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Phenomenology and Pedagogy:

Max van Manen and the Lived Experience of the Classroom

Charity Becker

University of Prince Edward Island


Phenomenology and Pedagogy:

Max van Manen and the Lived Experience of the Classroom

What Is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology as Theory

Before considering phenomenology as theory, let’s start with a more basic question: What

is theory? The Oxford Living Dictionaries Online (2018) defines theory as:

1) a supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based

on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.

2) a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.

3) an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action. (n.p.)

Theory is a way of guiding or controlling how data are interpreted or how the world is perceived

and categorized. It involves both ontology (what we know) and epistemology (how we know).

Max van Manen (2007) writes, however, that theorizing may also be defined as “a way of

comporting oneself” (p. 14) or “a form of life” (p. 15). Theory comes from the Greek word

theoria which “connotes ‘wakefulness of mind’ in the ‘contemplation’ or ‘pure viewing’ of truth”

(van Manen, 2001, n.p.). In fact, van Manen (2014) notes that “phenomenology does not offer us

the possibility of effective theory with which we can explain and /or control the world; rather it

offers us the possibility of plausible insights that bring us in more direct contact with the world”

(p. 66). As theory, phenomenology is a way of being in the world. It is a way of perceiving the

self, others, and the world from a state of wonder. It means maintaining an attitude of openness

and wonder about experiences and the world and reflecting through writing on those experiences

and things in order to gain insights about the essence of phenomena: what it means to experience

a certain thing.

van Manen (1990) defines phenomenology as a human science which “studies persons or

beings that have consciousness and that act purposefully in and on the world.” It “aims at

explicating the meaning of human phenomena and at understanding the lived structures of

meaning” (p. 4). In phenomenology, phenomena coincides “with the notion of experience. Thus,

to attend to experience rather than what is experienced is to attend to the phenomena” (Cerbone,

2006, p. 3). Phenomenological research is “commonly described as turning back zu den Sachen,

to ‘what matters in lived or primal experience.’ What appears in consciousness is the

phenomenon or event that gives itself in lived experience” (van Manen, 2017, p. 811). It involves

a turning back to the experience as lived through in order to determine what the experience is


The challenge of phenomenology, then, is how to discover the essence or essential

structure of an experience, how to return to the prereflective, primordial experience. Cerbone

(2006) writes:

A guiding claim of phenomenology is that the structure of manifestation, of intentionality,

is neither arbitrary nor idiosyncratic; rather the claim is that there is an essential structure,

irrespective of whatever the causal underpinnings of experience turn out to be. A further

commitment at work in phenomenology’s concern to delineate the essential structures of

experience is that these structures must be delineated in such a way that they are

themselves made manifest in experience (p. 7).

While the essential structure is present in the experience itself, it is not a simple task to be able to

capture that prereflective experience, for “when we try to capture the ‘now’ of the living present

in an oral or written description, then we are already too late” (van Manen, 2014, p. 34). The

moment of reflection objectifies the experience and turns it “from the subjectivity of the living

presence into an object of reflective presence. No matter how hard we try, we are always too late

to capture the moment of the living now” (van Manen, 2014, p. 34). So if it is impossible to

actually capture the lived moment of experience, how does phenomenology determine the

essence of an experience?

Phenomenology as Method

van Manen (1990) notes: “to do research is always to question the way we experience the

world” (p. 5). This questioning is essential in the phenomenological method as phenomenology

does not aim to ascertain factual truth, but rather to explore possible truths.

Phenomenology is primarily a philosophic method for questioning, not a method for

answering or discovering or drawing determinate conclusions. But in this questioning

there exist the possibilities and potentialities for experiencing openings, understandings,

insights - producing cognitive and noncognitive or pathic perceptions of existentialities,

giving us glances of the meaning of phenomena and events in their singularity. (van

Manen, 2014, p. 29)

It involves a digging down through writing to the “raw” experience which is “prereflective,

nonreflective, or atheoretic” (van Manen, 2017, p. 812).

The basic method used in phenomenology to get to the lived meaning of experience is the

reduction, although there is not a prescribed method to be used in the reduction. van Manen

(2014) notes: “the reduction is not a technical procedure, rule, tactic, strategy, or a determinate

set of steps that we should apply to the phenomenon that is being researched” (p. 218). Unlike

other methodologies, phenomenology does not follow a specific procedure for “data” collection

and analysis. It is more about an “attentive tuning to the world” free from “presuppositions” (van

Manen, 2014, pp. 218, 220). Crowther, Ironside, Spence, & Smythe (2017) write: “hermeneutic

phenomenology is an ongoing, creative, intuitive, dialectical approach that challenges pre-

determined rules and research procedures, thus freeing us from dichotomous ‘right’ and ‘wrong’

ways of doing things” (p. 827), and, in fact, caution that “over reliance on method leaves what is

meaningful hidden and is antithetical to the pursuit of truth” (p. 829). Nonetheless,

phenomenological research, reflection, and writing typically follows the epoche-reduction

method introduced by Husserl and adapted by subsequent phenomenologists.

According to van Manen (2014), the reduction consists of two moves that both oppose

and complement one another. “Negatively it suspends or removes what obstructs access to the

phenomenon - this move is called the epoche or bracketing. And positively it returns, leads back

to the mode of appearing of the phenomenon - this move is called the reduction” (p. 215).

The negative reduction, or epoche of bracketing, in phenomenological research can take a

number of forms. The heuristic reduction, for example, “aims to awaken a profound sense of

wonder” by bracketing the “taken-for-grantedness” of the phenomenon (van Manen, 2014, p.

223). The hermeneutic reduction aims to avoid presuppositions by bracketing assumptions and

preunderstandings that “impinge on the reflective gaze” (van Manen, 2014, p. 224). The

experiential reduction brackets theoretical beliefs in order to explicate “concreteness or living

meaning” (van Manen, 2014, p. 25). The methodological reduction brackets “all conventional

techniques and seeks or invents and approach that might fit most appropriately the

phenomenological topic under study” (van Manen, 2014, p. 226). In each case, the epoche-

reduction “is the preparatory move of the method that involves opening up and freeing oneself

from obstacles that would make it impossible to approach the phenomena of our lifeworld” (van

Manen, 2014, p. 228).


The positive reduction most often takes the form of the eidetic or imaginative reduction.

