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The Descriptive Phenomenological Psychological Method

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Phenomenology is a philosophy that began in 1900 with the publication of Logical Investigations by Edmund Husserl (1970). In that work Husserl introduced a novel way of examining and studying the phenomenon of consciousness. It should be remembered that psychology was founded in 1879 as the science of consciousness by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig. Wundt pursued the study of consciousness primarily by the use of empirical methods. Later, when the behaviorist movement (Watson, 1913), dominated the field, positivistic approaches became dominant. These approaches made sense because both empiricism and positivism, historically, were philosophies associated with scientific investigations: empiricism since the seventeenth century and positivism since the nineteenth century. Since phenomenology was the most recent philosophy to support scientific endeavors, and its criteria and emphases differ from those of empiricism or positivism, it has not been easily assimilated by psychology. It has taken time for psychologists to respond to what it has to offer. The exception that proves the rule is the impact that it had on the Würzburg experiments on thinking (Humphrey, 1963) that took place in the first decade of the twentieth century. Like most intellectual movements phenomenology is not all of one piece. While Husserl laid out the main dimensions of the phenomenological movement, almost every follower of his deviated from him in some manner or other. Since there are a variety of phenomenological interpretations one should not be surprised that several interpretations of the phenomenological method have taken place within psychology. In this chapter we will detail one way in which psychologists have adapted an articulation of the philosophical phenomenological method for its scientific purposes and only briefly describe some other interpretations without any effort at evaluation. In a previous version of this chapter we offered a mostly historical and theoretical explication of the phenomenological movement in psychology. We covered the various interpretations of the meaning of phenomenology when applied to psychology. While including a synopsis of this historical review ahead, this new chapter is intended as an example that demonstrates how the method can be concretely applied to descriptive data, but we urge that it not be construed as a completed research project. Examples of complete contemporary applications will be referenced at the very conclusion. But before doing so, it is important to spell out the intricate but different and difficult interdisciplinary relationship between the philosophical and psychological levels of analysis.
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11
The Descriptive Phenomenological
Psychological Method
Amedeo Giorgi, Barbro Giorgi†1 and James Morley
Phenomenology is a philosophy that began in
1900 with the publication of Logical Investigations
by Edmund Husserl (1970). In that work Husserl
introduced a novel way of examining and studying
the phenomenon of consciousness. It should be
remembered that psychology was founded in 1879
as the science of consciousness by Wilhelm
Wundt in Leipzig. Wundt pursued the study of
consciousness primarily by the use of empirical
methods. Later, when the behaviorist movement
(Watson, 1913), dominated the field, positivistic
approaches became dominant. These approaches
made sense because both empiricism and positiv-
ism, historically, were philosophies associated
with scientific investigations: empiricism since
the seventeenth century and positivism since the
nineteenth century. Since phenomenology was the
most recent philosophy to support scientific
endeavors, and its criteria and emphases differ
from those of empiricism or positivism, it has not
been easily assimilated by psychology. It has
taken time for psychologists to respond to what it
has to offer. The exception that proves the rule is
the impact that it had on the Würzburg experi-
ments on thinking (Humphrey, 1963) that took
place in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Like most intellectual movements phenomenol-
ogy is not all of one piece. While Husserl laid out
the main dimensions of the phenomenological
movement, almost every follower of his deviated
from him in some manner or other. Since there are
a variety of phenomenological interpretations one
should not be surprised that several interpretations
of the phenomenological method have taken place
within psychology. In this chapter we will detail
one way in which psychologists have adapted
an articulation of the philosophical phenomeno-
logical method for its scientific purposes and only
briefly describe some other interpretations without
any effort at evaluation.
In a previous version of this chapter we offered
a mostly historical and theoretical explication of
the phenomenological movement in psychology.
We covered the various interpretations of the
meaning of phenomenology when applied to psy-
chology. While including a synopsis of this his-
torical review ahead, this new chapter is intended
as an example that demonstrates how the method
can be concretely applied to descriptive data, but
we urge that it not be construed as a completed
research project. Examples of complete contem-
porary applications will be referenced at the very
conclusion. But before doing so, it is important
to spell out the intricate but different and difficult
interdisciplinary relationship between the philo-
sophical and psychological levels of analysis.
Throughout most of its history, especially
in the West, science has been based on some
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 177
form of empirical philosophy. At the beginning
of the twentieth Century a new philosophy –
phenomenology – was introduced which also had
scientific aspirations. Phenomenology is not so
much contradictory to empiricism as it is more
comprehensive because phenomenology acknowl-
edges certain realities that empiricism does not,
e.g. givens such as ideal entities (numbers) or irreal
objects (essences). For phenomenology these non-
sensorial objects are given in experiences, and by
acknowledging them experiential analyses can be
more accurately achieved. It is important to men-
tion this difference at the beginning because very
often in our day when phenomenology is so little
well understood, phenomenological psychological
research reports are read and judged by empirical
criteria rather than by phenomenological ones.
In addition, since a phenomenological perspec-
tive brings to light aspects of a phenomenon that
empiricism does not, it deviates from certain spe-
cific empirical criteria.
Phenomenology is a complex, comprehensive
and intricate philosophy that thematizes con-
sciousness and its functions. But because con-
sciousness manifests itself very differently than
physical phenomena, a special descriptive method
was developed in order to analyze consciousness,
and without proper use of this method, no claims
regarding the use of a phenomenological method
can be properly made.
