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Phenomenology

Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced and is in the process of being published, first on OnlineFirst of JCE.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography – Special Issue: Phenomenology-based Ethnography

Table of Content

Dirk vom Lehn and Ronald Hitzler – Phenomenology-based Ethnography: Introduction to the Special Issue

Abstract

The article provides the background and rationale for the Special Issue. It explains the origins of phenomenology-based ethnography in Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the life-world and points to some recent development in this approach that is of particular importance in sociology in German-speaking countries. It finishes with a brief introduction to the articles of the issue.

Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler – Life-World-Analytical Ethnography: A Phenomenology-Based Research Approach

Abstract

Life-world-analytical ethnography aims to investigate the subjective perspective—the life-worlds—of other people. Life-world-analytical ethnography is based on the premise that any world which is not apprehended as a life-world—that is, as the totality of a world that is subjectively experienced—is a fiction. For we do not, in fact, have any knowledge of a world that is not subjectively experienced—of the world per se, as it were. The investigation of one’s own life-world is a difficult program in itself, a program that mundane phenomenology, in particular, endeavors to pursue. However, the investigation of the life-worlds of other actors calls for numerous additional precautions and measures. This article discusses the origins and foundations as well as particular challenges of life-world-analytical ethnography.

Thomas S. Eberle – Exploring another’s subjective life-world: A phenomenological approach

Abstract

Regarding the relationship between phenomenology and the social sciences, significantly different traditions exist between German-speaking countries and the Anglo-Saxon world, which create many misunderstandings. Phenomenology is not just a research method; in its origin, it is a philosophy and has epistemological and methodological implications for empirical research. This essay pursues several goals: First, some basic tenets of Husserl’s phenomenology and Schutz’s mundane life-world analysis are restated. Second, an approach of “phenomenological hermeneutics” is presented that complies with the postulate of adequacy and aspires to understand other people’s life-worlds more profoundly than the widely accepted research practice of treating interview transcripts as data. The methodical procedure is illustrated using selected pieces from a case study of a patient who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became severely disoriented. Third, some crucial implications of such an approach are discussed in regard to a phenomenology-based ethnography.

Siegfried  Saerberg – Chewing accidents: A phenomenology of visible and invisible everyday accomplishments

Abstract

This article compares two variations of bodily practices and bodily-grounded orientations and systems of relevance: the blind and the sighted life-worlds. Blindness is conceptualized as a particular style of perception being in no way a deficit but on equal footing with sight. Comparison will show differences and commonalities that may give a deeper insight into how bodily and sensory orientation and practice work in a mundane situation. This situation is feeding behavior and in particular its failure in “Chewing Accidents” focusing on three variations: tongue biting, swallowing a wasp, and biting on a cherry pit. Data are taken from participant observation, focused interviews, and online sources such as blogs and medical forums. By virtue of a detailed phenomenological description of chewing behavior, the article shows that blindness is not the contradiction of sight and vice versa. Invisibility is an element of the everyday life-world, with the latter being dependent on dark areas.

Michaela Pfadenhauer and Tilo Grenz – Uncovering the Essence: The Why and How of Supplementing Observation with Participation in Phenomenology-Based Ethnography

Abstract

Participation in phenomenology-based ethnography is about involvement and “doing-it-yourself,” which generates data derived from immediate experience that can contribute to the reconstruction of the internal viewpoint by uncovering the essence of a phenomenon. This phenomenological orientation is the main focus of interest of the present paper. Based on reflections on the ethnographer as a participant who voluntarily assumes the role of the stranger, we demonstrate how observation can be supplemented with participation. We exemplify it with an ongoing research project on the deployment of a so-called social robot in dementia care. Our aim is to show that a subjective perspective, which does not claim to be superior but rather to be of value in its own right, increases the knowledge yield.

Dariuš Zifonun – Posttraditional Migrants: A Modern Type of Community

Abstract

This article analyses the participation of migrants in sport. Based on the case study of a Turkish soccer club in Germany, it scrutinizes the structural and processual features of ethnic self organization. The club responds to the problems of social order in modern complex societies—problems emanating from the pluralization of social life-worlds—by employing a number of characteristic answers. Among them are the segmentation into sub-worlds, the composition of an integrative ideology of friendship as well as the creation of a soccer style. In processes of legitimation and delegitimation, questions of belonging and recognition are being negotiated. All of this allows for the management of ambivalence in everyday life and contributes to the distinctively posttraditional character of community. The article suggests that a sociology of social worlds approach can substantially contribute to the study of the interactive social structures of society.

Hubert Knoblauch and Bernt Schnettler – Video and Vision: Videography of a Marian Apparition

Abstract

In this article, we sketch the field of qualitative video-analysis and locate videography within this. Instead of presenting the methods of videography formally, we illustrate the application of this method in a particular field: Marian apparitions occurring in a German town in 1999, captured live on video. The presentation of the method in this paper follows a general methodological structure. (1) We first outline the ethnographic context of the setting in which the video-recordings were made. This context includes actors, religious associations, and locations as well as some aspects of the apparitional events’ historical genesis. (2) We then turn to look at the performance of the Marian vision as recorded in the video. By applying sequential analysis, we roughly identify a temporal order to the event, which exhibits an interesting deviation from earlier forms of apparitions due to the way it takes a subjectively “spiritual” form. This finding leads us to finally (3) address the role of the subjective perspective that, as we argue, is a further essential dimension of videography. It is on this level that we are made aware of the relevance of the life-world as a methodological background for the kind of interpretive social science that takes the actor’s perspective into account.