The eidetic reduction involves imagining variations of the aspect of the phenomenon to the point

at which a variation will change the phenomenon into something else in order to reach the

essence of what makes this particular phenomenon what it is. The eidetic reduction is

accomplished through imagination and “by comparing the phenomenon with other related but

different phenomena” (van Manen, 2014, p. 230). Other forms of positive reduction include the

ontological reduction, which “consists of explicating the mode or ways of being that belong to”

something (van Manen, 2014, p. 231); the radical reduction, which aims to extricate the person

experiencing the phenomenon as much as possible to focus “only on the self that gives itself”

(van Manen, 2014, p. 234); and the inceptual reduction, which consists of “orienting to the

originary beginning of the phenomenon” or “the birth of meaning” of the phenomenon (van

Manen, 2014, pp. 235,236).

The final dimension of the phenomenological method is the vocative dimension, which

comes into play in the actual process of phenomenological writing, in which the researcher “aims

also to express the noncognitive, ineffable, and pathic aspects of meaning that belong to the

phenomenon” (van Manen, 2014, p. 240). The vocative method addresses the pathic or felt-

experience of the phenomenon.

Phenomenology as Writing

While phenomenology might serve as both theory and methodology, phenomenology is

primarily a writing activity. van Manen (2017) writes: “The problem for phenomenological

researchers is that a meaningful insight often cannot be secured through a planned systematic

method” rather “more profound phenomenological insights may only come in the process of

wrestling with writing and reflective rewriting - weighing every word for its cognitive weight

and vocative meaning” (p. 823). Phenomenological insights cannot happen without reading,

writing, and rewriting. It is also through the writing that the vocative dimension of

phenomenology comes into play.

van Manen (2014) writes: “The intent of writing is to produce textual ‘portrayals’ that

resonate and make intelligible the kinds of meaning that we seem to recognize in life as we live

it. There is an entire separate form of reduction that comes into play in the experience of

reflective writing: the vocative” (p. 221). The vocative dimension involves several methods. The

revocative “aims to bring experience vividly into presence” so that the reader can recognize the

experience unreflectively (van Manen, 2014, p. 241). The evocative method “lets the text speak

to us” so that “its reverberative meanings seduce us to attentive recognition” through strongly

embedded language (van Manen, 2014, p. 249). The invocative method “intensifies the

philological aspects of the text so that the worlds intensify their sense and sensuous sensibility”

(van Manen, 2014, p. 260). The convocative method “aims for the text to possess (em)pathic

power” so that the text speaks to the felt sense of the reader (van Manen, 2014, p. 267). And the

provocative method aims to provoke the reader to action by articulating “the kind of ethical

predicaments” that are represented in the phenomenon (van Manen, 2014, p. 281). In all of these

methods, the quality of the writing is key in producing an effective phenomenological text.

Writing phenomenologically, however, and arriving at phenomenological insights is no

easy task. As van Manen (2003) states:

To write is a solitary experience, a solitary and self-forgetful submersion in textual

reality. For the writer this is where insights occur, where words may acquire a depth of

meaning. But this is also the place where the writing shows its difficulties, where we find

out what language really is, where writing may become impossible, where language

ironically seems to rob us of the ability to say anything worth saying or saying what we

want to say. Strangely, in the space of the text our experience of language seems to

vacillate between transparency and impenetrability. One moment I am totally and self-

forgetfully entering this text - which opens up its own world. The next moment the

entrance seems blocked; or perhaps, I am re-entering the text with an acute awareness of

its linguistic obscurity and darkness. (p. 3)

Writing phenomenologically requires finding a language which is able to say the unsayable. It

requires an intensifying and thickening of language so that the layers of meaning become

strongly embedded within the text such that the text cannot be altered without changing or

destroying its sense.

One method of thickening language is through poetry. van Manen (2014) notes that

through poetry “the author tries to intensify the complexities and subtleties of meaning” (p. 291).

Repetition, alliteration, assonance, consonance, imagery, diction, sentence structure, rhyme,

rhythm - all add to the pathic sense of the text, the “epiphanic quality of language” that brings

about “phenomenological reverberation” (van Manen, 2007, p. 25). Gaston Bachelard (1971)

writes that “poetry supplies us with documents for a phenomenology of the soul” for the

language of poetry is “the language of souls” (p. 14). van Manen (2014) terms phenomenological

thinking as “poeticizing”, finding a language “that authentically speaks the world rather than

abstractly speaking of it”, a language “that reverberates the world” (p. 241).

In phenomenology, writing is both the process and the product. The writer writes their

way to insights and epiphanies but also produces a phenomenological text. And yet through the

writing, the writer also “produces himself or herself. The writer is the product of his or her own

product. Writing is a kind of self-making or forming” (van Manen, 2014, p. 365). The writing

mediates reflection and action; it distances us from the phenomenon and connects us with the

phenomenon; it objectifies and subjectifies; it shows us what have been given us to see.

Phenomenological research cannot be separated from phenomenological reading and writing.

Writing does not have a place in phenomenology; phenomenological reflective is writing.

Phenomenological Sources of Data

van Manen (2003) writes: “Phenomenology aims to produce texts that awaken a sense of

wonder about the order of what is ordinary. Wonder means seeing the extraordinary in the

ordinary” (p. 49). Thus any human experience serves as possible subject matter for

phenomenological reflection. The primary source of “data” (though it is not data in the

traditional sense) in phenomenological studies is the example. “Examples are experiential data

that require study, investigation, probing, reflection, analysis, interrogation” (van Manen, 2017,

p. 814). Examples represent a singular experience of “something knowable or understandable”

but not necessarily “directly sayable” (van Manen, 2017, p. 814). Phenomenology does not

attempt to generalize from the particular example, but rather uses the singularity of one

experience to point to the possibility of other similar experiences.

Phenomenological examples may come from a variety of sources: lived experience

descriptions, personal interviews, experiential anecdotes, experiential descriptions in literature

(prose narrative and poetry), biographies/autobiographies, diaries/journals, photographs, art, and

phenomenological literature. The most common phenomenological example is the lived

experience description. Lived experience descriptions focus on the truth of a particular

experience as it was lived, described from the inside. The researcher, however, may use the

process of “anecdoting” (van Manen, 2014, p. 250) to prepare powerful examples for

phenomenological reflection.