In the twentieth century phenomenology became
a popular philosophy and many philosophers
became attracted to it and developed interpretations
of it that differed from its founder, Edmund Husserl
(e.g. Gurwitsch, 1964; Heidegger, 1962; Merleau-
Ponty, 1962; Sartre, 1956). Consequently, social
scientists who became interested in phenomenol-
ogy appealed to different versions of it as they were
expressed in the twentieth-century philosophical
literature, and so divergences of a phenomenologi-
cal method also exist in the social science literature.
We shall not speak to all of these differences within
the context of our presentation of a method. Rather,
we shall concentrate on the version of a phenom-
enological psychological method based on the
thoughts of its founder, Edmund Husserl (1983),
that was developed by the lead author of this article
and we will show that the method is both scientifi-
cally rigorous and psychologically fruitful.
Perhaps the best way to introduce phenomeno-
logical philosophy is to provide the description of
it as articulated by one of its contemporary sup-
porters. Burt Hopkins (2010: 83), in introducing
phenomenological philosophy writes:
Husserl’s pure phenomenology is driven by the
goal of making philosophy a rigorous science.
By ‘science’ he understood a method of research
capable of generating possible true and false
propositions on the basis of evidence. By ‘rigorous’
science he understood a science that had advanced
to the point of being in the possession of a meth-
odology whose basic concepts and criteria for dis-
tinguishing true from false propositions were
sufficiently demonstrated to permit an ongoing
research agenda available to and embraced by a
community of researchers. And by evidence he
understood the legitimizing source of scientific
and philosophical concepts in an experience more
original than, but nevertheless related to, their
conceptuality.
We believe that hardly anyone would disagree
with such generic statements about the nature of
science because the disagreements usually come
when the general criteria are implemented. But
we want to indicate that phenomenological
philosophy and empiricism often have different
criteria for the same purpose – a positive scien-
tific project. Also, it should be appreciated that in
the above statement, as noted before, Hopkins is
speaking only about phenomenological philoso-
phy. As we proceed to work out a phenomeno-
logical psychology and its method, the same
understanding of Husserlian philosophy will be
in force.
Now it has to be emphasized that phenomeno-
logical science is founded upon the phenomenon
of consciousness and its various manifestations.
Of course, this was the original definition of psy-
chology but mainstream academic psychology
originated and developed within the perspective of
empirical philosophy. Because the criteria came
from empirical philosophy, mainstream scientific
psychology based its findings on introspective data
or it correlated conscious dimensions with sensory
givens of one type or another or with bodily func-
tions. The phenomenological approach dwells on
how consciousness presents itself and its func-
tions. This focus results in two key factors that are
necessary whenever studying consciousness. The
first is that consciousness is intentional, which
means that it is primarily directed toward an object
which may be real or not-real and which may actu-
ally be absent, and the object may be immanent
to the conscious process or transcendent to it. The
key thing is that an intentional act of conscious-
ness is directed toward something, and the object
toward which it is directed may actually exist in
the world (a tree in the yard), may no longer be
alive (Napoleon), or may be an image in the steam
of consciousness itself (my image of my boyhood
home). An intentional act may also be ‘empty’,
which means that my act is directed toward some-
thing that is missing, in which case the act is
known as ‘signitive’. Thus, I may be looking for
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my glasses which I placed somewhere but I can’t
remember where, and so to understand my random
behavior searching through my office one simply
has to understand, that which seems like strange
behavior, simply means that I’m looking for my
glasses. When I find my glasses, the intentional act
is fulfilled and the acknowledgement of that fact is
known as an act of identification. When I find my
glasses, it results in an identification between the
empty intention that triggered my behavior and the
object that fulfilled the quest.
The second feature that has to be acknowl-
edged is that consciousness is essentially non-
sensorial. We become aware of consciousness
in ways that are radically different from how we
become aware of things. Consciousness is the
means by which we become aware of all sorts
of physical, material, biological phenomena but
it itself is none of these things. It is the medium
of access to anything whatsoever that can be
experienced, including irreal (non-sensory) phe-
nomena such as ideas or numbers, but we have
awareness of consciousness itself without appear-
ances. When we reflect on our lived experiences
we become aware of them but not because they
appear. Appearances are correlated to things of
the world and their manner of being known is
different from the way we know our own lived
experiences. Acts of consciousness can produce
objects like images and dreams but they are very
different from the objects of worldly perception
and also different from our awareness of our lived
experiences. In order for a method to be fruitful
in researching consciousness, it has to respect the
two characteristics just described.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL PHENOMENOLOGICAL
METHOD
In the description of phenomenological philoso-
phy that Hopkins provided above he mentioned
that Husserl stated that phenomenology had pos-
ited a method by means of which phenomenologi-
cal analyses could be done. He articulated the
method generically but now we want to apply it in
a more broadened and specific way. Husserl’s
philosophical phenomenological method requires
three steps: First, one turns toward the object
whose essence must be determined and one
describes it; second, one must assume the attitude
of the transcendental phenomenological reduc-
tion; finally, one must describe the essence or
invariant characteristic of the object with the help
of the method of free fantasy variation. We shall
now elaborate each of these steps.
But before we present the particular steps, we
want to stress the importance of attitude while
conducting phenomenological research. Before
any specific procedures are implemented Husserl
emphasizes that all knowledge derived from
sources other than what is directly given to con-
sciousness has to be bracketed. This is known as
the epoché which means that knowledge coming
from an attitude other than the phenomenological
one is put aside and rendered non-functional. All
givens to be dealt with seriously have to be present
to an act of consciousness that is within a phenom-
enological attitude. In ordinary life one functions
within the natural attitude, which is the attitude of
daily life and common sense. Enacting the epoché
allows one to leave the natural attitude and pre-
pares one to enter a phenomenological attitude, of
which there are several.
