I am trying to understand the methods that have been used to develop theory in phenomenology.

As far as I can make out these boil down to:-

  • Introspection and intuition (and ? mindfullness)
  • Ethnographic methods: participant observation / diary / think-aloud
  • Brain imaging

I would be interested in pointers to papers with novel methods or examples of using mixed methods. I have also heard mention of the use of fiction/artistic evidence, but have yet to come across this and would be interested in examples.

  • I think Q-Methodology (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_methodology) is deployed far too seldom. It studies what is left over after the main work of a factor analysis is done, so it is perfect for the investigation of differential interpretations of the same trend. I think it would be an interesting place where numerical methods would apply to phenomenological investigations.
    – user9166
    Aug 11, 2016 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


The methods of phenomenological theorists

As Cerborn points out[1], leading phenomenologists rejected normal scientific methods as a way of accessing experience. Nor is the method to be seen as one of introspection, but is rather outward looking, toward "the experience in and of itself". The methods of the theorists are instead often described as modes of reflection.

Husserl introduced the idea of "phenomenological reduction" which required a detached attitude to reflection upon consiousness. For Heiddeger, phenomenology was the method itself, the way of describing Dasein (existence).

Merleau-Ponty described his method as "hyper-reflection" or a "hyper-dialectic", which is aware of the limitations and contradictions of trying to describe things using ideals. Reflection needs to therefore be acutely aware of it own limitations.

Methods from other disciplines

These still call themselves phenomenological in approach, but are broader than philosophy and include social science and psychology. As noted above, they do not necessarily share the same view of the best way to access and describe experience with hardcore phenomenologists.

  1. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)

Semi-structured, exploratory interview, focus group or diary study. Inductive and iterative bottom-up analysis and identification of emergent themes. A reflexive method, sometimes with e.g. use of reflective journal to to capture decision making and learning by the investigator.

Importantly, and therefore distinguishing the method from e.g. grounded theory, is the ideographic focus - analysis of a unique person-in-context.

Thematic analysis focuses on experience - emotions and feelings, cognitive and behavioural reactions.

  1. Introspective Phenomenology

Observing and reporting investigator's own subjectivity. A kind of auto-ethnography. Use of Experience Sampling Method- realtime notes recording experience, often made at fixed times during the day.

  1. Conversation Analysis and Discursive Psychology

For a social phenomenology, many see a crucial element to be the structural analysis of communication patterns and practices.

Conversational Analysis (CA) analyses interaction through patters of: * Turn-taking, with turns often made up of multiple construction units (TCUs); * Turn design, the selection of action and verbal constructions to achieve these; * Social action, the action being achieved (and the particpants' understanding of this); * Sequence organisation, the shape or pattern of a set of turns.

Discursive Psychology is the analysis of discourse for psychological insights. It often deals with elucidating folk psychology, for example analysing the relative use of power-relate, emotional and cognitive terms in social exchanges.

  1. Narratology and Literature/Art

It might be argued that some of the most direct representations of experience exist in art and literature, in which case analysis of these forms will yield phenomenological insights. A challenge for this approach is how to distinguish the imagined as opposed to a "genuinely felt" experience. That said, many philosophers do use examples and thought experiments based on fictional cases.

[1]: Cerbone, 2. 2012. Phenomenological method: reflection, introspection, and skepticism In: Zahavi, D. (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199594900.013.0002 http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199594900.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199594900-e-2

  • Well-sourced, manifold insights. Thank you for sharing!
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 12, 2016 at 10:07

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