Anecdotes are short, simple stories that describe a single incident in concrete detail

without reflection. Anecdotes “explain things that resist straightforward explanation” and “bring

things into nearness by contributing to the vividness and presence of an experience” (van Manen,

2014, p. 251). A key element of the anecdote is punctum. van Manen (2014) writes: “a text

acquires punctum when an anecdote becomes a compelling narrative ‘example’ and claims the

power to stir us up . . . It helps us to ‘understand’ and experience something we do not know in

an intellectual sense” (p. 253). As Crowther, Ironside, Spence, & Smythe (2017) write: “Stories

crafted in hermeneutic phenomenology are thus a provocative and powerful means of evoking

shared pathic responses” and bringing “a sense of multi-perspectival wholeness and possibility

that exceeds, yet includes, individualized or specific details” and is always “a paradoxical play of

the many and the individual” (p. 827). The stories do not need to be factually true as they “do not

pretend to provide empirical, factually accurate accounts” but rather “a powerful ‘felt’ knowing

that is difficult to encapsulate” (Crowther, Ironside, Spence, & Smythe, 2017, p. 833), the

writing “becomes a showing” (van Manen, 2014, p. 48). It is through the specificity of the story

of a plausible experience that the researcher/reader is able to see the possibility of and reflect

upon that experience for themselves.

Phenomenological writing may be structured in a number of ways. One of the ways

insights and essences may be gleaned from and represented in phenomenological writing is

through exploring themes. Themes may be explored and isolated in a phenomenological story

through: a wholistic reading (considering the text as a whole), a selective reading (highlighting

particularly revealing statements), or a detailed reading (studying sentence by sentence) (van

Manen, 2014, p. 320). Writing thematically enables the researcher to simplify and focus the

experience in a way that captures and makes sense of the notion of the phenomenon (van Manen,

1990, pp. 87-88). Phenomenological writing may also be structured analytically (widening),

exemplificatively (using various examples), exegetically (working with other texts), existentially

(focusing on the existentials of time, space, body, and relationships), or through a hybrid or

invented form (van Manen, 1990, pp. 168-173). Just as the theory and methodology of

phenomenology are not fixed, so the writing preserves a flexibility to many potential forms

dependent on the subject matter.

History of Phenomenology

Original Methods

Though the essence of phenomenology does not change, the flexibility of

phenomenology as a theoretical and methodological framework has resulted in phenomenology

being interpreted in numerous ways. van Manen (2014) writes:

the influential thinkers who have presented diverse versions of phenomenological inquiry

do not just offer variations in philosophies or methods. They inevitably also offer

alternative and radical ways of understanding how and where meaning originates and

occurs in the first place. And yet, it is the search for the source and mystery of meaning

that we live in everyday life that lies at the basis of these various inceptual

phenomenological philosophies. (p. 22)

Phenomenology opens up the possibility for creativity and originality, and “each genuinely new

tradition instigated by an original thought or thinker is made possible by the continuous

creativity of phenomenology itself” (van Manen, 2014, p. 72).

One of the earliest philosophers to develop the field of phenomenology was Edmund

Husserl. Husserl was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1859 and taught at the

University of Leipzig and then the University of Freiburg in Switzerland. Husserl’s


phenomenology was a response to naturalism; “Husserl’s opposition to naturalism amounts to the

claim that there are truths and principles that the natural sciences presuppose, but for which they

themselves cannot account” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 14). Husserl views phenomenology as a “pure

discipline” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 12) which aims “to capture experience in its primordial origin or

essence, without interrupting, explaining, or theorizing” (van Manen, 2014, p. 89). It appeals

both to noesis, “the process of experiencing,” and noema, “the content experienced,” as well as

to “a third fundamental element of experience: the one whose experience it is, what Husserl

refers to as the ‘ego’” (Cerbone, 2006, pp. 31, 32). In Husserl’s phenomenology, the ego is“pure

ego” and “it is this pure or abstract sense of having that Husserl intends to explore within his

phenomenology” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 33). Husserl developed the key phenomenological methods

of the epoche, “the suspension or bracketing of the natural or everyday attitude”, and the

reduction, “the constitution of meaning” (van Manen, 2014, p. 91) and views phenomenological

reflection as a return “to the things themselves” (van Manen, 2014, p. 93). For Husserl “the

ultimate source of intelligibility seems to be the primal impressional stream of preconscious life

that becomes interpretively available to our understanding as lived experience” (van Manen,

2014, p. 95).

Martin Heidegger, born in Germany in 1889, met and studied under Husserl at Freiburg.

Husserl had hoped that Heidegger would be his successor but this was not to be the case.

Philosophical disagreements, including Heidegger’s rejection of the phenomenological

reduction, led to a falling out between the two in 1929. Heidegger’s phenomenology “is

subservient to what he calls ‘fundamental ontology’, which is centred on the ‘question of being’”

(Cerbone, 2006, p. 41). Heidegger’s phenomenology focused on experience as a function of

Dasein or being human, as Dasein is the only being that can question its own being. Heidegger

rejects the phenomenological reduction because “if phenomenology’s task is to explicate the

structure of Dasein’s pre-ontological understanding, then it must focus on Dasein’s activity,

which means in turn that phenomenology cannot proceed by bracketing or excluding entities”

(Cerbone, 2006, p. 44). Heidegger believes that “we are always submerged in meaning” (van

Manen, 2014, p. 108) and that “a form of understanding is always already involved in our

perception of the world” (Reynolds, 2006, p. 28) as Dasein is befindliechkeit or “already-in-the-

world” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 54). Heidegger believes the past, present, and future are all necessary

to Dasein’s way of being: past as “already-in-the-world” or “thrownness”, present as “being-

alongside” or “falling”, and future as “ahead-of-itself” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 53). Heidegger’s

understanding comes from recognition of the past and possibility of the future, which gives us

freedom in the present (Reynolds, 2006, p. 34). In terms of the future, Dasein is always “ahead

of itself” or projecting towards the future (Reynolds, 2006, p. 41). According to Heidegger,

because of our awareness as human beings that we are going to die, we “get a perspective on life

as a whole” (Reynolds, 2006, p. 43) and thus we see our “choices as mattering, as indelibly and

irrevocably shaping [our] finite allotment of time” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 64). For Heidegger, the

key was to be able to reflect on our everyday experience with the past, present, and future in

mind, and thus to be able to live authentically with ourselves and with others.