In the first step of the philosophical method,
the phenomenon that is to be analyzed first has
to be carefully described. Phenomenology’s
main concern is with lived experiences so pre-
cisely how the experiences are lived need to be
described by the experiencer. Philosophically, the
experiences that are described are usually those
lived by the philosophers themselves. This style
of research allows the philosopher to conduct first
person analyses on their own descriptions which
is a key perspective for phenomenology. The abil-
ity to reflect on one’s own experience opens up
dimensions of the lived experience that would
otherwise be inaccessible.
In the second step, the researcher must assume
the transcendental attitude by means of the tran-
scendental reduction. The transcendental attitude
within which phenomenological philosophers
must function in order to do their analyses is
one which gives the philosophers access to pure
consciousness. A pure consciousness is one that
in no way is shared with empirical reality. The
consciousness that is revealed with such an atti-
tude is not a human consciousness nor that of any
other existing creature. Because it is untouched
by any empirical reality it refers to any possible
existing consciousness but not to any actually
existing consciousness. It permits a philosophi-
cal type of analysis that seeks to understand con-
sciousness as such before it is interspersed with
empirical reality.
In the third step, because concrete experiences
are so diversified the phenomenologist seeks a
result that is more stable to communicate to other
researchers so he will seek the essence of the
experience with the help of the method of free
imaginative variation. The transcendental attitude
is once again required here. With this method one
systematically varies key dimensions of the con-
crete phenomenon in order to see what effect the
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variation has on how the phenomenon appears.
If the given ‘collapses’ as a result of the varia-
tion then it can be claimed that the dimension
is essential for the phenomenon to appear as it
really is. If the object is only slightly modified
because of the variation and is basically still rec-
ognizable, then the dimension varied is consid-
ered to be accidental rather than essential. The
essential features of the phenomenon also have to
be carefully described.
The above description is of Husserl’s philo-
sophical method. However, we are not doing
philosophical analyses but psychological ones.
Therefore, our attitude and method vary from
what Husserl prescribed. We are seeking a method
that is genuinely phenomenological but also
human scientific. Therefore, we have to modify
the method Husserl invented in order to arrive at
results that are human scientific and psychologi-
cal rather than philosophical. But first, we want
to review the history of how the term ‘phenome-
nology’ has been applied to psychology.
BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF VARIOUS
PSYCHOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS OF THE
METHOD
There is only space here for a very condensed
sketch of how phenomenology entered into the
field of psychology, but a full treatment of its
philosophy is given by Spiegelberg (1982) and a
more complete treatment of the development of
phenomenological psychology is given by
Amedeo Giorgi (2010). The entry of the phenom-
enological approach as a method into psychology
can be told in terms of five categories, all of which
refer to methods or research practices.
Goethean and Brentanian
Pre-philosophical Phenomenological
Approaches
This is a type of phenomenological research that
is avant la lettre, so to speak and it consists of two
historical streams that eventually merged. Today,
to speak about phenomenological psychology
means to demonstrate how insights from the phe-
nomenological philosophy that began in 1900 are
informing the development of psychology.
However, certain styles of thinking and working
that were harmonious with phenomenology were
being applied to science in general and to
psychology in particular prior to 1900. Goethe
(Müller, 1952; Seamon and Zajonc, 1998; Sepper,
1988) the famous poet and humanist applied such
principles to the study of morphology in botany
and the experience of color and light, while
Hering (1964) applied it to the study of vision.
The other stream was initiated by Franz Brentano
who was a philosopher, but his work that influ-
enced psychologists most was written from a
psychological perspective. Brentano was
renowned in Germany for his lectures and he
influenced a whole generation of scholars includ-
ing Meinong, von Ehrenfels, Husserl himself,
Freud and Stumpf. Brentano (1874) published
Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte and in
that work he introduced the idea of intentionality
which became one of the cornerstones of the phe-
nomenological movement after Husserl modified
Brentano’s understanding of it in significant ways.
Carl Stumpf, as mentioned, was a student of
Brentano’s and he also spent time with Hering at
Prague, and from Hering, Stumpf learned about
the Goethean style of research and subsequently
integrated it with what he knew from Brentano.
Stumpf and Husserl were colleagues together at
Halle, so important exchanges took place at that
time as well. The approach used by both Goethe
and Brentano consisted of careful descriptions of
the ‘givens’ without recourse to speculation,
hypotheses or theories. In general, phenomenol-
ogy shares those values, but of course it includes
much more.
Grass-Roots Phenomenology
This type is called ‘grass-roots’ because it
developed in midcentury North America inde-
pendently of any philosophy and was based
primarily on pragmatic interests. Donald Snygg
(1941) introduced the perspective and then he
was later joined by Arthur Combs and they
jointly published a work (Snygg and Combs,
1949) detailing their outlook. The basis for the
phenomenological label here was that the
research emphasis was primarily on ‘the experi-
ential world of the other’. The royal route for
understanding the other, for Snygg and Combs,
was to understand how he or she understood his
or her experiential world. Unfortunately, from a
phenomenological perspective, Snygg and
Combs tried to fit experiential processes into the
natural science cause–effect framework of
mainstream psychology, and that limited their
development. But of course, the phenomeno-
logical approach also uses the experiential
world of a person as the basis for a psychological
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understanding of that person, but the framework
is different.
