(Hermeneutic) Phenomenology is a Method
The method is abstemious reflection on the basic structures of lived experience. To reflect abstemiously means to do so without "theoretical, polemical, suppositional, and emotional intoxications" (Van Manen, 2014, p. 26). "Lived experience means that phenomenology reflects on the prereflective or prepredicative life of human existence as living through it" (p. 26).
Phenomenology is directed toward the ways meaning is made. It is directed toward the meanings that "infuse, permeate, infect, touch, stir us, and exercise a formative and affective effect on our being" (p. 27).
"A phenomenological question explores what is given in moments of prereflective, prepredicative experience--experiences as we live through them" (p. 27).
"Phenomenology is the way of access to the world as we experience it prereflectively. Prereflective experience is the ordinary experience that we live in and that we live through for most, if not all, of our day-to-day existence" (p. 28).
It's different than positivist science. "Scientific method generally assumes a mode of conduct that is impartial, impersonal, and free from the idiosyncrasies or personal styles of the persons who employ such scientific method" (p. 29).
We'll be discussing the vocative, the pathic, the image, the anecdote, and the example as methods.
How a Phenomenological Question May Arise
Phenomenological questions may consider any times, places, or events that lead somebody to pause and reflect. In my case, we wonder what wilderness meanings are like in our everyday lives? How does the meaning of wilderness arise in the course of living life? How do we live through wilderness meanings in our lives? What is the nature of living through wilderness meanings?
Mostly we don't consider the phenomena of everyday life. It gets overlooked. "We simply live our lives in a mode of taken-for-grantedness" (p. 31). "Doing phenomenology means to start with lived experience, with how something appears or gives itself to us" (p. 32). To assume a phenomenologically reflective attitude means "to wonder about the lived meaning of ordinary phenomena and events" (p. 32). I'll be looking at how wilderness meanings arise from everyday contingent experiences.
In reflecting on lived experiences two kinds of temporal presence get expressed. One kind of temporal presence is 'the immediate now' that's the presence we're always 'in' from moment to moment. There's also the reflected presence of "the now mediated" (p. 34). Mediation happens through text. Phenomenology looks after moment in the realization that to capture a moment is impossible.
Following moments means reflecting upon lived experiences. But the unfollowed moments are also important. "[T]he lived experiences that we never revisited may nevertheless leave latent and powerful consequences in our being and becoming" (p. 34). When we ask something like WHAT is wilderness like in everyday life we're asking an eidetic question in terms of the whatness, ti estin, or qualis. There's also a formative question here as we ask HOW do wilderness meanings present or give themselves? How does the human phenomenon of wilderness meanings originate? How can we grasp the phenomenon of living through wilderness meanings in its inception and existence?
Wonder and the Phenomenological Question
"Doing phenomenology is becoming infected with a certain pathos that creates an openness to the world and a wondering attentiveness that is the trigger for phenomenological inquiry" (p. 36). Phenomenology is not for solving problems or fulfilling research questions per se. It starts with wonder. Wonder is a disposition. Wonder cannot be simply caused.
The phenomenon of living through wilderness meanings is what I'm calling into focus and its important to specify that my focus is not on the word or the idea, "wilderness," but rather on the givenness of living through wilderness meanings. Living through wilderness meanings is a phenomenon "that possess such latency of significance--meanings that constantly seem to elude our effort to capture in language (though we keep trying), meanings that cannot easily be traced to any particular moment or incident" (p. 37). A premise of my study is that somebody's involvement with wilderness impacts their lives to such a degree that there are moments in which that impact is "felt to be personally stirring with perhaps lasting experience" (p. 38).
So what is it that gives lived wilderness meanings latent significance? How is it that living through wilderness meanings affects somebody? What I'm after is not a better understanding of the words, "lived wilderness meanings" but rather, I'm after the experience of living wilderness meanings. "The focus is not on the word but on the experience" (p. 38).
Phenomenology is oriented toward meanings that come forth experientially. "So, a phenomenological question wonderingly inquires into the meaning of a possible human experience" (p. 39). To take phenomenological path means to as " 'What is the nature, meaning, significance, uniqueness, or singularity of this or that experience as we live through it or as it is given in our experience or consciousness?' " (p. 39).
Lived Experience: Life as We Live It
Lived experience (Erlebnis), as a concept, holds exceptional methodological significance. To focus on lived experience means "the intent to explore directly the originary or prereflective dimensions of human existence: life as we live it" (p. 39). "The verb erleben literally means 'living through something,' so lived eperience is this active and passive living through experience. Lived experience names the ordinary and the extraordinary, the quotidian and the exotic, the routine and the surprising, the dull and the ecstatic moments and aspects of experience as we live through them in our human existence.