Other early phenomenologists include Max Scheler, Edith Stein, and Jan Patocka. Max

Scheler, born in Munich, Germany in 1874, became a phenomenologist after meeting Husserl in

1901, although his phenomenology took a different direction than Husserl’s, focusing on attitude

and “the manner in which I understand and exercise this attitude” (Scheler in van Manen, 2014,

p. 97). Scheler’s “injection of ethical and pathic elements into the very process of inquiry and

reflection” (van Manen, 2014, p. 100) became important to future phenomenologists, and, in

fact, Heidegger claimed that “phenomenology would not have become what it was if not for the

work of Max Scheler” (van Manen, 2014, p. 97). Edith Stein, born in Breslau in 1891, was also

influenced by Husserl and became his first assistant and graduate student. Stein was the first to

apply Husserl’s method of phenomenology to empathy because she believed that “the various

‘theories’ of empathy fall short of a phenomenological understanding of what the empathic

experience is actually like” (van Manen, 2014, p. 103). Stein “carefully and painstakingly

examines the meaning of empathy in relation to physical causes and psychological motives” (van

Manen, 2014, p. 103) and considers empathy as essential to forming community with others. Jan

Patocka, born in Czechoslovakia in 1907, also studied under both Husserl and Heidegger and

built on the works of both. Patocka believes “we are not just situated in the world; we are our

situatedness. We are our personal being in our purposes, projects, and possibilities” (van Manen,

2014, p. 111). He focuses on the embodied nature of experience and sees phenomenology as a

practical, personal reflection.

Multiple Methods

The field of phenomenology continued and continues to expand as more

phenomenologists focus on various different phenomena and create new ways of reflecting

phenomenologically to accommodate those phenomena.

Emmanuel Levinas, born in 1906 in Kovno, Russia, also studied under Husserl and was

introduced to Heidegger at Freiburg in 1929, around the time Husserl and Heidegger had their

falling out. Levinas became the first to introduce the works of Husserl and Heidegger to France

where he taught at the University of Poitiers, Nanterre University, and the Sorbonne, before

receiving a position at Freiburg. Levinas’ interpretation focuses on ethics and morality in our

relations with others. Levinas believes that we “do not encounter the other as a self who is in a

mutual relation with me as a self. Rather I pass over myself and meet the other in his or her true

alterity, an otherness that is irreducible to me or to my own interests in the world” (van Manen,

2014, p. 115). Thus we experience in meeting the other a call to “response-ability”, a situation

Levinas terms as being taken “hostage” (van Manen, 2014, p. 116). According to Levinas, the

other involves a “presentation that is ethical” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 148) and we have an “ethical

experience of responsibility in the face of the other” which is “absolute and prior to

consciousness” (van Manen, 2014, p. 117).

Differing from his predecessors, Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris, France in 1905, was a

public intellectual rather than an academic philosopher. Though he never met Husserl, Sartre

read Husserl and Heidegger, and interestingly, as Heidegger joined the Nazis, taught Heidegger

to fellow prisoners when as an officer in the French army he was imprisoned by occupying

German forces. Sartre’s phenomenology focuses on “the activity as experienced” and Sartre

would argue that the ego comes into play only as an object for reflection, that “the ego is a

transcendental object for consciousness” (Cerbone, 2006, pp. 74, 76). Sartre believes that an

object is a “being-in-itself”, a thing that simply is, where consciousness is a “being-for-itself” or

a “no-thing” (van Manen, 2014, p. 122) which is capable of reflecting on itself. Like Heidegger,

Sartre saw human existence as containing past, present, and future, our present determined by

our “facticity” or “accumulated history” and our “transcendence” or being “ahead-of-itself”

(Cerbone, 2006, p. 90). Sartre also believes we have full responsibility for our own decisions and

actions and are thus “condemned to freedom” (Cerbone, 2006, p. 68). According to Sartre:

Condemned to be free, conscious beings confront the world in terms of choices and

decisions, and so they must evaluate their actions in light of that freedom. To opt out of

the task of evaluation is once more a kind of bad faith, since doing so involves a refusal

to own up to the distinctive character of human existence. The task of phenomenology, by

contrast, is precisely to combat this refusal: to awaken the for-itself to its own

responsibility. (Cerbone, 2006, p. 94)

Unlike Heidegger, Sartre believes that it is not knowledge of our mortality that gives meaning to

life but rather that it is finitude and the inevitability that each choice precludes other choices,

hence the term “condemned to freedom” that actually gives meaning to life (Reynolds, 2006, p.


Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born in Rochefort-sur-Mer, France in 1908. Merleau-Ponty

studied Husserl and was more sympathetic in his reading of Husserl than others had been. His

phenomenology is essentially existential and he “aims for phenomenology to put Husserl’s

essences ‘back into existence’” (van Manen, 2014, p. 127). Merleau-Ponty returns to the notion

of the-things-themselves but sees our experience of things as an embodied experience. According

to Merleau-Ponty, “we know the world bodily and through our embodied actions. And in some

sense this is a preknowing knowing: we know our first first of all through our embodied being

rather than immediately in a disembodied intellectual manner” (van Manen, 2014, p. 128).

Because this preknowing knowing is so ingrained in our existence, ordinary experience is often

“transparent to us” and we often “look past our own experiences of things” (Cerbone, 2006, p.

121), thus Merleau-Ponty often uses pathological examples as a contrast to better understand our

everyday experience. A contemporary of Sartre’s, Merleau-Ponty differs from Sartre in his

understanding of freedom and believes that we are not entirely free but that freedom and

constraint are intertwined: “We are both constituted by the world and also serve to constitute it,

and consciousness retains both of the aspects” (Reynolds, 2006, p. 127) which leads to a sense of

ambiguity which is central to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology.


Other influential phenomenologists include Simone de Beauvoir (gender

phenomenology), Hans-George Gadamer (hermeneutic phenomenology), Paul Ricoeur (critical

phenomenology), Maurice Blanchot (literary phenomenology), Gaston Bachelard (oneiric-poetic

phenomenology), Hannah Arendt (political phenomenology), Jacques Derrida (deconstruction

phenomenology), Alphonso Lingis (ecological phenomenology), Jean-Luc Nancy (fragmentary

phenomenology), Giorgio Agamban (philological phenomenology), Jean-Luc Marion (radical

phenomenology), and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei (ecstatic-poetic phenomenology), among

others. The diversity of phenomenological approaches attests to both its flexibility and its

strength and rigor, and demonstrates that phenomenology is limited only by limits of possible

human experience.

Phenomenology and the Professions

Phenomenology also moved in a more practical than theoretical direction with

movements such as the Dutch or Utrecht School in the 1950s, a loosely connected group of

professionals from a number of fields whose aim is to “stay as close as possible to the ordinary

events of everyday life” (van Manen, 2014, p. 195). The Utrecht School is unique because it

approached phenomenology from a practical, professional interest, it rarely developed

methodological explications, and it used literary and artistic ingredients, and its writings

demonstrate a vivid narrative quality (van Manen, 2014, p. 197). The Utrecht School included

phenomenologists such as Martinus J. Langeveld (phenomenological pedagogy), Frederick J.