Interpretive Phenomenology
This type of phenomenology is probably the most
popular type being used in psychology. Husserl
had said that the phenomenological method was
descriptive based upon the intuition of the given.
His famous student Heidegger, claimed that the
true phenomenological method was interpreta-
tion. This caused a division among phenomenol-
ogists that is still not resolved. Based on
Heidegger, consequently, hermeneutic phenome-
nological methods have been developed both in
philosophy and psychology. Packer and Addison
(1989) have applied a hermeneutic method to
psychological issues based upon Heidegger’s
work. Max van Manen (1990) also employs a
mostly interpretive approach although he is
receptive to descriptive features as well. However,
as van Mannen works in the interdisciplinary
field of teacher education, his approach is
designed for maximum flexibility across disci-
plines and age groups. Finally, some British
psychologists have recently developed an inter-
pretive method, known as Interpretative
Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), to apply to
psychological topics. Chapter 12 in this Handbook
presents a complete depiction of this method.
Descriptive Phenomenological
Method
Other psychologists have followed Husserl and
have developed strictly descriptive phenomeno-
logical methods (see Chapter 12). The lead author
of this chapter, Amedeo Giorgi (1970b, 1986,
2009) has developed one such method and so has
Moustakas (1994). With descriptive approaches
one tries to describe the experiences being lived
through very carefully and once the raw data has
been obtained, a thorough phenomenological psy-
chological analysis of the data takes place within
the perspective of the phenomenological psycho-
logical reduction. Without the reduction, no claim
that the analysis is phenomenological can be made
today. Again, this special attitude shift involves
the epoché, which means to set aside all knowl-
edge not being directly presented to conscious-
ness, and then to consider what is given not as
actually existing but merely as something present
to consciousness. The presented intuitions are
then carefully described and analyzed. Since this
is the method that this chapter deals with ahead,
no more needs to be said here.
Phenomenological Analysis that
Begins Transcendentally and Returns
to Positivity
There are actually several forms or types of phe-
nomenological reductions in Husserl and the
method we are presenting in this chapter uses only
one of them – the phenomenological psychologi-
cal reduction. But there is also what Husserl
famously calls a ‘transcendental’ reduction which
shifts the analysis to another level of conscious-
ness beyond the psychological. One could call this
a philosophical level of reflection whereby the
researcher becomes aware of the conditions for
the possibility of any experience. Davidson (1989)
and later with Cosgrove (1991, 2002) recommend
this procedure whereby one starts with a purified
consciousness and then follows the establishment
of psychological consciousness via the transcen-
dental level before proceeding to the analysis of
the concrete psychological phenomenon. This is
the most difficult type of analysis to perform.
THE DESCRIPTIVE PRE-TRANSCENDENTAL
PSYCHOLOGICAL PHENOMENOLOGICAL
METHOD
Having first spelled out these five different ways
in which phenomenology has also been applied to
psychology we will now proceed to a fuller
explication of the descriptive phenomenological
psychological method. The psychological pheno-
menological method includes the same steps as
the philosophical method (description, reduction
and essence) but the steps are not followed in an
identical way. Criteria related to scientific psycho-
logical research (rather than that of philosophy)
modify the implementation of the steps but the
steps remain consistent within the entire context of
phenomenological philosophy.
The first major difference occurs with the very
first step because the descriptions come from oth-
ers rather than from the researchers themselves.
Theoretically, one could have the researchers
describe lived experiences and then have them
analyzed by the describers of the experiences but,
unlike in philosophy, this is not an acceptable
procedure within the context of modern empiri-
cal natural scientific psychology. Empiricists are
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 181
skeptical of such a procedure because when the
person who provides the data is the same person
who does the analysis the susceptibly to an unde-
tected bias is too strong. Contemporary empiri-
cists are skeptical of any first person account that
is not verified by others. The challenging question
by the empirical critic would be: ‘How do I know
that your description is not unconsciously in the
service of your theory of learning? If you describe
the experience and then analyze it yourself, you
could easily find exactly what you are looking for.’
Certainly, such an objection can be answered theo-
retically, but phenomenology can also be adapted
to a broadened research context where the experi-
ences of others can be taken into account.
Consequently, within the psychological research
context, a person other than the researcher-analyst
always provides the data. Furthermore, descrip-
tions are usually given by ordinary persons who
are describing within the naïve natural attitude and
may likely have no idea what phenomenology is.
Now this could challenge the whole phenomeno-
logical nature of the research because phenomeno-
logical research depends upon first person analyses.
However, third person descriptions do not prevent
first person analyses and this will be explained more
thoroughly below. Besides, it is important for phe-
nomenology to grow by including the experiences
of others. Further discussion of the legitimation of
this step can be found in Giorgi (2009: 96–98).
While phenomenological philosophers employ
the transcendental reduction, psychologists do not.
They use what Husserl (1977) called the phenom-
enological psychological reduction and we prefer
to call the ‘scientific reduction.’ The psychologi-
cal reduction is less complete than the transcen-
dental one. The transcendental reduction aims
for a completely purified consciousness which
has no relationship with anything empirical. The
phenomenological psychological reduction does
not achieve that degree of purity. As Husserl
(1974: 41) states:
Such self-perception is essentially founded in this
experience, and in such a manner that its own
sense-bestowal and positing of existence insepara-
bly perform a co-positing of physical being and
finally of a whole space-time world …. Therefore,
in order to preserve in its purity the purely subjec-
tive, the individual lived experience of conscious-
ness, we must put out of operation all the
objectivities posited therein, i.e., while we posit
consciousness as existing purely as it itself, we must
deny to ourselves the co-positing of that in it of
which there is consciousness and which is posited.
