Phenomenology and Education


Phenomenological Philosophy Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) is widely regarded as the founder of phenomenology as a transcendental philosophy of consciousness. Phenomena do not simply exist for phenomenology, but appear as something, according to the intentionality of consciousness, which links subject and object. Referring to intentionality as the ‘shibboleth of phenomenology’, contemporary phenomenologist Bernhard Waldenfels explains that it simply means “that something shows itself as something, that something is meant, given, understood, or treated in a certain way… The formula something as something means that something (actual, possible, or impossible) is linked to something else (a sense, a meaning) and is at the same time separated from it” (2011, p. 21). Something appears as close or distant, strange or familiar, in memory, in taste or touch, or in plain view. A plurality of meanings arise according to one’s position, interest, and context and in keeping with spatiotemporal, intersubjective, and (im)material structures. As Husserl observed, such structures, in turn, can be said to represent ‘regional ontologies’ for various disciplines for phenomenological investigation.
Intentional engagement is constituted as experience, and many phenomenologists proiled below understand phenomenology speciically as the study and theory
of lived experience (Erfahrung). However, the meanings that arise in and through such experience are not simply ‘subjective’ or ‘arbitrary’. Experience, as Husserl
explains, occurs between the active making of meaning and its passive reception, arising both through ‘active passivity’ and ‘passive intention’ (2001). Also, in being directed to something in the world, experience is not the accumulation of sense data, but set in a context, and delimited by a ‘horizon’. Every experience is situated in a
horizon which encompasses earlier experiences, memories, and schemas and also anticipations and expectations as well as their fulillment or disappointment (cf.
Gadamer 2013).
Husserl’s famous call to return to the ‘things themselves’ represents a rejection of the scientism, reductionism, and historicism of both the natural and human sciences
and calls for a decisive turn to the lifeworld (Husserl 1970a). It also entails a method rather different from the experimental and observational methods of the former and the historical hermeneutic methods of the latter. The phenomenological method is that of the ‘reduction’ or Epoché, which takes three principal forms: the
eidetic reduction, the skeptical Epoché, and the phenomenological attitude. In the irst, meanings are multiplied by considering a range of perspectives, schemas, and
theoretical models which can be playfully and imaginatively varied and applied. Husserl uses the simple example of the possible variations of a table’s color, shape,
and size, explaining that through an initial “abstin[ence] from acceptance of its being, we change the fact of [our] perception into… pure possibility” (1970b, p. 70).
The skeptical Epoché appears initially as its opposite, namely, as the heuristic or provisional exclusion of possible interpretations, particularly those that might be
considered dogmatic. Ranging from the understandings of the natural sciences and psychology to everyday discourses, phenomenology asks that researcher “keep
strictly to that which shows itself, no matter now meager it may be” (Heidegger 1925/2009, p. 47). This abstemious exercise in ‘letting-appear’ or ‘letting-see’ is
also known as ‘description’ (Deskription). The third form of the reduction, the phenomenological attitude can be regarded as the culmination of the Epoché, as a
broadening of the particularly of the skeptical and eidetical methods to a more general attitude in which the world is not “accepted as actuality” (Husserl 1970b, p. 32),
but becomes, “in a quite peculiar sense, a phenomenon” (p. 152).
Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s conception of intentionality and of Husserl’s grounding of phenomenology in transcendental consciousness is based on a hermeneutic
phenomenology of being (Dasein) in which aspects of the phenomenological method (Deskription) are reconigured as an existential process of understanding, as
the explication of self and of being. In the late Heidegger, this “hermeneutic of Dasein” becomes a kind of “phenomenology of Ek sistence” with the latter representing
a kind of “standing out into the truth of being” (1998, 249)and with language itself becoming the “house of being” (1982). Through phenomenology, philosophy critically breaks with the natural sciences and conceptualizes reality not in positive functional terms, but in negative ones relecting a play between disclosure
and concealment. “Being” appears only in a negative sense in the ontological difference between different “beings” (1976). Heidegger’s post-human ambitions,
namely, the de(con)struction of Western metaphysics, and the construction of the human not as identical with but as separate from being rather than as identical
with it have had an enormous impact on recent continental philosophy (e.g., in Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Waldenfels).