Buytendijk (phenomenology of medicine), Johan Hendrik van den Berg (phenomenology of

psychiatry), Nicolas Beets (phenomenological pediatrics), and Anthony Beekman

(phenomenology of minstering). Practical phenomenology also emerged at Duquesne University

in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s with psychologists such as Amadeo Giorgi and Clark

Moustakas. The Duquesne School is “especially known for publishing methodological models of

phenomenological and related qualitative research approaches that could be applied to the more

practical fields of counselling, spiritual ministering, therapy, and clinical psychology” (van

Manen, 2014, p. 210). Following in the tradition of both early phenomenologists and practical

phenomenology, Dutch-Canadian phenomenologist Max van Manen adopted the term

phenomenology of practice “to describe the development and articulation of meaning-giving

methods of phenomenology on the basis of practical examples” from the vast field of

phenomenological literature (van Manen, 2014, p. 212). It is to van Manen specifically that we

will now turn.

Max van Manen

Phenomenology of Practice

van Manen (2007) defines phenomenology of practice as “formative of sensitive practice,

issuing from the pathic power of phenomenological reflections” (p. 11), and states that, in fact,

“all phenomenology is oriented to practice - the practice of living” (p. 12). 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” (van Manen, 2007, p.

12). It “sees new thinking as an invitation to ‘openness,’ to be intrigued by the constantly

renewing and creative impulses of the search for the experience and origin of lived meaning and

the meaning of meaning in human life” (van Manen, 2014, p. 213). A phenomenology of practice

is not only an explication of the essence of human experiences but it is “the progress of

humanizing human life and humanizing human institutions to help human beings to become

increasingly thoughtful and thus better prepared to act tactfully in situations” (van Manen, 1990,

p. 21). Phenomenology of practice aims for deeper understanding, and through deeper

understanding, for better practice or better being in the world.

A phenomenology of practice “involves a different way of knowing the world. Whereas

theory ‘thinks’ the world, practice ‘grasps’ the world - it grasps the world pathically” (van

Manen, 2007, p. 20). Pathic understanding is felt understanding; the pathic sense “perceives the

world in a feeling or emotive modality of knowing and being” (van Manen, 2007, p. 21).

Heidegger captures the pathic sense in the notion of Befindlichkeit, which means “the way one

finds oneself” in the world (cited in van Manen, 2007, p. 21). Pathic knowing is embodied

knowing, involving our whole selves. van Manen (2007) writes: “The pathic dimensions of

practice are pathic precisely because they reside or resonate in the body, in our relations with

others, in the things of our world, and in our very actions” (p. 22). Often these modes of knowing

are so much a part of our lived experience that they seem invisible to us, outside of reflection.

Through phenomenology of practice, these seemingly invisible aspects of human experience can

be brought to light.

Phenomenology of Pedagogy

van Manen (1991) defines pedagogy as “excellence of teaching” (p. 30). It has, in the

contemporary sense, “to do with the personal relational and ethical aspects of teaching” (van

Manen, 2015, p. 11). It is, like phenomenology, “driven by pathic sensitivities” or “affects”

including “thoughtfulness, tact, sensitivity, and the ability to graph what goes on in the inner life

of the other” (van Manen, 2015, p. 42). According to van Manen (1979), “pedagogic thought and

practice rely on phenomenological analysis of what it is like to live as a young person in present-

day society” (p. 5). Through phenomenological pedagogical reflection the adult is able “to be

fundamentally accountable for his educative work with children” and also “to be accountable to

himself as a pedagogue” (van Manen, 1982, p. 283).

Pedagogy is a vocation, a calling, and phenomenological analysis of pedagogy “reveals

that the ontological dimension of pedagogy consists in a (re)cognition of the ‘being called upon

to educate’” (van Manen, 1982, p. 288). Pedagogical theorizing is:

the attempt to achieve phenomenological understanding which goes beyond language and

description. If pedagogical theorizing finds by means of language the means to speak of

the unspeakable, it is because the secret of our calling is expressed by that of the

pedagogic work we do with children, which teaches us to recognize the grounds that

make the work possible. (van Manen, 1982, p. 298)

Phenomenological pedagogy “asks ever and anew what is the isness, the essence of the

pedagogic experience” (van Manen, 1982, p. 288). Phenomenology helps bring to light what

means to be a pedagogue and what pedagogy means in our relationships with children. It “bids to

recover reflectively the grounds which, in a deep sense, provide for the possibility of our

pedagogic concerns with children” (van Manen, 1982, p. 298). Phenomenological pedagogy

requires an attentiveness to our being with children and an attentiveness to the inner lives of the

children with whom we live. It is phenomenological reflection which “gives life or spirit to

(inspires) our pedagogic life” by helping us to “recollect that which is already possessed by us”

which we “recognize as potentialities and actualities of being” (van Manen, 1982, p. 298).

Through pedagogical phenomenology, we come to know ourselves as pedagogues.


Phenomenological Writings on Pedagogy

Pedagogical Tact

According to van Manen, one of the essential elements of pedagogy is pedagogical tact.

Pedagogical tact is “an expression of the responsibility with which we are charged in protecting,

educating, and helping children grow” and it is “always in the service of the person toward

whom the tact is directed” (van Manen, 1991, pp. 128, 138). It is the external aspect of

pedagogy, predicated by the internal aspect of pedagogical thoughtfulness.

Pedagogical tact cannot be planned but occurs in the moment in response to a call by the

child. It “materializes itself in concrete situations in which we are confronted by the Other caught

in his or her own stream of experience” (Westfall-Greiter & Schwarz, 2012, p. 127). It requires a

sensitivity to what is happening with a particular child in a particular moment. van Manen (2015)

calls this moment the Kairos moment:

Since ancient times a Kairos moment has been described as a transformative moment of

chance depending on our ability and willingness to seize the opportunity that is offered

within it. Kairos moments are pure, perfect, unpredictable, and uncontrollable moments

that possess possibility. Kairos moments may yield insights and clarity but are often

brought on by pain, agony, and feelings of frustration and desperation. Kairos moments

force us to be absolutely present to ourselves and to the meaning and significance of what

we are facing. (p. 52)

Pedagogical tact acts always in the Kairos moment. It is “contingent, immediate, situational,

improvisational” and requires thinking that is active “emotionally, responsively, thoughtfully”

(van Manen, 2015, p. 82). It requires a thoughtfulness and perceptiveness that is both reflective

and prereflective.