Paul Eisewicht & Heiko Kirschner – Giving in on the Field: Localizing Life-World Analytic Ethnography in Mediatized Fields

Abstract

This article proposes a differentiation of ethnographic research by theoretical paradigm, methodological stance, and scientific purpose. Following these categories, we specify life-world-analytical ethnography as originating from the (subject-centered) action theory with an emphasis on observational participation, an affirmative–descriptive attitude toward the research, as well as the implementation of data gathered by personal experience and its interactive verification within the field. Furthermore, we address the challenges ethnographers are facing when conducting their research in mediatized fields and illustrate the advantages of a life-world analytical approach on our case of online-livestreams and videogaming. We thereby introduce the concept of passing to methodologically expand this approach.

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Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced…

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There is an interesting piece by the Nobel Prize Winner (2000) Eric R. Kandel in the New York Times.Titled “What the Brain Can Tell US About Art” Kandel’s piece contributes to discussions about art that have been going on for at least a decade now in the ‘science of the brain’. I remember vividly coming across Ramachandran and Hirstein’s article “The Science of Art” that pursues a similar argument as Kandel’s essay: by studying processes in the brain we can learn something about art itself. Kandel discusses some aspects of the emergence of this idea by briefly discussing the concept of the “beholder’s involvement” or “beholder’s share” as developed by Alois Riegl of the Vienna School of Art History, the teacher of Ernst Kris and Ernst Gombrich.

As part of the argument Kandel suggests that the brain completes  incomplete information s/he has received from the outer world. Interpretation of art therefore is a cognitive process through which the ‘beholder’ “recapitulates in his or her own brain the artist’s creative steps”. Furthermore, he argues that because our brains develop in much the same ways we are able to “see the world in pretty much the same way”. He thereby lodges intersubjectivity within  individual brains and presumes that intersubjectivity is a result of processes in the brain. Whilst he acknowledges that individual differences between people exist due to their individual life experience (“memories”) he ignores the situation in which people encounter works of art or other objects and how the specifics of that situation influences how people make sense of the pieces.

One situation in which people often encounter works of art are exhibitions in museums and galleries. When they examine a piece they are often with friends or acquaintances and in the presence of other people who spend time in the same gallery at the same time. The actions of all these people are perceiveable by all those in range and influence how they explore the galleries, what they look and for long and how they see and make sense of it. In museums, the individual spectator or ‘beholder’ is a myth that we rarely meet. For example, people stop at and examine works of art together. They stand with a companion side-by-side and sometimes, ‘independently’, at least for a short while, look to the piece. As their eyes cross the canvas, for instance of a famous Rembrandt portrait, something like Kandel’s version of interpretation might happen. But often already after two or three seconds one of them will refer to and comment on a particular exhibit feature that then for a short moment becomes the focus of the interaction between the pair. They briefly talk about the feature and then either return to an ‘independent’ inspection of the piece or leave the exhibit to continue with their exploration of the museum elsewhere.

The short moment when the two people align their perspectives to look a particular exhibit feature together and discuss it is when something is produced, momentarily, that we might call intersubjectivity. It is not lodged inside the people’s brains but the product of their oral and bodily actions. A moment later when the action stops the intersubjective sense making of the piece dissolves and the people continue their visit of the museum.

When calling the examination of the piece prior to the interactional engagment ‘independent’ I did not presume that the actions at the exhibit-face were arising separate from each other. Rather while the eyes cross the canvas of the painting the visitors are aware of each other and attend to even slight changes in posture and head direction as well as even to slight movements of the legs and feet that may display or foreshadow a shift in activity. ‘Independent’ and ‘individual’ therefore are not appropriate terms to describe even those moments when people  stand and look at exhibits while standing side-by-side without talking.

Essays like Kandel’s or Ramachandran and Hirstein’s article reflect how we think about looking at and interpreting art. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has become a folk description of aesthitic judgments. Interestingly however the statement is often used to account for differences in aesthetic judgment and not to display intersubjective agreement about aesthetics. Kandel’s point also resonates with us as readers who sit there individually ‘interpreting’ a text that in this moment is not available to others. I read the piece in an armchair while nobody else was around in the house. Imagine the article printed on a large poster or series of posters and being read by people in pairs. Maybe like those visitors facing Rembrandt’s portrait they would stop half-way through, discuss and maybe disagree about Kandel’s claim that intersubjectivity arises in our brains.

Essays and books like Kandel’s (2012) “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconsciousness in Art, Mind and Brain, From Vienna 1900 to the Present” are fascinating reads. However, I wonder when the time will come that this kind of brain science will leave the laboratory and be made relevant where ‘the rubber hits the road’ or where people with brains, bodies and the ability to communicate and interact face works of art.