Finally, Merleau-Ponty takes the experience of the body which Husserl saw as a phenomenon of empathy and as the ‘zero point’ of orientation in the world and
develops it as the foundation of social intercorporeality, contra Husserl’s egological and transcendentalist emphases. In The Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-
Ponty (1966/2013) describes corporeality as an ambiguous, social event situated between ownness and alienness. In The Visible and Invisible, Merleau Ponty moves
beyond what he came to see as his own dualistic emphases, focusing instead on the unity of the “lesh” of body and world, and the chiasmus that at once separates and
joins this metaphorical lesh (1968).
In the wake of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, phenomenological philosophy has been taken up and reworked, above all in French philosophy. The challenges
of the linguistic turn and structuralism, already recognized by Merleau  Ponty, have been addressed by Foucault and Derrida. While Foucault takes up Husserl’s
critique of science and Heidegger’s philosophy of care (Sorge), he simultaneously recasts them through his conceptions of archaeology and genealogy, in terms
of discourse, epochal epistemes, and practices of the self. At the same time, Derrida has corrected the ‘presentism’ of phenomenology, insofar as he notes a temporal
displacement in the form of différance, in the absence highlighted through the presence of the word.

Beginnings and the Anthropological Turn

The following paragraphs trace the connections between phenomenological philosophy and studies of education. There are numerous points of contact between the
two disciplines or traditions (cf. Lippitz 2003a; Brinkmann 2016a, b, 2017a, b). The “phenomenological movement” (Spiegelberg 1960), of course, has not only inluenced education but has also impacted psychology, sociology, and literary studies among other disciplines. Husserl’s notion of the various ‘regional ontologies’ of
phenomenology has, in effect, been realized and elaborated at least to some extent.
The history of phenomenology developed here begins very early and has since branched out in a number of different ields and directions and is characterized by a
turn toward philosophical anthropology relatively early in its development.

Aloys Fischer: Descriptive Pedagogics

In his 1914 paper Deskriptive Pädagogik, Aloys Fischer formulates one of the earliest programmatic accounts of the relationship of pedagogy and phenomenology.
Fischer is a representative of the Münchner Schule (Munich School) that developed around Theodor Lipps. The Munich School critically rejects Husserl’s egological
conception of consciousness that claims the primacy of primordial experience and refers instead to the primacy of ‘reality’ or ‘Real-Ontologie’. In taking the ‘real’ as their starting point, these early Munich phenomenologists broke away from Husserl’s subject-centered perspective and anticipated ideas later introduced by
Merleau-Ponty in his interpretation of the lifeworld.
Phenomenology, Fischer believed, is not a normative ‘science’ of practice. It is instead a descriptive one: It tries to grasp the subject matter at hand before this matter
is deined theoretically or understood in relation to normative goals or judgments. He maintains that description can lead to pure facts (Tatsachen), free from
presuppositions and prejudices. Of course, this is a proposition that is often problematized today. Fischer points out that describing a student’s practice in school
requires a highly developed pedagogical and humanist psychological awareness: “[It] comes very seldom as a natural gift and can only be attained as the result of
sound practicing” (1914/1961, p. 140). Fischer also identiies an important epistemological problem that affects educational studies (Wissenschaft) to the present:
That education, unlike disciplines with clearly deined objects of research (e.g., geology), is notoriously insecure about its own subject matter. The method of description for Fischer is a way to reach intersubjective validation of experiences and a way to redeine experience as the subject matter of education. Fischer’s thoughts and research have identiied issues indispensable to phenomenologicalpedagogical thinking and relection to this day (cf. Brinkmann 2017a, b).

Otto Friedrich Bollnow and Dutch Phenomenology

After World War II and the years of Nazi terror, the phenomenological movement was in a weakened position in Germany, leading to a shift in orientation from the
speciically phenomenological to the more broadly anthropological. Anthropology in this context refers to the science (logos) of concepts and notions of mankind
(Anthropos) and operates on historical, philosophical, and linguistic levels. Otto Friedrich Bollnow, one of the main representatives of pedagogical anthropology,
combined Heidegger’s phenomenology with philosophical, linguistic, and anthropological emphases, as well as with a critical reception of existential philosophy
and Lebensphilosophie (literally: “philosophy of life”). Lebensphilosophie focuses on life in its vitality, multiplicity, and emotional irrationality. It pays special attention
to its elemental contexts (e.g., the lifeworld) and (dis)continuities within the life course (e.g., birth, growth, death). For example, in his book Existentialism and
Pedagogy: An Essay on Discontinuous Forms of Education, Bollnow highlights phenomena that are part of what he calls an “education of discontinuity” (Bollnow
1959), including crisis, awakening, encounter, and failure. He carried out only a few studies which can rightly be called descriptive phenomenologies. These explore the
phenomena of practicing (Übung), as well as human space and the ‘pedagogical atmosphere’. In contrast to Fischer, Bollnow did not consider the ontological ‘reality’
of these phenomena as “pure” empirical facts. Instead, he theorized his object, education, in terms of expressions of life itself according to the understandings of Lebensphilosophie. Accordingly, ‘the pedagogical’ for Bollnow is almost entirely reducible to the emotionally charged ‘pedagogical relation’, a notion developed before World War II by Herman Nohl, and one that reappears in the work of Max van Manen.
In the Netherlands, particularly in Utrecht, scholars similarly inluenced by philosophical anthropology, existentialism, and Lebensphilosophie were developing
broadly phenomenological approaches to pedagogy, psychology, criminology, medical practice, and other disciplines. These scholars included educationist
M.J. Langeveld, who advocated for the development of the ‘anthropology of the child’ as an educational sub discipline (1968a). Langeveld attempted to understand
school and curriculum from the perspective of the child (1968b) and based his work on explicit epistemological linkages between phenomenology and pedagogy,
approximating Husserl’s vision of ‘regional ontologies’. A second important Dutch Figure was F.J.J. Buytendijk, a veterinary physician and theoretical psychologist
who worked closely with the German Helmuth Plessner and who produced booklength phenomenological studies on Woman (1968) and on the subject of pain.
Despite (or perhaps because of) their contemporaneity and proximity, these Dutch scholars did not produce any writings that explicated the method and theory underlying their studies. They did not explicitly locate their work in the German tradition of philosophical phenomenology, nor was their work particularly germane
to English-language notions of ‘method’ as a process applicable to any number of potential objects of research. Max van Manen has since positioned himself as interpreting the thought of these scholars for the English speaking world and as advocating for their approaches to phenomenology and pedagogy.

