Second-Person Engagement and Group Identification – University of Copenhagen

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Second-Person Engagement and Group Identification

The general aim of the conference is to discuss different conceptualizations and empirical investigations on second-person engagement and group identification, and explore interrelations between them.

The conference is part of the project "You and We: Second-Person Engagement and Collective Intentionality", funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, and it is co-organized by Felipe León and Dan Zahavi.

Confirmed speakers

  • Dominic Abrams (University of Kent, UK)
  • Malinda Carpenter (University of St. Andrews, UK)
  • Naomi Eilan (Warwick University, UK)
  • Arto Laitinen (University of Tampere, FI)
  • Henrike Moll (University of Southern California, US)
  • Vasudevi Reddy (University of Portsmouth, UK) 
  • Philippe Rochat (Emory University, Atlanta, US)
  • Patricia Meindl (CFS – University of Copenhagen, DK)
  • Dan Zahavi (CFS – University of Copenhagen, DK)
  • Felipe León (CFS – University of Copenhagen, DK)

Conference description

The conference will focus on theoretical and empirical perspectives on two research domains that have been extensively explored in recent years.

On the one hand, an increasing number of philosophers and psychologist have investigated the role of second-person engagements in how we understand other people. Although there is a broad consensus that relating to a 'you' is different from relating to a 'she' or 'he', it has proven challenging to pinpoint what precisely this distinctiveness amounts to. On the other hand, some strands of research on group identification and collective intentionality have investigated the relationship between individual or I-intentionality, and collective or we-intentionality, understood as the capacity to identify and share mental states with other people, and thereby adopt a group- or we-perspective. 

Although the topics of second-person engagement and group identification point to pivotal structures of human sociality, their interrelations remain largely unexplored. Some of the questions that will be discussed at the conference are: Do second-person engagements play any role in how people come to identify with groups, and thereby adopt a we-perspective? How, if at all, are second-person engagements and group identification modulated by the spatio-temporal proximity of the participants in a social interaction, and by the number of them (in dyadic, triadic, and larger-scale interactions)? Does joint attention amount to a basic form of we-perspective? What is the developmental route of second-person engagements and group identification?  

Preliminary programme

Thursday, November 29




Naomi Eilan (Warwick): On the role of mutuality in self and other knowledge


Coffee Break


Henrike Moll (Los Angeles): Second-Personal Learning


Lunch Break


Malinda Carpenter (St. Andrews): From shared experiences to shared identities in infancy and early childhood


Coffee Break


Philippe Rochat (Atlanta): Intimacy and affiliation in infancy


Felipe León (Copenhagen): Joint attention, self-other equivalence, and the roots of the we-perspective

Friday, November 30


Dominic Abrams (Kent): We-intentionality: Measurement, some initial evidence and developmental implications


Coffee Break


Vasudevi Reddy (Portsmouth): You, me, us and them: engaging with the subtleties of relationship boundaries


Lunch Break


Patricia Meindl (Copenhagen) and Dan Zahavi (Copenhagen): Being a we: Asymmetrical reciprocity in Husserl, Buber, and Young


Coffee Break


Arto Laitinen (Tampere): Reasons and sakes: impersonal, second-personal and first-person plural


Dominic Abrams: We-intentionality: Measurement, some initial evidence and developmental implications
The idea that agency can be a collective phenomenon is implicit or captured indirectly in a variety of research traditions in social and developmental psychology. However, it seems not to have been furnished with a clear definition, either theoretically or operationally. Moreover, its temporal significance has been largely overlooked. I will present evidence from experimental studies of we-intentions among adults, the development of ‘subjective group dynamics’ in children, and nationalist voting intentions and collective efficacy from a national survey to shed light on these issues and raise new questions.​

Malinda Carpenter: From shared experiences to shared identities in infancy and early childhood
Humans, more than any other species, have a strong motivation to share and align their psychological states and behaviour with others.  This begins already in infancy.  I will present a broad overview of our research on early social interaction and social relations, ranging from studies of joint attention and joint action in infancy to studies of group identification in early childhood.  I will also discuss some recent theoretical work on joint attention (in which we delineate different levels of it with a focus on the role of second-person engagement and communication, and consider how joint attention relates to collective attention).  Finally, if all goes well with a current study, I will present the results of an experiment designed to test some of these ideas with adults.

Naomi Eilan: On the role of mutuality in self and other knowledge
In his ‘sociology of the senses’ Georg Simmel contrasts unidirectional observation of people with the ‘mutual glance’, in which we find 'the most direct and purest reciprocity that exists anywhere'. Closely echoing Buber on I and Thou, he writes that in such exchanges” 'The eye cannot take unless at the same time it gives...In the same act in which the observer seeks to know the observed, he surrenders himself to be understood by the observed’. In my talk, I (a) explore the significance of taking such reciprocity seriously when explaining the emergence and nature of self-consciousness, contrasting Simmel (and Buber) with the role Sartre gives the other’s ‘objectifying look’ in explaining self-consciousness and (b) draw out some implications of putting this kind of reciprocity centre stage for the way we explain the triadic relation between self-knowledge, knowledge of others and knowledge of the world around us. 