Citing Dilthey (1987), Van Manen sees lived experience "as a reflexive or self-given awareness that inheres in the temporality of consciousness of life as we live it" (p. 39). According to Dilthey (1985), lived experience only becomes an object in thought. Erlebnis is not Erfahrung, that is, lived experience is not the more active appropriation of consciousness through the bestowal of meaning upon some aspect of the world. "Lived experience is the name for that which presents itself directly--unmediated by thought or language....[it is] experience that we live through before we take a reflective view of it" (p. 42). It is important to remember that objectifying experience can push "the truth of the lived meaning of the experience...beyond reach" (p. 42).
Everydayness and the Natural Attitude
Language is reproducible and this allows people to live their lives as they please. "However, at the origin of the reproducibility of everyday thought and language are hidden originating thoughts and poetic images that make the reproducibility of life possible. Phenomenology aims to grasp and express these originating meanings; as well, it aims to open itself to new originating beginnings that form the inceptualities of phenomenological inquiry" (p. 43).
The natural attitude refers to the tendency and inclination that people have towards the belief that the world exists separately and independent from personal human existence. Instead of seeing things in the world as objects out there, phenomenology turns to things "as they give themselves in lived through experience...as an openness that invites us to see them as if for the first time" (p. 43).
The first aspect that differentiates phenomenological meaning from other disciplines like psychology or sociology is that the phenomenological investigations aim for description and interpretation rather than explanation. Ethnography dabbles in descriptive accounts and people and their lifeways. Ethnography and ethnomethodology share some features with phenomenology in their interest in meaning, but the overall disciplinary purpose and reasons for inquiry differ.
"Ethnomethodology argues that people themselves produce the facticity of their social world (the common-sense reality) and then experience it as independent of their production. So ethnomethodology seeks to 'uncover' the practices where by the factual character of the social worlds is produced" (p. 43).
How are psychological and phenomenological meaning separated? "[P]sychology wants to develop theories and conceptual systems that explain human behavior and psychological processes" (p. 44). Phenomenology can give meaning structures that assist a greater understanding for a phenomenon's significance. "Phenomenology is best suited to investigate the meaning aspects of terms that clearly correlate with lived experience" (p. 44). The interest of phenomenology is not in the ways that people make sense of or interpret their experiences. Leave that to psychology.
One way to think about the difference between phenomenological and other kinds of social science meaning is to consider the difference between poetic and informational meaning.
Strongly and Weakly Incarnated Meaning in Texts
Burms and De Dijn (1990) consider meaning to be strongly embedded (incarnated) in poetic text and weakly embedded in informational text. Strongly embedded meaning rests in compressed and tightly woven relational tension between words and passages and this meaning is situated in fragility. Texts with strongly embedded meaning to the extent that "when we alter or change the words or structure of the sentences, we immediately change the meaning of the text" (p. 45).
As strongly embedded meaning texts are fragile, weakly embedded ones are robust. Changing the language structures doesn't alter the information. The importance of these differences stems from the way that "phenomenological text does not just communicate information, it also aims to address or evoke forms of meaning that are more poetic, elusive, or ambiguous, but that cannot be easily told in propositional discourse" (p. 45). These poetic forms of meaning are felt meanings.
Directness and Indirectness of Expressivity of Meaning
It is not as if "strongly embedded, vocative, poetic dimensions of meaning are only the sentimental effect or emotional content of language" and likewise "it is wrong to suppose that the meaning of a poem or vocative text is too complex, too rich, or too deep to be grasped by means of language" (p. 46). The meaning within poetic text is iconic. Since evoked meaning is embodied and embedded in the text, it cannot be "unambiguously summarized" (p. 46).
Phenomenological forms of meaning may be impossible to convey in non-poetic ways. Poetic language evokes and evidences cognitive and noncognitive along with intellectual and experiential meaning. So describing the phenomenality of life may entail "a certain indirectness. The subtler meanings of certain experiences [lived through wilderness meanings] cannot always be clearly named or described directly. When words of conceptual language seem to fall short of the felt meaning, then this meaning may need to be addressed indirectly" (p. 46). "[P]henomenologists may actually need to use the indirectness of some artistic material...to point at the lived meaning that is being referenced, discussed, or evoked" (p. 46).
Cognitive and Noncognitive Meaning
"[P]henomenological meaning is closely tied into the structure of the text" (p. 47).