Pedagogical tact is also individual and relational. It “is respectful of the individual” while

also being “mindful of educational goals” (Westfall-Greiter & Schwarz, 2012, p. 129). It

“attempts to do justice to the child’s individuality” in a “case-specific matter that cannot be

generalized or abstracted” (Westfall-Greiter & Schwarz, 2012, p. 130). Pedagogical tact is a

response to a specific call, articulated or unarticulated, by a specific child in a specific situation,

and it is exercised in “an active and expressively caring concern for the child” (van Manen, 1991,

p. 172). van Manen (2015) terms this caring concern as “care-as-worry” - a worry which echoes

the worry a parent would have for their child (p. 179).

Pedagogical tact manifests itself in numerous ways in our being with children. It may be

manifest through action - a word, a gesture, a look - or it may be manifest through a holding back

and exercising of patience to allow the child to work through a challenge independently in order

to preserve the child’s space. It is “not subject to rules” though it is “not ‘unruly’ or arbitrary”; it

is “governed by a moral intuitiveness that cannot be indiscriminately taught, yet it can be

stimulated and strengthened in individuals who are sensitive to its aims” (van Manen, 2015, p.

92). It requires a reflectiveness such that past pedagogical experiences enable the teacher “to

enrich, to make more thoughtful [any] future pedagogical experience” (van Manen, 1991, p.

205), thus enabling the teacher to “know what to do when they don’t know what to do” (van

Manen, 2015, p. 190).

Pedagogical Seeing

Essential to pedagogical tact is pedagogical seeing, as “seeing is the background of our

acting” (Saevi & Foran, 2012, p. 52). Like pedagogical tact, seeing “is unaware of itself in the

moment of seeing, and thus must be reflected on to be consciously addressed” (Saevi & Foran,

2012, p. 55). Pedagogical seeing requires bringing children, who often “live backstage” and are

“not reflectively noticed” (Saevi & Foran, 2012, p. 57) to the foreground of our thought and

reflection. For the teacher, seeing must become an innate way of knowing the world. As Saevi &

Foran (2012) note:

Seeing someone or something, however, is not synonymous with reflective knowing. The

lived experience of seeing a student in the pedagogical encounter is not the same as

having knowledge about students, pedagogy, or teaching. Even though most teachers do

have a great deal of professional and personal knowledge in regards to students, subjects,

and pedagogical practice, cognitive and professional knowledge are secondary to the

experience of actually seeing students as a way of relating and existing. Seeing and being

seen, in the pedagogical encounter are experiential phenomena that help us understand

the meaning of the special relationship between teacher and student. A teacher’s seeing, is

an immediate, sensed and embodied lived experience that is prior to reflective

knowledge. While knowing students is a cognitive and conscious area of the teacher’s

professional practice, experiencing the students, is related to sensing and understanding

them in a more profound and prereflective way. (p. 60)

Pedagogical seeing is embodied seeing, involving the whole self of the teacher and seeing the

whole self of the child.

Pedagogical seeing necessitates notice, from noscere, to know. But “being seen is more

than being acknowledged. For a child it means experiencing being seen by the teacher. It means

being confirmed as existing, as being a unique person and a learner” (van Manen, 2002, p. 31).

Pedagogic seeing is manifest to students through pedagogical recognition. Recognize “comes

from the Latin recognoscere, which translates as to ‘acknowledge, recall to mind, know again,

examine, certify’” (Carabajo, 2010, p. 9). It inheres both a prior knowing and a renewed

knowing. It is welcoming of the other and cares for the uniqueness of the other.

Pedagogical recognition is essential because it enables the child to recognize themselves.

Carabajo (2010) warns that “not recognizing a child or youngster is to deny them this knowledge

of their personal capabilities and possibilities” (p. 11). Recognition from an educator is often

what children most remember and appreciate. However, failure to recognize a student, either

through non-recognition or mis-recognition, can also have significant impact. Saevi & Foran

(2012) caution that “moments of non-recognition likely pedagogically mean more to students

than we as teachers might believe possible” (p. 58). Every action or non-action in our lives with

children has an impact. As van Manen (2015) emphasizes: “We know that we cannot not

influence our children” (p. 123). By seeing and giving recognition to each of the children with

whom we live, we are “helping to give the full value to a child” (Carabajo, 2010, p. 15).

Pedagogical Touch

Pedagogical tact also necessitates touch. van Manen (2015) writes: “To teach is to touch

and be touched” (p. 103). The idea of touch in teaching often raises serious concerns as a result

of stories of inappropriate touching; however, pedagogical touch is both appropriate and

necessary. As van Manen (2012) notes: “The teacher touches the student with his or her voice,

eyes, gestures, and presence. To say it more pointedly: a real teacher touches the students with

his or her being and mind” (p. 22). van Manen (2012) also refers to this as “as soul [touching] a

soul” (p. 24).

One of the most prevalent ways in which we touch others is with the eyes. van Manen

(2012) writes: “Teachers who are blessed with pedagogical sensitivity seem able to ‘touch’

students with their eyes in a tactful manner” (p. 24). Smith (2012) calls this the “caress of the

eyes” and notes that in this moment “one notices a relaxation of the teacherly position, an

absence of self-consciousness, a self-abnegation, or better still, a transcendence of self in the

direction of the child” (p. 72). Teachers also touch with their voice, “letting one’s voice sooth and

assuage an otherwise difficult or even painful situation” (Smith, 2012, p. 72). The tone of voice

and choice of words can touch students in a negative or a positive way. van Manen (2012)


How does one find the right tone, the right words for each child? That is surely the

question that is at the heart of our pedagogic lives. The teacher’s task is not merely to

find an opening, a way of reaching the child. As if it is not difficult enough to detect what

language, what words, what gesture, what kind of tone can breach the barriers that

separate any particular child’s world from an adult’s understanding and good intentions.

The teacher must also do something with the language. The teacher’s aim is not to battle,

to penetrate, to violate the child’s inner nature; rather the teacher’s intent is pedagogic, to

establish a pedagogical relation wherein it is possible to distinguish what is good and

what is not good for the child. (p. 20)

Through eyes, words, tone, gestures, teachers form the relationships necessary to be

pedagogically with children.

While touch through eyes, words, tone, and gestures are deemed appropriate, physical

touch is often deemed inappropriate. Smith (2012), however, would argue for an “embodied

ethics” (p. 66) in which the physical caress is also essential. Smith (2012) notes that:

To embrace a child is to accent, even more profoundly than most other gestures, this

inherent power of linking ‘a here and a yonder,’ a present and a future, because that

which provides such a link is the memorable resonance in the initiation of the gesture.