From Existentialism to Lifeworld Theory: Phenomenology in Twentieth Century Germany

In West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, German scholars developed concepts which relected their changing intellectual and cultural circumstances, and which
are critically differentiated from Bollnow’s anthropological and hermeneutical pedagogy. Günther Buck, Werner Loch (a student of Bollnow), Heinrich Rombach,
Eugen Fink, and Egon Schütz all refer centrally to Husserl, Heidegger, and Hans  Georg Gadamer and have developed novel phenomenological approaches toward
theories of learning, Bildung, and education (cf. Brinkmann 2016a, b, 2017a, b).

Learning as an Experience (Günther Buck)

Günther Buck’s study Learning and Experience was irst published in 1967 and has since become a classic in German pedagogy (1989). Buck examines the experience of the process of learning from a historical perspective (referring, for example, to Aristotle, Bacon, Hegel, and Husserl). Buck also develops his own theory of learning,
which he frames with a hermeneutic of practice or action (Handlungshermeneutik). Buck’s theory of understanding and learning as well as his theory of experience in
Bildung are strongly inluenced by Gadamer. From a hermeneutic perspective, understanding and learning are situated within a temporal horizon. Referring to
Husserl’s analysis of intentionality, Buck describes the structure of these experiences as involving cycles of experiential anticipation and fulillment or alternatively,
disappointment or negation. The structure of experience is always based on previous experience, but it is also open to what is new or different what can be delimited through the extension or expansion of the horizon that surrounds it (Horizontwandel). As our horizon is changed in an experience, future anticipations change, as do our understandings of experiences from the past. In Learning and Experience, Buck presents a very precise account of the structure of learning as experience. Buck deines the ‘negation’ implied in disappointment or failure as a ‘determinate negation’, as a Hegelian dialectical annulment that is at once particularized and produces something positive. Such a negation nulliies a given intention and brings a moment of discontinuity into the continuity of experience. In this way, we not only experience something outside of ourselves, but we also experience ourselves relexively: “Only in experience, in its turning back on itself, which at the same time is a change in our capacity to experience, lies the actual educative power of experience” (Buck 1989, p. 3). It is in this way that learning from experience consequently becomes learning as experience.

Werner Loch: Learning and the Life Course

Following the ideas of philosophical anthropologist Helmuth Plessner, Werner Loch developed a biographically based theory of education. Loch takes as his starting
point a non-essentialist anthropology that sees the human being as an “open question.” He then proceeds to conceptualize the phenomena of education structurally,
both in biographical and intergenerational terms, as well as in terms of the process or experience of learning itself (Loch 2001). Similar to Buck, Loch succeeds in
establishing an original, pedagogically signiicant conception of learning which goes well beyond the theory of his teacher, O.F. Bollnow. Like Hubert Dreyfus (discussed
below), learning for Loch is concerned with ‘knowing- how’ (rather than with ‘knowing that’ or with ‘propositional knowledge’) and thus can be understood in
terms that are both non-empirical and non cognitivistic. The lived body becomes important both as a category of relection and as a phenomenon in and of itself, and
learning is connected to sedimented habits and the habitus in general. To obtain this knowing how, supportive and helping educational practices are important—as well
as those educational practices that may be experienced as inhibiting and limiting.
Loch works toward a determination of the negative aspects within educational processes. These are aspects which Buck has referred to as ‘negativity’ and which have
attracted also attention in more recent German approaches (see below). In terms of M. Brinkmann and N. Friesen methodology, Loch points out the ‘poetic’ and ‘creative’ function of the phenomenological method and contrasts it to methods of hermeneutics and psychoanalysis.

