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Phenomenological Research

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Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)

He was the principal founder of phenomenology. Husserl’s initial work focused on mathematics as the object of study, but then moved to examine other phenomena; that is to value both objective and subjective experiences. He argued that phenomena as perceived by the individual’s consciousness should be the object of scientific study.

What is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology is an approach to research that seeks to describe the essence of a phenomenon by exploring it from the perspective of those who have experienced it (Neubauer, Witkop, & Varpio, 2019).

The goal of phenomenology is to describe the meaning of an experience—both in terms of what was experienced and how it was experienced.

It is the study of phenomena as they manifest in our experience, of the way we perceive and understand phenomena, and of the meaning phenomena have in our subjective experience.

3 Contemporary Approaches to Phenomenology

According to Neubauer, Witkop, & Varpio (2019), there three approaches in phenomenology. These approaches are the following:

1. LIFEWORLD RESEARCH. A blended approach that explores how daily experiences manifest in the life-world of individuals.

2. POST-INTENTIONAL RESEARCH. A blended approach that treats the phenomenon as the unit of analysis but asserts that a phenomena are multiple, partial, contextual, and in flux; being simultaneously produced and producing.

3. INTERPRETIVE PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH. A blended approach that aims to provide detailed examination of the lived experience of a phenomenon through a participant’s personal experiences and personal perceptions of objects and events; the researcher performs an active role in the interpretive process.

The aim of lifeworld research is to describe the phenomenon of interest at is experienced by the individuals. The researcher has to uncover the phenomenon while staying open to the participants' expressed meaning of the lifeworld. The post-intentional phenomenology aims to identify not only the phenomenon of interest but also to situate the phenomenon in context, around a certain issue on society. This approach believes that phenomena are both personal and social, and are in constant state of production and provocation through social relations. The interpretive phenomenological analysis aims to provide detailed examinations of personal lived experiences by producing accounts of lived experiences in its own terms rather than one prescribed by pre-existing theoretical preconceptions and it recognizes that this is an interpretative endeavor as humans are sense-making individuals.

Transcendental and Hermeneutic Phenomenology

Transcendental or Descriptive Phenomenology seeks to obtain an unbiased description of the raw data captured from the individuals by bracketing researcher's bias. Hermeneutic or Interpretive Phenomenology seeks to interpret the descriptions and to co-construct meaning from the lived experiences by integrating the researcher's opinion.

Neubauer, Witkop, &Varpio (2019) has summarized the differences of the two types of phenomenology as follows based on some elements:



Reality is internal to the knower, what appears to their consciousness.


Lived experience is an interpretive process situated in an individual’s lifeworld.



Observer must separate him/herself from the world including his/her own physical being to reach the state of transcendental I; bias-free; understands phenomena by descriptive means.


Observer is part of the world and not bias-free; understands phenomena by interpretive means.



Bracket researcher subjectivity during data collection and analysis


Reflects on essential themes of participant experience with the phenomenon while simultaneously reflection on own experience


Descriptive: Consider phenomena from different perspectives, identify units of meaning and cluster into themes to form textural description (the what of the phenomenon). Use imaginative variation to create structural description(the how) . Combine these descriptions to form the essence of the phenomenon.


Iterative cycles of capturing and writing reflections towards a robust and nuanced analysis; consider how the data (or parts) contributed to evolving understanding of the phenomenon (whole).

4 Philosophical Perspectives in Phenomenology (Creswell, 2013)

1. A return to the traditional tasks of philosophy.

2. A philosophy without presupposition.

3. The intentionality of consciousness.

4. The refusal of the subject-object dichotomy.

Defining Features of Phenomenology (Creswell, 2013)

1. An emphasis on a phenomenon to be explored, phrased in terms of a single concept or idea.

2. Exploration of a phenomena with a group of individuals who have all experienced the phenomena.

3. A philosophical discussion about the basic ideas involved in conducting a phenomenology.

4. The researcher bracket himself/herself out of the study by discussing personal experiences with the phenomenon.

5. A data collection procedure that involves typically interviewing individuals who have experienced the phenomena.

6. Data analysis that can follow systematic procedure that move from the narrow units of analysis, and on to detailed descriptions that summarize two elements, “what” the individuals have experienced and “how” they experienced it.

7. A phenomenology ends with a descriptive passage that discusses the essence of the experience for individuals.

Colaizzi’s descriptive phenomenological method (CDPM)

The seven (7) steps in CDPM are (a) familiarization, (b) identification of significant statements, (c) formulation of meanings, (d) clustering of themes, (e) developing an exhaustive description, (f) producing the fundamental structure, and (g) seeking the verification of exhaustive description. According to Morrow, Rodriguez, & King (2015), a researcher should comprehensively read through all the participant accounts to familiarize himself or herself with the data. The researcher then identifies all relevant and significant statements in the accounts to the phenomenon being investigated. From these significant statements, the researcher identifies meanings relevant to the phenomenon. The researcher now clusters the identified meanings into themes that are common across all accounts. Concise and comprehensive description of the phenomenon is then prepared by the researcher based on the themes developed. The comprehensive description becomes the basis of on the development of the fundamental structure of the phenomenon. The last step to do is to return the fundamental structure statement to all participants to ask whether it captures their experience; a modification can be done in the light of participants’ feedback. Morrow et al. (2015) highlighted that bracketing must be done by the researcher to avoid bias in the whole process.


Neubauer, B., Witkop, C., & Varpio, L. (2019). How phenomenology can help us learn from the experiences of others. Perspect Med Educ 2019(8), 90-97. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-019-0509-2

Creswell, J. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among the Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 77-83

Mambrol, N. (2018). Key Theories of Edmund Husserl. Literary Theory & Criticism. https://literariness.org/2018/01/30/key-theories-of-edmund-husserl/

Morrow, R., Rodriguez, A. and King, N. (2015). Colaizzi’s descriptive phenomenological method. The Psychologist, 28(8), 643-644.

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