There are two key implications of this statement.
We mentioned above that the transcendental
reduction speaks about any possible conscious-
ness but no real consciousness. But as psycholo-
gists we are interested specifically in actual human
consciousness so we do not bracket the positing of
consciousness itself. But we do bracket the co-
positing of the physical or any other objectivities
that are given thematically to consciousness. But
the horizonal space-time world is not bracketed,
and that is the second implication. Thus, psycho-
logical subjectivity is understood as ‘being in the
world’ and we begin to understand how subjectiv-
ity lives the experience of thematic objects.
Another way to say this is that the acts of con-
sciousness are not bracketed and are considered to
be real, but the thematic objects of consciousness
are reduced even if the worldly horizon is not.
But for phenomenological psychology there is
also a disciplinary implication: a psychological
perspective towards the lived experience must also
be assumed (Applebaum, 2012; Ashworth, 1996;
Englander, 2016; Morley, 2010, 2011). Just as one
must assume a transcendental perspective in order
to discover transcendental subjectivity or a math-
ematical perspective to understand mathematical
symbols, so one must assume a psychological per-
spective in order to understand lived experiences
in a psychological way. Philosophers are usually
content to acknowledge that any consciousness
dependent upon naturalistic factors is psychologi-
cal. but the analysis of such experiences requires
the assumption of a psychological perspective
toward such experiences. To assume a psycho-
logical perspective means to view the lived experi-
ences as manifestations of the lived meanings and
values expressed by concrete human subjects.
The third difference from the philosophical
method is the type of result achieved. Because
of the assumption of the psychological attitude
toward the data, the essences that are apprehended
are psychological essences and not philosophi-
cal ones. Psychological essences are typical, not
universal. It is often understood that psychologi-
cal results are in a middle range of theoretical
achievement which means that there is always a
more universal essence (philosophical) above it
and most probably, lower level essences below it
(e.g. essences belonging to specific individuals).
This completes the discussion of the key steps
of the phenomenological psychological method,
but not necessarily of the research. Once the
structures are gotten, there follows dialogue
with the raw data in order to draw out important
implications and with the results of similar stud-
ies. Qualitative data offer many opportunities for
insightful comments.
What directly follows is a flowchart (Figure 11.1)
of the five steps involved in the application of
the phenomenological psychological method to
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182
the analysis of descriptive qualitative data. In pre-
vious publications we have referred to this as a
four-step process but we now feel it is important
to emphasize the scientific reduction by highlight-
ing it as a distinct step thus making it five steps.
Next, we will offer a presentation of two descrip-
tions of learning and a sample of a two-column
meaning unit analysis of both descriptions. We
will conclude with an explication of the five steps
used in the analysis and a discussion of the general
structures attained through the analysis.
THE RAW DATA
The lead author of this essay began his critique
of mainstream quantitative methods in 1966
(Giorgi, 1966) and inaugurated the development
of his interpretation of the phenomenological
psychological method in 1970 (Giorgi, 1970a,
1970b) and has pursued that development over
the course of several decades (1971, 1975, 1985,
1992, 1998, 2000, 2012). A phenomenon to be
analyzed was also required and since psychol-
ogy was still dominated by behavioristic per-
spective at the time, he decided to concentrate on
the phenomenon of learning. Consequently,
when teaching his research classes he asked his
graduate students to obtain several descriptions
of learning. Eventually he accumulated hundreds
of descriptions, of learning some of which have
been analyzed (Giorgi, 1985), but many more
remain. All of the descriptions were obtained
within the context of the ethical rules in force at
the time.
The two very brief descriptions that are used as
exemplars in this article are also from the 1970s.
They were the next two descriptions that were at
the top of a pile and were in no way pre-selected
for any special purpose. These two descriptions
Figure 11.1 Flowchart of data analysis process
R = Researcher, P = Participant Step 1 Step 2
Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
R interviews P or obtains from P
a description of a situation
reflecting the phenomenon under
study. The original description is
from the perspective of the
Lifeworld or ordinary life. If data
collection was by means of an
interview, R transcribes it
verbatim. If originally a written
description, R works with it as
given.
R reads the entire
transcription or description
in order to grasp the basic
sense of the whole situated
description.
R assumes the
attitude of the
scientific
phenomenological
reduction.
R, remaining within the scientific
phenomenological reduction, then
creates parts by delineating
psychological meaning units. A
meaning unit is determined
whenever R, in a psychological
perspective and mindful of the
phenomenon being researched,
experiences a transition in
meaning when he or she rereads
the description from the
beginning. Slashes are placed in
the description at appropriate
places.
R, still within the scientific
phenomenological
reduction, then intuits and
transforms P’s Lifeworld
expressions into
expressions that highlight
the psychological meanings
lived by P. This requires
the use of free imaginative
variation as well as
rendering implicit factors
explicit.
Based upon the
transformed meaning
units, and still within the
scientific
phenomenological
reduction, R uses the
transformed meaning
unit expressions as the
basis for describing the
psychological structure
of the experience.
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 183
were chosen in a completely random way.
We believe that the choice of descriptions to be
analyzed is best left to chance because in that way
one can more forcefully demonstrate the power
and flexibility of the method.