Heinrich Rombach and Eugen Fink: Structural Existentialist Phenomenology

Towards the end of the 1960s, Heinrich Rombach and Eugen Fink developed new phenomenological perspectives on the lived experience of Bildung and education by
using a type of relection they christened ‘categorical relection’ and by focusing on structures and what they referred to as ‘elemental phenomena’ (Grundphänomene).
Rombach developed a structural phenomenology (Strukturphänomenologie).
He advocated a shift from anthropology to structural anthropology and from phenomenological pedagogy to structural pedagogy. Following Heidegger’s later
thinking on humanism and ‘the human’, Rombach described humankind as (a) structure and as existing within structures, with the implication that one must give
up a subject-centered and explicitly human science perspective as well as an explicitly sociological one (1979). Rombach distinguishes between various kinds of experience (e.g., political, economic, aesthetic) and contrasts them with the speciic domain of pedagogical experience. Within education, concern and care, learning,
wonder and astonishment, questioning and advising become basic phenomena for Rombach. Rombach’s distinction between types of experiences, which is important
for educational relection generally, was originally introduced by Rombach’s mentor in Freiburg, Eugen Fink.
Fink earned his doctorate under Husserl and Heidegger and remained Husserl’s loyal assistant, even when Husserl (of Jewish descent) was persecuted by the Nazis.
Fink saw educational studies as a cultural practice that is to be sustained both as a ield of study and also as a collection of practical life lessons (Lebenslehre). In his
social phenomenology, Fink differentiates six fundamental co-existential elemental phenomena: play, power, work, love, death, and education. He sees these as connected to social, co existential, and embodied practices in the time and space of society, and as an expression of care regarding Dasein after the ‘end of grand narratives’, to borrow a phrase from Lyotard (1984). Fink’s fundamental thesis sees ‘man as a fragment’, as something which exists neither as a complete being nor as an object. One can only experience oneself in relation to the world and to oneself in a fragmentary way. In this way, Fink shatters the totality of man and world or of man and nature as suggested by the human sciences has been shattered.
Bildung for Fink can no longer be Allgemeinbildung or general Bildung in a holistic sense; it can only be fragmentary. For this conception of Bildung, negativity
(as deined above) is not an operation of consciousness but an existential trait of experience. Bildung can then be described as kind of coping with this ‘negative’
existential predicament. Accordingly, Bildung becomes a practical existential experiment of meaning of a provisory nature: It is an existential and co existential practice, an engagement in the production and creation of meaning that is at most provisional. Bildung is also a relective practice, given that the method of phenomenological variation can mark and compare different modes of experience in politics, arts, love, time, and labor. At the same time, the phenomenological reduction as a dimension of Bildung enables us to free ourselves from what are generally simply taken as facts and it opens up a broader perspective on what is possible.
Phenomenology as a method for Fink is inseparable from the structures and dynamics of education and Bildung, forming a true ‘regional ontology’ in the sense anticipated by Fink’s teacher, Husserl.
Fink describes educational practice in terms of a ‘community of questioning’. This community is determined by power, by society, and culture, and it has as its
reference point the collective predicament of ‘not-knowing’ and ‘not-knowinghow’ (1970). According to Fink, the relation between the generations is one that is also marked by ‘alienness’ (a notion also developed by Waldenfels, see below).
Under conditions of alienness and insecurity, the community of questioning of the young aims toward future situations and considers options or possibilities to overcome dificulties particular to their situation. Education is thus characterized by difference and controversy concerning interpretations of such dificulties and situations. Fink’s theory of Bildung and education offers connections to Foucault and Derrida and to other poststructuralists who were themselves inluenced by

Egon Schütz Bildung and the ‘Anthropological Circle’