Primal body knowledge leads us in everyday life and "is the unknowing consciousness, a noncognitive knowing, that guides much of our daily doing and acting" (p. 47). This mode of "unknowing knowing" is more than mere habit. "Much of our day-to-day existence is probably guided by body-memory and body-knowledge, a noncognitive knowing" (p. 48).
Arguing and Showing Meaning
"The logical structure of phenomenological text...contains argument, analysis, inference, synthesis, and rhetorical devices such as metaphor, case, and example that aim at procuring, producing, clarifying, and presenting meaning" (p. 48). The aim is "to 'show' how meaning reveals itself" (p. 48). Language that serves the phenomenological intent of showing "what is given in prereflective experience or consciousness" is vocative, i.e., poetic.
Heidegger turned away from Husserl's methods of seeing toward an understanding that comes through "elucidating the meaning of things as we live them in everyday life" (p. 49). To do so may require a showing that lets an audience see how various kinds of a particular phenomenon "appear or show themselves in our lived experience" (p. 49). Presenting the different modalities of a phenomenon can be done through sharing examples and experiential descriptions of possible human experiences.
"[P]henomenological inquiry interweaves the conceptual with the nonconceptual (inceptual), the argumentative with the evocative or more poetic form" (p. 50).
On the Meaning of 'Thing' and the call "To the Things Themselves"
"Simply put, the thing or phenomenon for the researcher is a certain experience, a sensibility" (p. 50). There are multiple ways of invoking the notion, "thing" and "this multiplicity of plain connotations reveals the elusive significance of the thingness of things" (p. 51). We we call something a thing, we're specifying an entity without naming it and "it is specifically in the unnamednes where the enigma, strangeness, and otherness of the thingness of the thing resides" (p. 51). "Phenomenology wants to respect the thing in its whatness and in its otherness. ...phenomenology must stand in awe at the wonder of the thingness of the thing as it acquires its meaning in relation to the other things that surround each other in the world" (p. 52).
Primal Impressional Consciousness
The primacy of human experience is such that even by naming a phenomenon, we foreground it against "the seeming raw reality of human existence. That is why we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are tryin gto understand th the named concept, but the existent--that raw momen or aspect of existence that we 'lift up,' as it were, and bring into focus with language (verbal or otherwise)" (p. 52).
What we're moving toward here is the challenge of casting our focus upon something without jumping to the conclusion that we completely understand whatever it is that draws our focus. What do mean when we call out this thing called 'experience'? "It may be helpful to regard experiences as the living of life. To experience something is "to live through something" (p. 53). Drawing a faint circle around experience is challenging and researching experience equally so. "Researchers who are trying to collect from individuals their experiential accounts of specific situations or events face the practical problem that many people find it much easier to tell about such events rather than 'simply' tell them as they experience them" (p. 53).
But the nature of experience as it emerges through the onflow of life is the focus of phenomenology. "What distinguishes phenomenology from other kinds of inquiry is precisely that phenomenology wants to investigate the originary emergences of human experience and meaning" (p. 54).
In lived moments of life's onflow perceptual impressions are unreflective. But in moments that dawn upon in through the course of life as a 'realization', we can become conscious of the 'pressing' of an impression. "The point is that, even when we are deeply and consciously reflecting on something, then we cannot simultaneously consciously reflect on this reflecting" (p. 55).
Reflection on Prereflective Experience or the Living Moment of the 'Now'
Phenomenology is all about lived experience (Erlebnis). The gets developed via "the intent to explore directly the originary or prereflective dimensions of human existence. Husserl used the term prepredicative experience to refer to experience before it has been thematized and named" (p. 57). How in the world can phenomenology give voice to living moments? Whatever are living moments?
Living moments are prone to becoming shaped and structured in words, concepts, and theories. A living moment is "how the human being experiences the world" (p. 58). "The phenomenological attitude keeps us reflectively attentive to the ways human beings experience and are conscious of the world before reflecting on it and thematizing it" (p. 58).
Tracing living moments through 'the now' is tricky. "Phenomenology constantly questions the assumptions and presuppositions that prevent us from adequately understanding and expressing in words the living moments of immediate experience--no matter how analytically insightful, descriptively rich, or poetically evocative our words may be" (p. 59).
The living moment, or 'the now' "is a constant absence, a continual losing of the future to the past--in the flash of the moment of the now. No matter how the moment of the now is conceptualized, the point is that we are always too late to capture it, and therefore we will never know its full meaning and significance" (p. 59).
Appearance and the Revealing of Phenomena
Staying with the challenge of distinguishing "between 'the now' of lived experience and 'the now' of reflective experience" (p. 60), consider the difference between "what happens to the sense of self when we are engaged in something versus when we reflect on this engagement" (p. 60). Generally, we have no sense of self while engaged in projects.