Data can be obtained by either having a par-
ticipant write an experience or by interview. In
general, people offer fuller descriptions in inter-
views than they do when writing. By chance, the
two descriptions we will be using in this example
demonstrate the two choices. It can easily be seen
how the written description (Beach description)
is much shorter than the description provided by
the interview. With interviews, the descriptions
are recorded and then transcribed. But it should
be kept in mind that there is no ‘perfect descrip-
tion’: there are good ones, adequate ones and
inadequate ones. The good ones allow for a rich
analysis of the experience, and the adequate ones
will allow a structure to be developed, but inad-
equate ones do not yield significant outcomes
and their analyses are usually discarded. So the
criterion for data analysis to proceed is that the
descriptions are good or adequate. Without fur-
ther ado, here are the two learning descriptions to
be analyzed, exactly as we received them:
P1: Beach Description
Question: Describe a situation in
which you learned
Recently I sat on the beach by a river with a
friend. We were the only two people there. The
river was moving very slowly and the sunlight
sparkled on it. While we sat there we saw birds
flying and swooping down, skimming the water. I
made a remark about the birds bathing in the river.
My friend (who knows about birds), told me that
they were not bathing, but feeding – scooping
insects off the surface of the river. I thought it
interesting but said I preferred to think they were
playing. Reflecting on the situation I realize that I
not only learned a piece of factual information
about the feeding habits of birds, but I also learned
that I have a very imaginative and fanciful streak
which often comes out when I am in contact with
nature. I also learned that, at times, I prefer my
fancied explanations for things to the so-called
‘real’ ones. Reflecting on the incident also brought
to mind memories of past creative or imaginative
impulses while spending time in the woods – so I
also learned that allowing my imagination more
freedom in a natural setting is a pattern of mine
since childhood. The incident made me resolve to
make room for contemplative time in the country
more often.
P2: Rifle Description
Question: Would you please describe
a concrete situation from your experi-
ence out of which you feel you have
learned something?
Well, this is what happened: my twin brother and
me, we were sitting down a few years back and
there it was – my Dad had his rifle put away in
his closet where it was always at. And I looked at
it, and I was a young kid, you know, and I wanted
to go hunting, and I wasn’t old enough yet, so
we’d get it out and aim it at the wall, and we’d
pull the trigger there a few times and it would go
‘snap’. Well, I didn’t know exactly what I was
doing and well, we wanted to go hunting so much
you know.
Well, my Dad was going to go out hunting a
week later or so, and he took his rifle out, but he
didn’t test it you know. It was the first day of deer
season and he saw a deer and went to shoot it and
it didn’t go off. The firing pin was broke! Well, he
came home, and kind of knew what had happened.
He had seen us click it once and had yelled at us.
Well, he came home and really yelled at us. And
I couldn’t understand how he knew that we did it.
R: Question: Could you describe more
specically what it was you did?
What we did – I’d take the rifle out and aim it at
something, cock it, and click it. What would
happen is that the firing pin would go forward and
ram against the rifle bolt since there was no shell,
and that would put tension on it – a fissure would
form – it would crack and maybe take a little piece
of it. So what happened to my Dad is that the pin
hit the shell but not hard enough, so the shell
didn’t go off but broke a piece of the pin. So it all
had to be torn apart and fixed. He (Dad) didn’t
know it for sure at first until he asked the gun-
smith and the gunsmith told him exactly what had
happened. We had been ‘dry-firing’ it. We got
paddled for it. But now I know to this day that you
just don’t ‘dry-fire’ a rifle. You can do it for a
while, but then the stress builds up and it’ll even-
tually break.
And I remember my Dad. He said: ‘When
you’re old enough to go hunting, you’ll never
play with a toy weapon ever again – for safety
purposes, never point a weapon at anybody unless
you intend to use it on him.’ And this was the
understanding. If we ever wanted to go hunting
we had to understand that. We had to give up our
childhood ways. And we wanted to do this, but yet
we were not doing it. We were still running around
bang-banging each other. But we didn’t get away
with it, you know, like we thought.
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184
R: Question: What exactly do you feel
you have learned?
Well, in a way, from that experience, I learned that
my father knew more about what he was talking
about when he told us to do things than we did –
that I wasn’t so smart after all, and we weren’t
getting away with anything. Plus, I found out
also that a weapon is a bit more of a piece of
machinery – it was a little more precise than I had
imagined. It’s nothing that you can just bang
around. I found out that what my father was
saying about toy weapons is right – think about it
as a weapon that can kill something: a piece of
equipment you don’t misuse.
Another thing I learned out of it is that every year,
like I do now, I will always test my rifle out to make
sure it’s working. I just don’t go out and assume it’ll
work right – not to let a deer come up, pull the trig-
ger, and find out it doesn’t work. And I think that’s
what my father learned out of it too. And I sight my
rifle in. I don’t take it for granted that when I threw
it in the truck last year the sight wasn’t knocked off.
Table 11.1 Data analysis samples
P1: Meaning unit analysis
1. P states that recently she sat on a beach by a river with
a friend. They were the only people there. The river was
moving very slowly and the sunlight sparkled on it.
While P and her friend sat there they saw birds flying
and swooping down, skimming the water. P made a
remark about the birds bathing in the river.
1. P states that she and a friend were alone sitting on
a beach watching the sunlight dazzling off the slow
moving river. Included in their vision were birds flying
low and skimming the water. P commented on how
the birds were bathing in the water.
2. P states that her friend (who knew about birds) told P
that they were not bathing but feeding – scooping
insects off the surface of the river.