Arto Laitinen: Reasons and sakes: impersonal, second-personal and first-person plural
This talk will focus on what it is to act for “your sake” or “our sake”, and how these second-personal and first-person plural reasons relate to impersonal reasons. It also distinguishes between acting because something would benefit us, because it is an appropriate response to some of our evaluative features, and because we have committed ourselves to so doing. 

Felipe León: Joint attention, self-other equivalence, and the roots of the we-perspective
On a widely held characterization, triadic joint attention is the capacity to perceptually attend to an object or event together with another subject. In the last four decades, research in developmental psychology has provided mounting evidence of the crucial role that this capacity plays in socio-cognitive development, early language acquisition, and the understanding of others’ perspectives. In my talk, I will explore the contrast between reductive and non-reductive approaches to (triadic) joint attention, and I will argue in favour of a non-reductive view of joint attention that gives pride of place to the idea that co-attenders are related to one another as a ‘you’. I will do so by contrasting and assessing two ways of understanding the putative second-personal character of joint attention. According to one view, such character is consistent with the idea that, at a basic level, co-attenders relate to one another via recursive mindreading (Tomasello 2014). On the second view, which I favour, the second-personal character of joint attention is an alternative to the idea that co-attenders relate to one another via recursive mindreading. Finally, I will discuss how these two views relate to the proposal that joint attention is a “primordial form of perceptual we-intentionality” (Rakoczy 2018). 

Patricia Meindl and Dan Zahavi: Being a we: Asymmetrical reciprocity in Husserl, Buber and Young
In our talk, we will contrast two different approaches to the nature of the we. According to the first, we-membership requires an eradication of individuality, a submerging of our differences in a collective identity. According to the second, we-membership crucially requires a preservation of plurality and difference. Drawing on the work of Buber, Young and Husserl we will defend the second option. 

Henrike Moll: Second-Personal Learning
Social learning is a capacity whereby one individual acquires a capacity from another. According to a widespread view, this capacity takes on a unique form in humans and differs qualitatively from any analogous capacity for capacity-acquisition we find among non-human animals. This view is popular among philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists. But despite this agreement about the uniqueness of human learning, there is no agreement about what exactly it is about this capacity that makes it species-unique. In my talk, I will argue that human learning is a necessarily bipolar capacity that a child can only exercise jointly with another human. For a child, another human or her behavior is neither a mere occasion for learning, nor does the content of learning simply happen to have its source in another human. Rather, it is a constitutive aspect of the content of learning that the learning child knows its source to be in another human. The learner understands the activity through which she acquires a capacity to be a manifestation of another human’s capacity. Learning is thus something that can only be done together. It is a unique form of joint action. 

Vasudevi Reddy: You, me, us and them: engaging with the subtleties of relationship boundaries
How do infants begin to perceive the boundaries of togetherness? And how do togetherness boundaries start to differentiate shades of groups and sub-groups? I tackle these two questions with data from very early social interactions in infancy and from family conversations in early childhood. I suggest that the answers to both questions point to the emotional connections and conflicts emerging within direct engagements.

The experience of another as a You and of the self as being a You to the other, and the non-verbal second-person engagements that might ensue from this, is a crucial source of understanding what togetherness can be. The recognition of the boundaries of togetherness, and of the varieties of togetherness possible, emerge slowly not only from experiences of being in emotional connection, but from the practices that threaten or disallow connection. From the talk of very young children it is clear that they develop a flexible grasp of the moving boundaries of us and them. This may be particularly pronounced in contexts where linguistic subtleties already differentiate different shades of 'us'.  

Philippe Rochat: Intimacy and affiliation in infancy
Intimacy develops in the womb and gets further calibrated after birth in the shared experience arising from dyadic exchanges with caretakers. Primary intersubjectivity shapes social preferences and infants’ early inclination to affiliate and get attached to selected others. A central question is what constitutes early intimacy and what drives the early propensity to affiliate? Based on empirical facts, I try to specify some of the constitutive elements of human intimacy and what might be the driving force behind the “We-experience” in early development.


The conference is free and open to all but registration is needed.
Please use this registration form on no later than Friday 23 November 2018.

For queries about the conference, please contact administrator Merete Lynnerup


The conference will take place at University of Copenhagen, South Campus in building 22, ground floor, aud. 11 (22.0.11)
Address: University of Copenhagen, South Campus, Njalsgade 134 (entrance from Emil Holms Kanal 2) Aud. 22.0.11, Copenhagen.

South Campus is within a 2,5 km radius from city center, main train station, city hall and other central parts of Copenhagen.

How to get to South Campus:

By bus: 
Bus number 12 (from Vesterport Station and the town hall square) and number 33 (from the town hall square).

By metro: Take the metro to Islands Brygge Station. From the station you have a 5-minute walk to the campus area.

Link to Rejseplanen: Here you can simply write where from and where to you want to go and the site will provide you with all travel details (distance, price, travel possibilities).

It is in general very easy to walk (and bike) in Copenhagen.