" 'I' am the 'now' of my individual and social existence---I am the ongoing flux of my lived through life" (p. 60).
This doesn't mean that phenomenology offers subjective human perceptions. "But, phenomenology should not be confused with psychology or with trying to understand what goes on in the inner life or the consciousness of a particular subject or a specific group of people" (p. 61).
It's naive to assume "that we can just ask people what it is that they experience in certain moments. it assumes that people have straightforward or introspective access to their experience as they experience it, and it assumes that people can fully grasp and report what the meanings and meaning structures embedded in their experiences are" (p. 61).
Phenomenology proposes that some kind of special reflective method or attitude is required that aims to establish access to the primordialities of life as it is lived and experienced from moment to moment" (p. 61), i.e., the confluence of the epoche and the reduction proper.
Phenomenology investigates the self-givenness of phenomena and events in terms of their conditions of origin in order to express what and how phenomena and events give themselves. "The main task of phenomenological research is an interpretive description of the primordial meaning structures of lived experience--a graphic depiction of phenomena just as they give and show themselves in what appears or gives itself" (p. 61). Phenomenology generates insights and pathic understandings.
Intentionality, Nonintentionality, Subjectivity, and World
Phenomenality consists of "the intentional ways that the phenomenon gives itself, shows itself, or appears in consciousness. And, of course, there are various modalities in which the phenomenality of a phenomenon may appear or give itself." (p. 63).
"[I]ntentionality places consciousness, self, or presence at the center of our world" (p. 64). It "reveals the world as it can be comprehended, grasped, or appropriated" (p. 64).
There's also nonintentional meaning. This is meaning that is "felt immediately but not grasped as knowledge or concepts" (p. 64).
Not all phenomenologies have such a rigid construct for self. Some "contain a sense of the subject or the self that is more passive or passively receptive--the subject lacks agency and active intentionality. It might even be argued that the constitution of meaning in these methodologies is initiated, not by the subject or the ego, but by the intentionality of the things or objects that call upon us to respond" (pp. 64-65).
The Dual Relation between Phenomenology and Theory
"A phenomenon is an event or a lived-through experience as it shows itself or as it gives itself when it makes an appearance in our awareness. Phenomenology aims to investigate and express phenomena in rigorous and rich language, precisely as they give themselves, and phenomenology may attempt to examine the conditions and origins of the self-givenness of the phenomena" (p. 65).
The objective is "to give a 'direct description' of the ways that the phenomenon of [wilderness meanings] arises as an event in our lives and how the experience of [wilderness meanings] presents itself in its various modalities and aspects" (p. 65).
"the phenomenologist distrusts theory" (p. 65).
"rather than using theory as a scaffold for building an interpretive structure, phenomenology uses theory as a foil for examining what it glosses" (p. 66).
"phenomenology wants to delve deeper, or better, to explore the lived experiences more concretely" (p. 66).
"Phenomenology aims to evoke the concrete meanings and sources of prereflective experience as we live it, from moment to moment, in our daily existence" (p 66).
Three times to interweave phenomenology and theory. "First, phenomenology may bring in theory to show where the promise of theory fails to remain fulfilled" (p. 67) "Second, phenomenology may bring in theory where theory and phenomenology intersect in the understanding of human phenomena" (p. 67). "Third,... phenomenological research itself is sometimes referred to as theorizing and theory" (p. 67).
The Primacy of Practice
Practitioners can gain insights into practical capabilities through a phenomenology of practice. "[P]henomenology tends to foster ethical sensitivities, interpretive talents, and thoughtfulness and tact in professional activities, relations, and situations" (p. 68).
Phenomenological texts are successful as they "make us 'see' or 'grasp' something in a manner that enriches our understanding of everyday life experience. ...Phenomenological understanding is distinctly existential, emotive, active, relational, embodied, situational, temporal, technical, theoretic, and nontheoretic" (p. 68).
"The rewards phenomenology offers are the moments of 'seeing meaning' or 'in-seeing' into 'the heart of things' " (p. 68; citing Rilke, 1987).
In-seeing takes place in relation to what "Heidegger (1985, p. 266) calls 'in-being' or our everyday being involved with the things of our world. In-being is the constitution of the sense of being, in which every particular mode of being finds its source and ground" (p. 69).
"[A] phenomenology of practice aims to open up possibilities for creating formative relations between being and acting, between who we are and how we act, between thoughtfulness and tact" (pp. 69-70).
"[A] primal notion of practice refers to our ongoing and immediate involvement in our everyday worldly concerns" (p. 71).