts more or less as an individual with his/her own behaviour or personality and as a consequence is more or less replaceable by other individuals. This also leads to distinguish values on the basis of the possibility of sharing them with others without entering into a conflict (De Vecchi 2015; 2020). This means that, according to Scheler, it is possible to state which value is better and that the less the value is divisible, the higher the value is. We will not inquire Scheler’s phenomenological perspective in detail; we would rather gain some clues from his inspiring account to appreciate the possibility of distinguishing among kinds of groups trying to overcome the strict dichotomy between collectives and aggregates.

7As a consequence, both the sociological perspective and the phenomenological one will give us some interesting elements to ponder on in order to have a better insight on social groups. Indeed, the first one can allow us to focus on the difference between being inside and outside the group, overcoming a strict dichotomy with the introduction of peer groups and dynamics, while the second can help us in developing this feature by adopting the agents’ perspective in a phenomenological strand. Hopefully, this different proposal will allow us to understand the fact that we adopt different behaviours when the actions we perform are directed to members of different communities as well as to include the concept of social identity into social ontology’s analysis.

8In the next pages, we will first focus our attention on the different ways of conceptualising the categorisation of groups, according to the sociological (paragraph 1) and the socio-ontological perspectives (paragraph 2), trying to emphasise the need to integrate them. In particular, the reference to the so-called peer groups will be relevant in order to make social ontology’s understanding of groups more comprehensive. Secondly, we will focus on our proposal trying to show its advantages in terms of an advancement of knowledge and comprehension of our practical behaviour (paragraph 3). Indeed, it is not just the case of adding a third kind to the usual dichotomy made up of aggregates and collectives, but also of trying to highlight a different way to come to this tripartition. Finally, we will test it by referring to a typical peer dynamic, namely the so-called “acting white” (paragraph 4).

1. The sociological tradition: outside and inside the groups

9There is a relevant distinction concerning the meaning of “group” internal to sociological analysis, which could be fruitful for our purpose. Indeed, for instance, Henri Tajfel (1982) noted that there are two distinct theoretical senses of the term “group”: the first one refers to largely random and, in this sense, insignificant groupings – even though they could be useful at the statistical level. They would correspond to what Gilbert (1989) refers to as “aggregate”. According to the second “groups [are] defined as such by their members through patterns of interaction and shared representations, i.e. a dynamic social process in which people’s ability to represent themselves as members of social categories is part of the process by which sociological categories can become meaningful social groups” (Turner 2006: 255-256).

10The interesting point, according to us, is the fact that this second meaning does not correspond precisely to the alternative posed by social ontology, namely “collective” meant as a coordinated group. Indeed, collectives are not “meaningful social groups” in the sense highlighted in the quotation above insofar as collectives could be short-term groups formed to achieve specific aims such as to go for a walk. We believe that this could be of great interest in the definition of social groups, and we can understand why by referring to peer groups.

  • 5 A joint commitment made by all members of a peer group, having as content: considering people behav (...)

11By definition, “peer groups are collections of individuals who define themselves, and are recognized by others, as a distinct social group. Peer groups may also define themselves through shared social characteristics such as age, gender, sexuality, occupation, or ethnicity and ethnic groups. Such groups have shared norms, culture, and rituals and socialise new members according to these” (Turner 2006: 256). This is interesting as far as peer groups are proper social groups according to sociology and the features listed in the quotation correspond with as many examples of aggregates – and not of collectives – from the social ontology’s point of view, especially if we think of Margaret Gilbert’s distinction. Indeed, even though it is explicitly said that peer groups are to be considered as such by the community and, as a consequence, we could be willing to recognise a form of joint commitment also in this case,5 still equally explicitly Gilbert rejects that groups of people such as young or old people, male and female people, etc. count as significant collectives, insofar as a proper joint commitment towards all other members of the proper group cannot be given in these cases (Gilbert 2005).

12This is relevant as it shows a different way of conceptualising what seems to be the same phenomenon. This also depends on which perspective and leading questions are adopted, but we believe it is something not to be ignored. We will now go deeper into the group distinction made by social ontology. Consequently, we will be able to better grasp this different characterisation.

2. Collectives and aggregates: A stable dichotomy

  • 6 Gilbert is clear about this point: once we have the general structure of joint commitment, we can a (...)