That instant is, there and then, here and now, ‘the measure of my existence’ that I enact in

the unfolding of the embrace, and its compass can be judged by its responsivity to and

allowance for the child to be more fully himself or herself. (p. 68)

I can remember at my staff meeting during my teaching practicuum at an elementary school the

principal admonishing the teachers not to be fearful of touch but to embrace the child who is

seeking an embrace because it might be the only one that they will receive. van Manen (2012)

also reminds us that:

Some students suffer through our schools, day after day, week after week, month after

month, while none of their teachers has an inkling of the daily drowning desperation that

is the consequence of having lost touch with lessons, not being noticed, not being

understood, and not being worried about. (p. 16)

These are the students most in need of the pedagogical touch, and sometimes that touch must be

manifest physically.

A lived experience description taken from Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man (2006)

provides an example of the affective impact of the caress for both the student and the teacher:

Phyllis wrote an account of how her family gathered the night Neil Armstrong

landed on the moon, how they shuttled between the living room television and the

bedroom where her father lay dying. Back and forth. Concerned with the father, not

wanted to miss the moon landing. Phyllis said she was with her father when her mother

called to come and see Armstrong set foot on the moon. She ran to the living room,

everyone cheering and hugging till she felt this urgency, the old urgency, and ran to the

bedroom to find her father dead. She didn’t scream, she didn’t cry, and her problem was

how to return to the happy people in the living room to tell that Dad was gone.

She cried now, standing in front of the classroom. She could have stepped back to

her seat in the front row and I hoped she would because I didn’t know what to do. I went

to her. I put my left arm around her. But that wasn’t enough. I pulled her to me, embraced

her with both arms, let her sob into my shoulder. Faces around the room were wet with

tears till someone called, Right on, Phyllis, and one or two clapped and the whole class

clapped and cheered and Phyllis turned to smile at them with her wet face and when I led

her to her seat she turned and touched my cheek and I thought, This isn’t earthshaking,

the touch on the cheek, but I’ll never forget it: Phyllis, her dead father, Armstrong on the

moon. (p. 244)

Smith (2012) writes about the “eternity in the moment” which the caress affects; it is “about the

‘purity’ or goodness of the caress and not just its lingering affect, which surely wanes. Eternity in

the moment is the inherent sense of goodness, rightness, appropriateness, tactfulness and

thoughtfulness that gives the caress its lasting effect” (p. 78). We can never know the lasting

impacts pedagogical touch might have in the lives of our students.

Pedagogical Hope

The final essential element of pedagogical tact is hope. van Manen (2015) writes that

“those of us who live with children cannot afford to be so nihilistic; we cannot abandon the

pedagogical place we occupy in the lives of our children. Children are hope” (p. 191). And yet

we must also have hope for our children. According to van Manen (2015), “Hope refers to all

that gives us patience, tolerance, and belief in the possibilities for our children. Hope is our

experience of the child’s possibilities” (p. 192). Hope dwells in the past, the present, and the

future. It sees what the child has been, what they are, and what they might become. It also

“dwells in the more distant future; in an open time” (Carabajo, 2012, p. 145). Hope opens up

possibilities for our children both now and in the future.

Despite the challenges and frustrations teacher face, hope remains. Hope is born of the

relationships which teachers have with students, of our care and affection for our students, and of

the desire for pedagogical goodness. It is patient and realistic, and it “generates expectations.

Expectations, which are essentially positive, and upon which somebody else can imagine and

construct” (Carabajo, 2012, p. 148). Hope imbues us with a sense of wonder, the ability to see

“the everyday victories” of our students which never cease to surprise and amaze us (Carabajo,

2012, p. 144). Children “need to see and feel our wonderment” (Carabajo, 2012, p. 144) just as

they need to see and feel our hope for them. Sadly,

we know that there are still many children marked by misfortune and suffering who carry

a world on their shoulders that is too heavy for them to carry. We also know that there are

teachers who put themselves on the line to reach them and help them have a better future.

They are adults who actively work to maintain their hope knowing that, perhaps, they are

the only ones who have any hope for these children and young people. (Carabajo, 2012,

p. 150)

To give up hope would be to give up on our students. And “a teacher who gives up on a child,

who no longer knows how to have a sense of hope for that child, immediately steps back from

being a teacher” (van Manen, 2002, p. 65). As teachers, we must never lose hope.

Phenomenology and Other Methodologies

Phenomenology and Narrative Inquiry

Phenomenology is a writing activity. It may not only find its “data” in literature but it

also shows the phenomena through story. As van Manen (1990) notes, through good literature

“we are given the chance of living through an experience that provides us with the opportunity of

gaining insight into certain aspects of the human condition” (p. 70). Phenomenological writing is

not concerned with veritas truth, which is pragmatic, technical, bureaucratic, certain, right, and

just, but with aletheia truth which involved self-showing and hiding, felt experience of truth, and

meaningfulness (van Manen, 2014, pp. 342-343). Literature also invokes this “felt-sense” that

connects with “our deepest, pre-reflective experience” (Howard, 2010, p. 59). This “felt-sense” is

what gives meaning and insight in our reading of a text, both through phenomenological writing

and through literature.

Narrative inquiry is “an ongoing process of understanding how we invest space and

chronology with significance. In constructing stories to explain and account for our lived

experience, we transpose space into place, and objective time into subjective time” (Leggo ,

2008, p. 15). It is through stories, through narrative, that we recount our lived experience which

is so essential to phenomenological insight and understanding. Leggo (2008) writes:

We are awash in stories. We are epistemologically and ontologically engaged in using

stories as an integral way to sort who we are as people in relation to other people. We are

all creatively engaged in processes of identity formation and transformation by attending

to stories. Everybody lives stories, all the time, and everybody attends to the stories of

others. (p. 3)

Through stories we come to understand ourselves and we come to understand others. Sameshima

(2007) states: “stories whether fiction or non-fiction, provide examples of how others see and

live within stories” (p. 51). van Manen (1990) also notes: “We gather other people’s experiences

because they allow us to become more experienced ourselves” (p. 62) for “one’s own

experiences are the possible experiences of others and . . . the experiences of others are the

possible experiences of oneself” (p. 58). Stories offer us multiple possible truths and plausible

scenarios in a manner that engages our whole body. Vickers (2010) notes:

Fiction can offer us the possibility of vicarious experience that may be more likely than

an objective account to resonate with our feelings, to enable us to sympathize with

another person, and is, perhaps, the closest we might come to being able to see the truth

of another person’s experience without actually being the person. (p. 563)

Through stories we come to see and understand the many and varied experiences which are part

of the human condition.

