This chapter focuses on the relationship between personhood and participation. It introduces the “ancient” meaning of participation, and gives a brief history of how the concept was taken up and transformed in the 18th century, especially in the hands of Rousseau. Although Rousseau was not focused directly on the concept, it is central to his political theory. By looking at the concepts of the general will and the problem of political collectives, one can see how the ancient and modern meanings are combined in the word, and inhabit our most basic understandings of liberal democracy today. The problem of participation becomes, as it were, a scandal for thinking, which has repeatedly confronted (and defeated) a range of thinkers, chief among them Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, who connected participation to ethical personhood in his philosophical and ethnological project. It opens with a story, elaborated from a footnote in Lévy-Bruhl's work, that attempts to capture the perplexity experienced by those involved in colonial administration in Papua New Guinea. Key to this perplexity is the immediate, intuitive capacity to experience values—not as representations, but as participations.
Keywords: personhood, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, colonialism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, general will, perplexity, experience, forms of life