Fink’s student Egon Schütz developed his teacher’s approach into to “existentialcritical pedagogy” and deepened it in the context of his many studies on anthropology,
ethics, and aesthetics (Schütz and Brinkmann 2016). Schütz adds ive existentials to the six co existentials identiied by Fink, seeing them as modes of huma ‘relationship to being’ (Seinsverhältnisse): freedom, reason, historicity, language, and the lived body. The core of Schütz’ theory can be said to be constituted by the ‘anthropological circle’ as a fundamental mode of and limitation to human self understanding. This ‘anthropological circle’ (also outlined in the inal chapter of Foucault’s History of Madness, 2009) can be explained as follows: Theoretical, practical, scientiic, and everyday deinitions and conceptions of humankind can never lead to complete self-transparency. Humans remain subject to their initeness and corporeality particularly where relective and projective processes of selfformation (Sich Bilden) and self-imagination (Sich-Einbilden) are concerned. Taking this anthropological circularity into account, Schütz describes Bildung as an existentially risky act of limited freedom, which takes place under the conditions of initeness, corporeality, and co existentiality.1[1]See also the archive of Egon Schütz at Humboldt University Berlin: schuetz-archiv M. Brinkmann and N. Friesen Schütz sees education as a co existential experiment, in which humans engage in practices of dealing with themselves and with one or multiple others as incomplete or imperfect beings. He applies the phenomenological methods of reduction and variation to develop this further: One’s own view as well as different scientiic theories and models are to be critically evaluated in terms of their anthropological presuppositions. The premeanings and prejudices identiied through this process are then bracketed in a skeptical epoché. Following this step, perspectives can be varied and stepping back from one’s own approach and others’ theoretical conceptions enables a variation of different views on the thing itself (die Sache selbst).

Viewed from the perspective of methodology, Schütz and Fink can be seen to clearly differentiate phenomenological research in education from a pedagogical
hermeneutics (hermeneutische Pädagogik). Phenomenological description, unlike many other research frameworks including others hermeneutic in nature necessarily relies on intentionality; it is able to study acts and experiences only insofar as they are intentionally structured. Hermeneutics, for its part, practices a reconstructive interpretation (Auslegung) of something that is given as a text. As Loch puts it, phenomenological description aims at “working out how a human creature, who is equipped with a lived body, soul, consciousness and conception of self and thus becomes a self, can express sense-giving intentions at all” (2001,
p. 1198; cf. Brinkmann 2015, 2017b).

Conceptual and Methodological Plurality in the English- Speaking World

In the English speaking world, phenomenological discourse in education has been deined by either an afirmation of or resistance to the dominant psychological and
sociological paradigms, with notably little emphasis on the traditions, theories, and structures commonly associated with Bildung. English-language contributions are
typically much more disparate and eclectic than the ones reviewed above, and include prominent researchers and methodologists from both cognitive and humanistic
Starting in the 1970s, a wide range of texts and inluences from the German sociology and the human sciences including works of Dilthey, Husserl, and Gadamer
appeared in translation and have been gradually taken up by educational researchers and also by those developing qualitative research methods in education and psychology. Since that time, a range of approaches to phenomenology both as an empirical method and as offering insight for pedagogy and other practices have
emerged. These range from relatively ‘egological’ articulations of phenomenology as a transcendental study of veriiable essences to a broadly Heideggerian interpretation of learning as ‘concernful coping’. The survey of this pluralism provided below is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather broadly representative. The contributions considered include Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus’ ‘model of learning’ as the gradual acquisition of skillful coping or expertise. Particular methods also include ‘phenomenography’, developed by Ference Marton at Gothenburg University and popular in the UK, and the ‘phenomenology of practice’, and the ‘descriptive phenomenological method’ developed (respectively) by Amedeo Giorgi in the USA and van Manen in Canada. These also include Clark Moustakas’ ‘transcendental phenomenology’, as well as ‘interpretative phenomenological analysis’ primarily associated with Jonathan Smith in London. With the exception of van Manen, these methodological variations emphasize an empirical, often postivisitic rigor all relying on data derived from informant interviews. In addition, none of these methods again with the possible exception of van Manen’s earlier methodological conceptions (e.g., 1989) view education as representing a ‘regional ontology’ to which phenomenological methods are ontologically linked.