13Collective action theories aim to explain the actions that occur through the coordination of the actors involved. Yet there are dynamics that people involved react in the same way, without prior coordination. In particular, this can occur in such situations that can be called “natural”. A famous example quoted in Gilbert (1992: 30) is that of yawning and stretching in the morning or that of opening the umbrella when it starts raining, also used by Max Weber in an individualistic strain. These are examples of actions that everyone does, if in the same situation, without any coordination, because they are reactions to some natural condition. To give another famous example, we can think of the difference highlighted by John R. Searle (1990: 402-403) between the case in which several people run simultaneously towards a shelter when it starts to rain and the case in which this same action is carried out as part of a choreography. The first case is a clear example of a non-coordinated action, which is usually set apart as uninteresting because it cannot help us in understanding our behaviour within society. Generally speaking, we can state that social ontology has adopted a theory of groups based on this distinction: meaningful social groups represented by collectives, and aggregates as cases in which the status of collective is not reached. Of course, many theories have been elaborated and different aspects highlighted. However, even according to Margaret Gilbert’s account which is considered the less individualistic (Zahavi 2021), and consequently as the most receptive to issues related to social identity and the complexity of the individual-group relationship, we can find this same dichotomy, as well as the absence of a peculiar understanding of values which are not meant as a specific element to be more deeply investigated (De Vecchi 2020).6 We should then properly say that groups are distinguished on the basis of the kind of action they can bear, collective or not – where “collective” takes on a peculiar meaning, namely, to be the consequence of collective intentionality, and not just to be done together.

14Collective intentionality, in general, constitutes a theoretical proposal that has been considered convincing, even outside the field of the philosophy of action, because it allows us to shed light on how individuals act within society. For instance, studies of psychology and the theory of mind highlight how the asymmetry of roles can lead those with more power, or more agency, to feel greater commitment to the joint goal or action (Pacherie 2012). They also highlight how the sense of authorship is an experience necessarily connected to our daily joint actions (Bayne and Levy 2006: 53-57). Again, the perception of being part of a larger group who acts towards a common goal, pushes us to be more attentive to that goal, especially if achieving it alone is impossible. Indeed, there are dynamics that take place in very young children too that cause human beings to feel a commitment to achieve common goals or to help others in achieving a certain purpose which, for this reason, becomes common (Bayne and Levy 2006: 49-68). At the basis of such tendencies or attitudes, we should presuppose the capacity of being jointly committed as the background of collective intentionality and joint actions themselves. It is therefore a question of attitudes ascribable to human beings, which cognitive psychology helps in recognising and conceptualising, and which philosophy can adopt in the explanation of some phenomena. Nonetheless, the fact that other sciences highlight the importance of collective intentionality does not mean that it should explain all kinds of collective actions. This is a first point we should bear in mind: here, collective intentionality is not taken as the only way to explain collective actions, even though it remains a possibility in order to explain collective and coordinated actions for small groups. As we said, there are actions which are collective, but could not be explained through collective intentionality as they lack some requirements, such as common knowledge, and explicit coordination. In this sense, the reference to the human attitude to be jointly committed seems more appropriate than the theories about collective intentionality which are more demanding.

15The strict dichotomy aggregates/collectives, thus, does not allow us to capture some features we deem relevant in our ways of being part of groups and, in particular, to dig deeper into the relationship between individuals and groups. We can state this, starting from the intuition that the so-called peer groups present such characteristics that they can be considered significant groups, despite the fact that philosophical theories dealing with social groups and collective intentionality usually set them aside. In peer groups, we can notice the same reaction to the same fact, without coordination, but without the naturality of the first cases as well – as in the examples of yawning or protecting oneself from the rain. Without entering the distinction between what is natural and what is cultural – which we believe not so fruitful here – we can state that there are some reactions that become interesting as every group’s member (or at least, most of them) behaves in the same way if in the same situation, for instance as a consequence of peer dynamics (and thus peer pressure) and this can be recognised even without stating if it is a consequence of our natural or cultural attitudes. Focusing on this allows us to consider a peculiar kind of group as subject of those proper actions, namely, sociological peer groups (Turner 2006: 256). Indeed, they have some of the features usually attributed to aggregates and some usually attributed to collectives, and this can at least question the usual two-level distinction.