2. P’s friend, who was more knowledgeable about birds,
corrected P and said that the birds were not bathing
but feeding, scooping insects off the river.
3. P thought that it was interesting but said that she preferred
to think that they were playing.
3. P acknowledges the correct version as stated by her
more knowledgeable friend but she preferred to
think of the birds as playing.
4. Reflecting on the situation, P realized that she not only
learned a piece of factual information about the feeding
habits of birds, but she also learned that she had a very
imaginative and fanciful streak which often came out
when she was in contact with nature.
4. P reflected on her situation and realized that she
actually discovered some new facts about the
feeding habits of birds but she also became more
consciously aware that she engaged a fanciful
mode of awareness whenever she was relating to
nature.
5. P also learned that, at times, she preferred her fancied
explanations for things over the so-called real ones.
5. P also acknowledged that she had a tendency to
prefer fancied and/or imaginative explanations over
the factual or realistic ones.
6. P states that reflecting on the incident also brought to her
mind memories of past creative or imaginative impulses
while spending time in the woods – so she also learned
that allowing her imagination more freedom in a natural
setting was a pattern of hers since childhood.
6. P reflected further on the incident and began to
recall the times in her past when she also indulged
in creative and imaginative impulses when she was
present to nature. P rediscovered that it was in fact
a habit of hers to allow herself to be fanciful and
imaginative whenever she was in a setting with
nature. She had been doing this ever since she was a
child.
7. The incident made P resolve to make more room for
contemplative time in the country more often.
7. The incident became an occasion for P to resolve
that she would allow herself to be more imaginative
and self-accepting with respect to her tendency to
be in such a mode when in the presence of nature.
P2: Meaning unit analysis
1. In response to a Q by R, P describes a situation in which
he felt that he learned something. P recalls a time when
as a young boy, P remembers.
1.
(Continued)
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 185
Table 11.1 Continued
P2: Meaning unit analysis
2. P states that he looked at the rifle and since he was a
youngster and not old enough to go hunting on his own,
so instead, he + his bro’ would get the rifle out of the
closet + aim it at the wall and even pull the trigger a
few times + he would hear the trigger go “snap”! P
acknowledges that he didn’t know what he was doing
but his desire to go hunting was so great.
2. For P, the dangerous and delicate weapon presented
itself as an allure, but because he was too young,
P could not use the complex weapon by himself,
so instead, he and his brother would nevertheless
take the complex weapon out of its resting place
and aim it at a safe target and even make it
function and he could hear the noise the complex
weapon made when it functioned. Retrospectively P
acknowledges that he did not fully understand what
he was doing to the complex weapon, but his desire
to actually use the dangerous and delicate weapon
in a realistic setting was too great for P to simply
leave the dangerous and delicate weapon where it
belonged.
3. P then recounts that his Dad went to use the complex
weapon a week later in a real situation, but he didn’t
test it. It was the first day of the season for hunting
deer and he went to shoot it and it didn’t go off. The firing
pin was broken.
3. P states that a week later his father went to use the
dangerous but delicate weapon in a real setting, but
he had not tested it prior to its actual use. It was the
first day of the season for hunting deer and his father
saw a deer and decided to use the dangerous but
delicate weapon and it didn’t fire properly. A delicate
part that had to function when the trigger was pulled
was broken.
4. P recounts that his father came home and kind of knew
what happened. P’s father had seen P and his brother click
the dangerous but delicate weapon and yelled at P and his
brother. When P’s father came home and really yelled at
P and his brother and P couldn’t understand how his father
knew what P and his brother had done.
4. P states that his father returned from attempting to
use the dangerous but delicate weapon in the real
setting when the weapon failed and P states that his
father seemed to be curious of what happened. P’s
father had seen P and his brother click the delicate
weapon once before and yelled at them. When P’s
father returned he displayed anger at P and his
brother but P was puzzled as to how his father knew
what happened.
5. P describes what he and his brother did with the rifle.
P states how he wanted to take the rifle out and aim it
at something and cock it and click it. Then, the firing pin
would go forward and ram against the bolt since there
was no shell and that would put tension on the bolt – a
pressure moved from – It moved crack and maybe take
a little piece of it. So what happened when P’s father
used the rifle is that the pin … but in hard enough, the
shell didn’t go off but broke a piece of the pin. So it all
had to be torn apart and stripped. P’s father didn’t
know put pressure at first until he asked the gunsmith
and the gunsmith told him exactly what happened.
P and his brother has had been ‘dry pinning it’. They get
paddled for doing so.
5. P explains how he and his brother used the
dangerous and delicate instrument in a playful way
but damaging way and then explains the type of
damage that happened to the rifle and how the
damaging procedure was explained to his father by
the gunsmith. P wrote the name that what he and
his brother were doing and stated that they were
punished for damaging the dangerous and delicate
instrument.
6. But P states that he knows to this day that one does not
‘dry pin’ a rifle. One can do it for a while, but then the
stress builds up and it will eventually break.
6. P states that he knows to this present time that
one should not play with a dangerous and delicate
instrument the way he and his brother did. P realizes
that it may be harmless for a short time, but if one
continues the dangerous and delicate instrument
would eventually break.
(Continued)
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186
Table 11.1 Continued
P2: Meaning unit analysis
7. P states that he and his brother had to give up their
childhood ways. Still, they wanted to do it and yet they
were in doing it. They were still running around and bang
banging each other. They would aim it at something else,
never pointing it at each other. But they didn’t get away
with it like they thought.