Hubert Dreyfus, Learning as Skillful and Concernful Coping

Philosopher Hubert Dreyfus and his students and mentees (e.g., Mark Wrathall, John Haugeland) have engaged in a particularly productive and inluential interpretation of the phenomenological tradition in general and of Part One of Heidegger’s Being and Time in particular. Dreyfus, his co-authors, and many of his students do not see phenomenology as a research method, but instead regard it as offering a powerful refutation of and an alternative to broadly ‘Cartesian’, ‘representationalist’ theories of mind. They see these theories as being manifest in both scientiic and popular discourses primarily in the form of ‘computational cognitivism’, a term which includes cognitive neuroscience, and which remains inluential, especially in America. In developing this critical alternative, Dreyfus’ work also articulates a widely referenced theory of learning and mentoring. Dreyfus’ approach to Heidegger, as well as to learning as ‘skillful coping’, proceeds from an important and bold interpretive claim: That it is “our nature… to be world disclosers”, meaning that Heideggerian Dasein in contradistinction to Fink’s and Schütz’s interpretation is individually embodied, situated, and directed by ‘everyday concernful coping’. Dasein as individual consequently discloses “open, coherent, distinct contexts or worlds in which we perceive, feel, act, and think” (Dreyfus and Spinosa 2006, p. 265).
Dreyfus’ ‘model of learning’ is most prominently articulated in the 1986 book co authored with his brother Stuart, titled Mind over Machine: The Power of Human
Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1986). As in his other texts, this book is framed by a critique of the cognitive and computing
sciences and artiicial intelligence particularly of models of expertise or ‘expert systems’ that were then fashionable. Adopting a stance reminiscent both of Loch’s
‘mode of knowing-how’ and Schütz’s ‘co existentiality’, Dreyfus and Dreyfus present a ive stage model of learning as the acquisition of types of ‘know-how’ forms of concernful coping in the world. These stages begin with close adherence to preNexisting rules or plans, initially conirming rationalist empiricist accounts of mind
and knowledge. But through gradual increased situated awareness, the inal stages of “proiciency” or “expertise” are characterized by an intuitive grasp of situations
based on deep, tacit understanding and by a kind of “ongoing mastery which… cannot be expressed in situation free, purpose-free terms” (1992, p. 250).
These characterizations, like the model as a whole, conirm Dreyfus’ central premise that we are not simply aggregators of perceptual data, but ‘disclosers of worlds’, and the model has also been widely taken up in educationreceiving the greatest recognition in healthcare and management. This model is seen, for example, as fruitful in the study development of “clinical problem-solving skills” or as providing richer understandings of “competency building” processes in professional development (e.g., Bergum 1997; Benner 2001). Dreyfus himself has also applied his model, albeit with mixed results, in discussions of the online world in general and online teaching and learning in particular (2001).

Max van Manen: The Phenomenology of Practice

Max van Manen has developed both a phenomenological method for empirical research and the outlines of a phenomenological approach to ‘pedagogical practice’.
Van Manen characterizes his method as a “hermeneutic phenomenology”: an “abstemious relection” that has as its goal an explicitly foundational “primitive or originary contact with the primal concreteness of lived reality” (2014, pp. 26, 41). Following Husserl, van Manen sees this relection as abstemious or methodical in
that it involves the phenomenological epoché or reduction. This is a process for which he outlines at least nine possible paths or approaches, including heuristic,
hermeneutic, methodological, experiential, and ontological reductions. Van Manen’s abstemious relection is hermeneutic in a heuristic sense in that it occurs through the composition, revision, and relective interlinking of concrete but creative descriptive texts. These are texts which van Manen characterizes as (among other things)
simultaneously vocative (or appellative) and evocative: “In the relective process of writing the researcher not only engages in analysis but also aims to express the
noncognitive, ineffable and pathic aspects of meaning that belong to the phenomenon” (2014, p. 240). “This task of relection and imagination”, van Manen continues,
“is mediated by empirical material drawn from life, such as anecdotes, stories, fragments, aphorisms, metaphors, memories, riddles, and sayings” (2014 pp. 240, 248). Despite its foundationalist emphases, van Manen links his methodology with conceptualizations from a wide range of philosophers, particularly French poststructuralists such as Jacques Derrida and Maurice Blanchot. In deining ‘practice’ in his phenomenology of practice, van Manen is allinclusive: “A primal notion of practice”, he explains, “refers to our ongoing and immediate involvement in our everyday worldly concerns” (2007, p. 15). Thus unlike other phenomenologists in education such as Fischer or Schütz, and like phenomenologists such as Dreyfus, the later van Manen comes to see his descriptive phenomenology as a method that does not exist in a one to one relationship with education or pedagogy as its object. Instead, it appears in his most recent books as signiicant for the broadest range of involvements or forms of participation all of which he regards as ontologically primary and simultaneously as the empirical ground for all phenomenological investigation.

However, unlike other popular understandings of practice (e.g., of Pierre Bourdieu or Étienne Wenger), van Manen understands practice in terms of ‘our pragmatic and ethical concerns’ (emphasis added). The ethical dimension is ultimately indispensable to van Manen’s account of practice, and it is unclear how it might apply to the term in its broader, cultural, ethnographic sense. Regardless, this ethical emphasis is pervasive in his work on pedagogical practice, where van Manen has focused on traditional human science notions of the pedagogical relation between adult and child and especially on the adult’s pedagogically tactful engagement within it. The pedagogical relation is seen by van Manen as it was by Nohl, Bollnow, and Langeveld before him as a singular relation that is simultaneously personal and professional, that arises sui generis between adult and child and in which the adult acts intentionally for the sake of the child’s present circumstances and his or her likely future (Friesen 2017). In this context, the adult’s actions are to be guided by ‘tact’ which van Manen characterizes in terms of ‘pathic’ understanding: situated, relational, embodied, and enactive forms of ‘non cognitive’ learning and knowing. Indeed, both pedagogical engagement and research work for van Manen can be said to focus on a kind of ethically charged tactful engagement with their objects with their common goal being to affect the student or the reader in ways that are pathic or non cognitive, rather than in ways more immediately accessible to explicit awareness or cognition.