16Adopting this perspective then, we will be able to identify at least three kinds of subjects who carry out actions that take place collectively. First of all, the two traditional categories, namely aggregates which carry out fictitious joint actions in a completely independent, hence individual manner, and collectives which instead carry out the proper joint actions. Between these two extremes, we will include peer groups which possess certain features of the other two. In this way, we believe we can integrate a theory of joint actions that can therefore explain cases which are not insignificant, although they exemplify collective actions without coordination; on the contrary, they represent a central element when we want to grasp the influence we are subjected to from the groups we belong to. Including analyses of peer groups within those of social groups, integrating the philosophical perspective with the more properly sociological one, allows us to have a better overview of the wider phenomenon. The reason why philosophers usually do not refer to classes or peer groups within social ontology is that it is quite difficult to use the concept of collective intentionality to explain people’s behaviour within those kinds of groups. However, we can state that some actions can be defined collective even without collective intentionality. The focus on the collective aspect of actions made by peers together with an analysis of what it is like to feel part of such a group will help us in shedding some light on dynamics we face in our everyday life and in interpreting them. Once more, this allows us to emphasise the theoretical need to distinguish groups also on the basis of the importance we attach to them in our lives – what we are going to further analyse in the next paragraph. Indeed, it is according to this criterion that we will be able to distinguish three different kinds of groups.

3. Attaching values: A fruitful criterion?

  • 7 Attempts to integrate social ontology with a phenomenological perspective have already been underta (...)

17What happens then if we try to look at the importance we give to our being part of a group and, as a consequence, to the relevance we attribute to other people being members of that same group? Although this may seem a criterion too subjective to be relevant in theories of social groups, it seems to us that neglecting this perspective would be a limiting factor. As we said in the introduction, a fruitful way to integrate this specific aspect is the reference to phenomenology.7 This kind of theoretical stance allows us to focus on a particular aspect of our sociability: the fact that being part of a group instead of another is significant for our lives. The value element then comes into play, and it recalls Scheler’s analysis of groups. However, in our case, it does not obtain an objective feature. In Scheler’s case, a scale of values is given; they are organised in a hierarchy, which is as follows: values of the “sensibly agreeable”, vital values, person values, and values of the holy (Scheler 1913/1927: §3). This can be understood as the consequence of Scheler’s characterisation of ethics as both material and a priori, which means that we cannot ignore the reference to values in explaining our behaviour. The fact of being material is explained by the axiological orientation of human actions and intentions. Since they are a priori, values cannot be affected by experience. Scheler’s assertion that a series of failures, in friendship or love, for example, does not have the power to undermine the values of friendship or love per se, is well known. “Material”, then, does not mean “a posteriori” and, therefore, avoids relativism. What is interesting for us in this perspective is the attempt to underline the necessity of recognising the fact that our actions are always value oriented. Every will presupposes values, which therefore precede choice. However, as we said in the introduction, Scheler’s philosophy is not meant here as a proper object of analysis; rather his use of values and value-oriented actions in order to explain our behaviour, more generally, is taken as a point of reference, useful to understand the possibility of formulating a scale to distinguish among groups. From such a perspective, we could gain the idea of distinguishing among groups on the basis of the value we attach to them.

18In line with this, we could focus on the sense of belonging – meant as the sense of being part of something – as a clue to discriminate the relevance we attach to our belonging to a group. This is not an objective criterion, as we have repeatedly stated, but objectively we can identify a scale which starts from neutrality to arrive at maximum importance. This allows us to explain the different adaptations to different situations and the different behaviour we may have (less or more collectively oriented) even when the kind of group is the same.

19Therefore, this could lead us to ask what the relationship between individual and social is and if it could be useful to start from the “we” in order to understand the “I” (Zahavi 2021), giving space to the importance we attach to being part of peculiar communities and our ways of being aware of being part of a group (Moltchanova 2021). Of course, this seems to presuppose some psychological elements which are out of our concern here. However, this could be the way to conceptualise collective actions not coordinated by collective intentionality.

20Bearing all these aspects in mind, we can recognise three different cases: aggregates, peer groups, and collectives. In the first case, we will act individually attaching little or no importance to the behaviour of the other people involved; in the second one, we will attach more importance to it, changing our ways of behaving because of others’ opinions, believes, actions, etc., even without explicit coordination; in the third one, we will attach even more importance to being part of a group, acting explicitly in accordance with the other people involved, coordinating our actions with them and being strictly and socially bounded to the commitment made with them.