Narrative inquiry, like phenomenology, is also a process of writing and rewriting. Leggo

(2004) writes: “I need to return often to the stories I have lived in order to know the stories in

their multiplicity, meaning-making possibilities, and mystery” (p. 109). No story is a simple

story. “Any story we tell will always be a fragment of the complex and wide-ranging experiences

that each of us lives daily” (Leggo, 2004, p. 98) and yet “through interpretation finds connection

to a whole” (MacDonald & Wiebe, 2011, p. 100). Crowther, Ironside, Spence, & Smythe (2016)

note: “Hermeneutic phenomenology accepts that phenomena are never fully concealed or

unconcealed” and thus each story is “understood as holding multiple meanings and further

uncovering of the phenomena” (p. 828). MacDonald and Wiebe (2011) also write that:

lived experiences in their interconnections have a kind of wholeness, a kind of coherence,

an ongoing sense of relationship: even when interpreting (or seeking) an event or an

object, researchers looks for an explanation, and in so doing an event become a

phenomenon, a theme, perhaps even a discovery. (p. 100)

And “looking into the mirror of narrating a lived experience allows a further account of the

fragments we unearth (and produce) in our speculations and shifting contexts of meaning”

(MacDonald & Wiebe, 2011, p. 101). Through our stories, written and rewritten, we become

more human.

In both phenomenological writing and narrative inquiry, language matters. How the story

is told is as significant as the story itself. In phenomenological writing, one must “enter the dark,

the space of the text, in the hope of seeing what cannot really be seen, hearing what cannot really

be heard, touching what cannot really be touched” (van Manen, 2014, p. 371). Through

phenomenological writing, “the writer uses words to uncover a truth that seems almost within

reach” and “creates a space that belongs to the unsayable” (van Manen, 2006, pp. 717, 718).

Phenomenology requires good writing, as does narrative inquiry. Sameshima and Leggo (2014)

refer to this as “the art of discourse,” and emphasize that researchers using narratives “should

attend to language and the rhetoric of story-making” (p. 541). Leggo (2004) also notes that

“there is a need to expand the possibilities of narrative inquiry by paying more attention to the

ways that language and rhetoric shape both narration and understanding” (pp. 100-101). Writing,

phenomenologically or narratively, takes practice, time, and openness, and requires specific

attention to language.

Phenomenology and Poetic Inquiry

Phenomenology’s connection with poetic inquiry also has to do with attention to

language. Galvin & Todres (2009) write that “language informed by a poetic sensibility appears

to be most adequate when attending to a continuity between the felt sense and words that can do

justice to what is felt to some degree” (p. 312). The language of poetry “deeply describes

existential dimensions of experience” in a way that facilitates “resonance, a sense of our

common humanity with others, and an emotional homecoming” (Galvin & Todres, 2009, p. 309).

Bachelard (1971) sees poetry as “one of the destinies of speech” (p. 3) and as such “because of

the privileged position which phenomenology gives the present, we have been ready to welcome

with open arms the new images offered by the poet” (p. 4).

Poetry in particular enhances the vocative dimension of phenomenological writing.

Poetry has punctum. “A poet’s words can pierce us” (Wittgenstein cited in Zwicky, 2003, p. 55).

van Manen (2014) writes:

the author tries to intensify complexities and subtleties of meaning through poetic or

rhetoric devices and through a careful weighing of words and word combinations while

remaining attuned to the usage of words and to the possible augmenting and distorting

effects that words may have on each other when they are composed and composted,

placed side by side, and commingled in fertile combinations. Moreover, repetition of

sensed qualities, through devices such as alliteration, assonance, consonance, diction,

sentence structure, repetition, and imagery, contribute an acoustic richness, an audible

imagery to the text. (p. 291)

Poetic language is powerful. Poetry “speaks languages that are not necessarily readily

translatable” (Leggo, 2012, p. 152). It “constitutes a way to say things evocatively and to say

those things that may not be presented at all” (Faulkner, 2012, p. 301). Like phenomenology,

“poetry’s work is the clarification and magnification of being” which enables us to enter “a

different mode of know” (Hirshfield cited in Butler-Kisber, 2012, pp. 142-143). Poetry is

inquiry: “inquiry into what it means to be human - experience, feeling, imagination, memory,

desire - human in relation with the self, with others, with the earth . . . The work of poetry is to

deepen understanding, to provoke thought, enable empathy, and sometimes provoke action”

(Sullivan, 2012, p. 94). Phenomenological insights rely on a poeticizing of language.


Why Phenomenology?

So why have I chosen phenomenology as the theoretical and methodological framework

for my research? One of the aspects of phenomenology that appeals to me as a writer is that it is

essentially a writing activity in which insights are gleaned through the process of writing and

rewriting. In fact, “it is critical to insist on the inseparableness of phenomenological research

from phenomenological writing or textual reflection” (van Manen, 2014, p. 389). Through the

use of lived experience descriptions, phenomenology enables me to write autobiographically and

to examine my own story, but also to use others’ life stories gathered through their writing,

interviews, literature, and art. In its connection with narrative and poetic inquiry,

phenomenological writing also lends itself to creative representations. van Manen (2014) writes:

“Phenomenology craves creativity” (p. 72). Phenomenological writings may take various forms,

such as poetry, narrative fiction, and creative non-fiction, but may also “involve the visual and

auditory languages of images, art, cinema, or music” (van Manen, 2014, p. 389).

While it is a rigorous study, phenomenology is also gentle in its presentation. The

language of phenomenology is academic yet accessible, which is important if educational

research is to be read by teachers working in classrooms with students. It questions rather than

seeking concrete answers, and yet it is powerful, often evoking action through its vocative

nature. It is reflective, mindful, and attentive, and creates a reflective and open attitude in both

the writer and the reader. Through phenomenological reflection, I am able to gain a better

understanding of human existence and experience, including a better understanding of myself. As

van Manen (2014) notes, through phenomenological writing “we may deepen and change

ourselves in ways we cannot predict” (p. 20).


Just as becoming a writer has had a significant positive impact on my teaching, already I

can see how developing a phenomenological attitude and opening myself to phenomenological

reflection has impacted my pedagogical thoughtfulness and tact as I reflect upon and question

my ways of being with my students, always seeking ways in which I can better serve my

students. As I explore what it means to partake in story-sharing in the classroom, writing

combined with a phenomenological attitude will only serve to continue to strengthen both my

research and my pedagogy.


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