Amedeo Giorgi and Clark Moustakas: Transcendental Psychological Methods

Amedeo Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenological analysis works through what he calls ‘situated structural descriptions’. Giorgi views such descriptions as ultimately
irreducible to any single interpretation. Giorgi’s is a ‘pure’ phenomenology, seeing its task as the description of objects of consciousness through the exercise of the
phenomenological reduction, with the aim of arriving at ‘scientiic’ essences, with the emphasis on the natural sciences that this brings in English. It “follows Husserl
as strictly as possible: it uses intuition, it is descriptive, it acknowledges eidetic indings and it employs the pretranscendental reduction along with imaginative variation” (2007, n.p.). Giorgi’s method interprets Husserl’s contributions in isolation from the myriad aspects of phenomenology developed subsequently, including
those hermeneutic-anthropological (e.g., Heidegger) or phenomenologicalpedagogical (e.g., Fink) in emphasis. Recent examples of studies using Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenological analysis include The Phenomenology of Koan Meditation in Zen Buddhism (Grenard 2008) or The Lived Experience of Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease: A Three Year Longitudinal Phenomenological Case Study (Robinson et al. 2012).
Given its transcendental ambitions, it is not surprising that Clark Moustakas’ transcendental phenomenology follows Giorgi in its rather single minded focus on
Husserl’s earlier accounts of his method, and its avoidance of subsequent developments in phenomenology and the human sciences. Moustakas, like Giorgi, also worked as a psychologist and developed his method through book length studies on (and including) Loneliness, Creativity and Love (2004). In his transcendental
approach, Moustakas encourages open-ended questions and dialogue as a form of data gathering, asking the researcher to focus on the ‘naïve’ descriptions available
in these data. These descriptions are then subject to a type of phenomenological reduction, bracketing or epoché. In describing this process, Moustakas speaks of the
researcher as working to attain a ‘transcendental consciousness’ that is open and puriied, and through which the researcher can engage in ‘an authentic encounter’
with the object in question (1994, p. 85). In other words, Moustakas (like Giorgi) conceives of ‘the transcendental’ in terms of its most idealist and egological articulations in Husserl conceptions that has been widely rejected in both phenomenology and philosophy since Husserl’s time. These dificulties are exacerbated by the
relatively matter of fact, point-form manner in which Moustakas and others present the results of their ‘transcendental’ investigations. These factors, along with Amedeo Giorgi’s aspirations to ‘scientiic essences’, can be seen to have encouraged a search for methodological alternatives in phenomenological research.

Jonathan A. Smith and Ference Marton: Interpretative and Educational Variations

Jonathan A. Smith’s interpretative phenomenological analysis appears to be one of the alternatives just mentioned appealing to an explicitly cognitive and constructivist epistemology rather than to any egological ‘transcendental consciousness’. Smith’s approach shares with cognitive psychology and its constructivist variants a concern with mental processes, speciically those of ‘sense-making’. Sometimes known simply as IPA, Smiths method has cognition as a central analytic concern and integrates aspects of symbolic interactionism of George Herbert Mead and John Dewey to understand how this process occurs in both social and personal worlds. It thus takes questions such as ‘how do transgendered persons think of sex?’ or ‘how does HIV impact one’s sense of self?’ and discusses them in the context of structured or semi structured interviews. It then analyzes participant responses in terms of what is called a ‘double hermeneutic’, in which the researcher tries to make sense of the participants who are in turn trying to make sense of their worlds. In this context, the researcher is asked to adopt both an “empathetic” and a “critical” hermeneutic stance, with each presumably entailing a particular type of “bracketing” or epoché (Smith et al. 2009).

Finally, there is Ference Marton’s phenomenography. Although Marton emphasizes that his “phenomenography” is not “an offspring of phenomenology” (1986,
p. 40), it is in many ways overtly positioned as a Husserlian ‘science of consciousness’. Like Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenology and Smith’s interpretive phenomenology, phenomenography has as its focus participants’ conceptions of the world around them, conceiving of these as the products of intentionality. In place of a pursuit of Husserlian ‘essences’, phenomenography derives ‘categories’ from this empirical data. Although Marton himself disavows any reliance on phenomenological bracketing, his method is dependent on a set of collaborative and also explicitly comparative or eidetic techniques intended to minimize the inluence of preexisting theory and individual preconceptions. Unlike Giorgi, Moustakas, and Smith, who developed their methods as phenomenological psychologies, Marton and his method are irmly situated in education. In this sense, Marton, like van Manen, can be said to have made broadly phenomenological contributions to educational theory. One particularly prominent example is Marton’s distinction, developed in the mid 1970s, between ‘surface- level’ and ‘deep level learning’ or ‘processing’ in reading. In supericial reading, consciousness has as its intentional object the sign itself, or the rote learning of the text; in deep processing this object is replaced by the signiier, or the intended meaning of the text (Marton and Säljö 1976). Although rather reminiscent of Craik and Lockhart’s 1972 computational (and thus non intentionalistic) notion of deep and surface encoding of stimuli in memory, Marton’s distinction is still widely cited.