21This allows us to explain the possible divergences between the behaviour of individuals in relation to actions connected to different groups: thus, not every kind of group is represented by a kind of value (as it was in Scheler’s account), but the kind of value we attribute to our belonging to one group rather than another explains our different ways of behaving. We believe that this shift in the analysis of social groups provides the basis for further investigation into the construction of the self and the social dimension of one’s experience, in the sense that it allows us to investigate the possibility of acting collectively even outside a collective, and thus without collective intentionality. At the same time, our objective is not to overcome sociological analysis: outside observers could still define a class of people, referring to external and objective features as well as to shared norms and representations. Rather, philosophical analysis could gain explanatory capacity from focusing on our different ways of behaving as agents.

4. A case study: Acting white

22We will now turn our attention to a case study, which could be useful to test our hypothesis giving content to what we stated before. In particular, we will go through a well-studied example of peer dynamic in order to understand if it is advantageous or not to include peer groups in our theories of groups as a relevant and distinct kind.

23Starting from an analysis of social dynamics, the economist Roland Fryer Jr. (Austen-Smith and Fryer 2003; 2005; Fryer 2010) tried to explain the behaviour of members of African American communities, in particular in relation to school performance. The Harvard economist has shown that one of the causes of their poor school performance is precisely the fact that those who tried to emancipate themselves from their community of origin, doing well in school, were labelled as different. In particular, their attitude was defined as “acting white”, implying a form of contempt. This is a clear form of peer pressure, due to the fact that individuals exposed to social interactions have disincentives to invest in particular behaviours (i.e., education or proper speech) because they may be rejected by their social peer group. Fryer has taken up the idea of other scholars, notably economists and sociologists, according to whom the “differences in academic achievement are the result of negative peer interactions or spillovers which are manifested in a particularly insidious form: black peers / communities impose costs on their members who try to ‘act white’” (Fryer 2010: 15). The peer group’s behaviour is based on a binary decision: the individual is either acceptable or not. According to Fryer, his model realises this goal: it “has two clear predictions: racial differences in the relationship between group acceptance and academic achievement will exist and these differences will tend to be exacerbated in environments with more interracial contact and increased mobility. Thus, contrary to models of information-based discrimination, one might expect less investment in these models of peer dynamics when there is a wage premium” (Fryer 2010: 18). Fryer tries to do without the concepts of “segregation” and “information-based theories”, which he considers unsatisfactory as they are disproved by the data and social changes that have taken place in the United States that have not led to a significant change in the educational level or kind of employment despite the increasing interracial exchanges. The classic definitions of prejudice and discrimination, in fact, leverage the issue of identity and segregation which, however, seem to be precisely unsatisfactory. Fryer’s specific aim was to find an explanation capable of justifying an economically disadvantageous attitude, specifically through a sociological explanation that allows such actions to be included within a rational conception of individual choice.

24This analysis is interesting from our point of view as it allows us to understand what the characteristics of peer dynamics are: they involve an individual who assigns meaning to the fact of belonging to a certain community and, as a consequence, gives it power over his or her decisions and actions; they imply the presence of a community that imposes a cost on a certain action rather than another, implying that the individual’s choice has to take these costs into account as well. This does not involve coordinated action in the classical sense, but at the same time it involves at least the majority of the community’s members being involved, in order for it to be a cohesive community that can effectively act on the choices of the individual members. Indeed, they react in the same way and impose the same kind of costs on the individual’s choice, acting in accordance with a single decision, as to whether or not the individual belongs to the community.

25Indeed, if the pressure were exerted by an individual, it would have little weight; what matters seems to be rather the fact that the individual making the choice is aware that the members of his or her community would react in a certain way, just as we know that if it starts raining, we will all run to the only available shelter. However, it seems to us that there is a difference with the case just mentioned, if only because of the different importance we assign to the choice of not getting wet and to that of reaching or not a certain level of education, concerning our social and personal identity. As a consequence, this seems to be a form of collective action that cannot (and should not) be explained through collective intentionality as it is not a proper instance of coordinated action. However, it cannot be taken as an individual action either.

26At the very moment when a certain society identifies a certain group of individuals as significant, this takes on a relevance that not only cannot be ignored, but also has considerable consequences on the lives of individuals – whether they want it or not. This does not necessarily imply the presence of specific and explicit shared intentions, yet it turns out to be a significant normative element influencing an individual’s choices. Consequently, it may be useful in this regard to focus on the relevance that the individual attaches to his or her membership of one community rather than another.

