Phenomenology studies human experience to discover underlying aspects of this experience. The aim is not find cause and effect, but to understand how things are experienced, lived, interpreted, what people see as significant. Phenomenology focuses on life situations and sees meaning in routine human behaviour.
Phenomenology collects views from participants and describes what participants have in common as they describe a phenomenon (Cresswell et al, 2007). The emphasis is on people's subjective experiences and interpretations, the ‘lived experience’ of the phenomenon.
As well as a reflective research approach, phenomenology is also an influential and complex philosophic tradition (Van Manen, 2007). Different versions of phenomenology developed over time, but they all centre on investigating the essence of human experience. Denscombe (2010) distinguishes a European and a North American approach to phenomenology
The European approach includes (Van Manen, 2007)
- Transcendental phenomenology - knowledge as coming from insight, interpretative rather than objective (Husserl)
- Existential phenomenology - observer cannot separate her/himself from observed world (Sartre, De Beauvoir)
- Hermeneutical (study of interpretation) phenomenology - knowledge reached through language and understanding (Heidegger)
- Linguistic phenomenology - role of language and discourse in revealing relations between culture , historicality, identity (Derrida, Foucault)
Moustakas (1990 cited in Richards and Morse, 2007) also distinguish Heuristic phenomenology – experience-based techniques when researchers seek to understand themselves and their lived worlds. This is largely autobiographical research.
The North American approach emanates from the social phenomenology of Alfred Schutz (Denscombe, 2010) and focuses on mental processes by which people make sense of experiences. 'This type of phenomenology is less concerned with revealing the essence of experience, and more concerned with describing the ways in which humans give meaning to their experiences' (Denscombe, 2010, p 101). It has been criticised for accepting to limit itself to describe what is being experienced, without seeking the essence of what is described, and for seeing value in describing experiences just for the sake of describing experience (Denscombe, 2010)
Phenomenology assumes that perceptions provide evidence of the world and that phenomena can be understood, but this requires putting aside already established ideas, beliefs. By going putting them aside, phenomenology aims bring to light the limitations of our culture. While culture help us understand the world, this understanding is limiting and it is important to go beyond.Phenomenology seeks to derive the essence of experience, and to expose taken for granted assumptions (Sokolowski, 2000 cited in Starks and Brown, 2007).
Generally phenomenology emphasises subjectivity rather than objectivity. Phenomenology encourages questioning what is taken for granted. The researcher attempts to look at phenomena with fresh eyes, setting aside what we take for granted about these (Crotty, 1998). Existing interpretations should not interfere nor filter through (or as little as possible). Preconceptions have to be consciously reduced (if not eliminated).
Research problems addressed
Understanding the lived experience of a particular phenomenon (e.g in health – exploration of experience of illness – child of someone with illness)
Methods and data collection
Data collection aims to find out how participants experience a phenomenon. A variety of data can be used. Often more than one source is used. Phenomenology typically uses unstructured, conversational interviews, where participants are asked to describe their experience, to pay attention to a phenomenon, talk about it, describe it openly. Methods can be empirical as well as reflective. Reflective methods involves ‘reductio’ or the suspension of everyday attitude and the ‘vocatio’ (letting language, a text speak to us)
Reflection on personal experience, experience of others, and observation that gives insight into meanings.
Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology http://www.phenomenologycenter.org/ Colaizzi, Pr. (1973)Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and Awareness. New Jersey: Lawerence Erlbaum Associates. Denscombe,Martyn (2010)(4th ed). The good research guide for small scale social research projects. Maidenhead: Open University Pres McGraw Hill Langdridge, D. (2007). Phenomenological psychology: theory, reasearch and method. Prentice Hall: Pearson. Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic research: design, methodology and applications. Newbury Park: Sage. Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Phenomenology online http://www.phenomenologyonline.com/inquiry/9.html Starks, Helen and Grown, Susan (2007), ‘Choose your method: a comparison of phenomenology. Discourse analysis and grounded theory’, Qualitative Health Research 17/10, pp 1372-1380 Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. State University of New York Press: New York. Van Manen (2007) http://www.phenomenologyonline.com/