Contemporary Developments in English and German

As Marton and Smith both illustrate, when conceived of in terms of a research method, phenomenology has proven and continues to prove to be highly adaptable.
This is further illustrated by ongoing work undertaken by both van Manen’s students and those of the generation of Fink, Rombach, and Waldenfels. Van Manen’s students, for example, are showing that his hermeneutic phenomenology can be adapted to the study of the widest range of experiences from ones aesthetic in nature to others that might be deemed pathological. These same students have continued his work on both method and practice. Friesen (2011) has recast van Manen’s nine modes of reduction in the form of the basic ontological distinctions invoked in the everyday use of the pronouns ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘we’ and applies these in critiquing cognitivist conceptions of learning and the self. Further directions are being explored by other phenomenologists in the ield of education not necessarily connected with the phenomenologists covered thus far, with Samuel Rocha (2015) and Eduardo Duarte (2012), for example, experimenting with the imaginary and aesthetic aspects of phenomenological study and writing, and Gloria Dall’Alba (2009), Glen Sherman (2016), Mark Vagle (2015), and Oyvind Standal (2016) working to connect phenomenology and a range of educational and methodological themes and emphases.

In the German speaking world, scholars connected to Rombach and Fink have taken contemporary issuesra nging from biologistic ‘neuro-pedagogies’ to ‘practicing’
as an exercise in power/knowledge and addressed these phenomenologically, integrating insights of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Derrida, and, in particular,
Waldenfels and Foucault. Bernhard Waldenfels’ notions of sociality, corporeality, responsivity, alterity, genealogy, and power, as well as his expansion of Husserl’s
concept of intentionality have played a central role in this integrative work. Wilfried Lippitz (2003b) combines Levinas’ insights into otherness and their radicalization
in Waldenfels’ notion of the ‘alien’ together with ‘exemplary’ lifeworld description to produce pedagogical phenomenologies of relationship with oneself and between
generations. Käte Meyer-Drawe (1984/2001) also refers to Merleau-Ponty and his phenomenology of intercorporeality in order to rethink learning as ‘re-learning’ or
‘learning anew’ (umlernen) in connection with intersubjectivity. In so doing, Meyer  Drawe has also articulated a powerful genealogical critique of learning as an exclusively neurological phenomenon. Her work has inspired related phenomenological investigations of “learning as experience” by scholars connected with the University of Innsbruck in Austria who have developed a method of observation and description they refer to as “vignette research” (e.g., Agostini 2016). Finally, based on a phenomenological theory of practicing (Übung; see Brinkmann 2012) and attention  (Brinkmann 2016c), Malte Brinkmann is examining temporal and corporeal experiences of power within learning and education by using video research. He works to develop the approaches of Fink, Schütz, and Lippitz further to ward a historiography, epistemology, and methodology of the phenomenological movement in education (see Brinkmann 2015, 2016a, 2017a/b).


The epistemological question of the subject matter and the core of pedagogy as a discipline and profession on the one hand and the methodological question of adequately researching these concerns on the other were irst raised in Aloys Fischer’s Descriptive Pedagogy (1914/1961). Subsequent work has followed paths both
divergent and convergent, with some retaining the normative anthropological impulses of the human sciences through to the present (e.g., van Manen), others
focusing on existential and ontological concerns (e.g., Fink, Rombach), and still others reafirming moments in Husserl’s earliest methodological conceptions (e.g.,
Marten, Moustakas, Giorgi). Today, phenomenology is applied anew to reevaluate key theories of learning, practicing, and education to show them as lived experiences
that are situated within the horizons of corporeality, responsivity, foreignness, and power relations. In German-speaking Europe, phenomenology has come to represent a discipline that connects education with broader questions of Bildung. In the English speaking world it has gradually expanded to offer a plurality of variations and possibilities for qualitative researchers. Its adaptability and longevity both as a philosophical orientation and a method strongly suggest that phenomenology will remain a vital and changing but philosophically grounded source of insight into education and other contexts of human care and formation.



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Taken from: Malte Brinkmann and Norm Friesen


1See also the archive of Egon Schütz at Humboldt University Berlin: schuetz-archiv M. Brinkmann and N. Friesen
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