27What we have tried to state is that there is a difference between breaking a window together but independently, breaking it in accordance, and doing it independently (as in the first case), but in accordance (as in the second case) with the same reason why windows should be broken. What then are the advantages of such a distinction? Can the example we started from be better understood and explained through a comprehensive theory of collective actions?

28Maintaining a distinction between peer and social groups helps us in explaining proper coordinated action and can also lead us to understand some social dynamics from the psychological perspective (e.g., Bayne and Levy 2006; Michael, Sebanz and Knoblich 2015; Crone 2018). Moreover, it can be useful in order to take people’s freedom into consideration: if there is no commitment or any kind of agreement among people of the same peer group, then everyone of them could act in a different way and several reactions to the same situation could be easily explained. Nevertheless, when peer groups are not merely characterised by shared features, as being black, but those features are strengthened by the feeling of being a community, as for the Afro American community of the case study, and this feeling is recognised by society more generally, then pointing out a similarity between peer and social groups helps us in comprehending the relevance of peer groups themselves. Indeed, even though there is no explicit coordination, the pressure that peer groups exert on their members can be explained through collective action theories. In particular, this allows us to better comprehend those actions that directly derive from attaching value to being part of a specific community, as well as individual choices which strictly depend on the social pressure exercised by a proper group. The importance attached and the sense of belonging, then, can help us in making and strengthening this distinction.

5. Conclusion

29In this paper we started from the observation that there are different ways of understanding the typically human phenomenon of group gathering. On the one hand, sociology studies the cultural-historical manifestations of groups and pays particular attention to the phenomenon of group membership and to the consequences this may have on an individual’s perception of him- or herself. On the other hand, social ontology has mainly focused on the agentive possibilities of groups, distinguishing those that can be coordinated through collective intentionality from those that cannot. In this way, however, social ontology has omitted a significant portion of reality from its investigation, namely what in sociology is represented by the so-called peer groups. We have therefore suggested the advantages of an integrated theory that can also account for this phenomenon and tried to show the advantages of a change in perspective. Integrating not only sociological analysis, but also a phenomenological perspective such as Max Scheler’s one, with a view able to emphasise the importance we attach to being part of one group rather than another. In this way, we were able to develop a different scale, based on the criterion of attribution of importance, which can be a first step towards understanding our behaviour within and towards different social groups as well as our social self-understanding. Pursuing this approach, it could also be possible to explain collective actions which are not coordinated by collective intentionality.

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Zahavi, D. 2021, We in Me or Me in We? Collective Intentionality and Selfhood, “Journal of Social Ontology”, 7, 1: 1-20.

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1 For instance, this kind of analysis could provide an answer to the pressing question of the relationship between social ontology and the social sciences, since the question arises as to whether social ontology can be considered as one of the social sciences, or whether it should be considered as a more general theory of society on which social sciences can be grounded.

2 In this case, we speak of multiple realisability for the group “family”, such as the strictly biological Chinese family and the very extended one of the Japanese model. Cf. Sheehy 2006: 30ss.

3 Epstein (2019) refers to them as follows: “construction” profile, “extra essentials” profile, “anchor” profile, and “accident” profile.

4 This specific feature has been also explained by social psychology through the reference to salience – according to which it is also relevant to consider the context in which we act in order to understand our ways of behaving (Turner 1987). Even though we are not going to use salience as a determinant feature, it could support our idea about the need to integrate social ontology’s perspective on social groups with elements from other fields of study.

5 A joint commitment made by all members of a peer group, having as content: considering people behaving in a non-standard way as to be rejected and people conforming to norms as part of the group.

6 Gilbert is clear about this point: once we have the general structure of joint commitment, we can apply it to things considered very different by philosophers, as actions, beliefs, desires, values, and so on, with no significant differences (cf. for instance, Gilbert 2005).

7 Attempts to integrate social ontology with a phenomenological perspective have already been undertaken (Pacherie 2012; Tollefsen 2014; De Vecchi 2015; Salice and Schmid 2016).

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Notizia bibliografica

Valeria Martino, «Attaching Value to Membership: A Criterion?»Rivista di estetica, 82 | 2023, 79-92.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Valeria Martino, «Attaching Value to Membership: A Criterion?»Rivista di estetica [Online], 82 | 2023, online dal 22 mars 2024, consultato il 18 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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