7. P states that P and his brother realized that they had
to give up their childish ways. P describes how they
still played with dangerous and delicate instrument,
but also how they held back somewhat. P insists that
he and his brother never aimed at each other, and
while they thought that playing with the dangerous
and delicate instrument was of no harm to them, it
did harm the instrument.
8. From that event P states that he discovered that his father
knew more about what he was talking about when he
told his children to do things that the children did – that
P was not so smart after all and that P and his brother
weren’t getting away with anything.
8. P states that he discovered that his father was
wiser about matters than he was and that he knew
more about certain issues than P had assumed. P
discovered that in relation to his father that he was
not so bright after all and that he and his brother
were not successful in hiding actions from their
father.
DISCUSSION OF THE STEPS OF THE DATA
ANALYSIS
Having presented the raw data and its analysis, we
shall now more fully explicate the procedure that
we have gone through that resulted in the data
presented above.
1 The first step is to read through the written descrip-
tions provided by the participants all the way to
the end. In order to do a proper analysis one has
to know how the described lived experience ends.
2 While the normal natural attitude is sufficient
for the first step, the rest of the analysis requires
that the researcher assumes the attitude of the
phenomenological psychological (or scientific)
reduction. This means that the objects that
emerge within the description are taken to be
phenomena or simply objects that present them-
selves to the consciousness of the experiencer
but the notion that such objects really exist in
the way that they present themselves is not
acknowledged. They are always understood to
be presences to the consciousness of the experi-
encer. This attitude is usually described by saying
that the positing of the existence of the given
object, which is usually performed within the
natural attitude, is withheld. The assumption of
this attitude establishes the phenomenological
psychological perspective.
3 Now, since descriptions can be lengthy they
have to be broken into parts so that proper
analyses of the descriptions can be done. Since
phenomenological analyses are concerned with
the discrimination of meanings the separation of
the parts of a unified description is based upon
meanings, and each part is called a meaning unit
and it is determined by a careful rereading of the
description with the intention to distinguish parts
from a phenomenological psychological perspec-
tive. As the researcher rereads the description,
every time he experiences a relatively significant
difference in meaning he marks the place where
the difference is perceived and he continues to
read. The sense of the meaning itself is not speci-
fied nor interrogated. That is done in subsequent
steps. Here the differences are merely noted. It is
important to realize that all of the meanings con-
stituted in the analysis are interdependent which
means that they cannot exist alone. Husserl calls
such parts ‘moments of a structure’ precisely
because of their interdependency.
The first column in the tables represent the
meaning units basically in the language of the
participants. We say ‘basically in the language of
the participants’ because some minor changes do
take place. Since the descriptions are not actually
the experiences of the researchers themselves the
descriptions are slightly altered in order to reflect
the actual state of affairs of the researchers. The
researchers are actually analyzing the experiences
of others, so in order to avoid fusion between the
researcher and the participant’s experience, all
first person statements are changed into third
person statements – but otherwise remain the
same. Nevertheless the analysis proceeds by
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 187
determining as accurately as possible the mean-
ings lived by the participants insofar as such
meanings are expressed in the data. Since the
lived meanings are related to the participants’
experiences they are equivalent to first person
meanings. That is why only third person expres-
sions are found in the first column of Table 11.1.
4 Once the meaning units are determined the task
of the next step is to transform the meanings con-
tained in the description in phenomenologically,
psychologically sensitive ways. Thus the attitude
to achieve this task requires one to not only be
in the attitude of the phenomenological psycho-
logical (scientific) reduction but also that one be
sensitive to the
psychological
meaning of what
is being expressed. This task often necessitates
that the original expressions of the participants
be changed so that the psychological meaning
of what the participants expressed can be more
directly apprehended. In fact, the transformations
that take place have a dual function: not only
are they meant to express the meanings more
directly with respect to the psychology of learning
(in this case), they are also meant to general-
ize the meanings so that integration with other
descriptions that may be very different becomes
more feasible. Thus with P2, instead of staying
with ‘rifle’ as the main theme throughout the
description, we called it a ‘dangerous but delicate
instrument’ because psychologically that is the
role the rifle played in the description and also by
generalizing to instrument, it would be possible
to integrate other descriptions if they were deal-
ing with useful objects other than rifles. It turns
out that the other description did not deal with
any useful object, but the psychological value of
what P2 expressed is not lost in any case. Also, in
P2’s first meaning unit we described the instru-
ment as ‘looming large’ to the perception of the
brothers. Such an expression is meant to capture
the physiognomic experience of the participant
because it is psychologically richer. If the desire
to use the ‘weapon’ were not so strong the whole
learning experience would not have happened.
In such a way we highlight P2’s phenomenal or
psychological world. As Stapleton (1983: 9) put
it, ‘The entire spiritual force of Husserl’s phenom-
enology lies in the demand that one
see
what is
meant. Phenomenological speech is descriptive
speech, whose purpose is not to generate an
accurate image of the original, but rather to make
the original itself evident to clear intuition.’ (ital-
ics in original). This is done by describing the lived
experience of the researcher in the presence of the
original description provided by the experiencer. In
this way, the third person expressions of the expe-
riencers are shaped in such a way that the manner
in which the person experienced the phenomenon
is highlighted. By this means it is the first person
experience of the participant that is emphasized.
It is important to realize that the phenomeno-
logical psychological analysis of the original data
is a process. Methodological criteria demand that
every step of the analysis be presented as explic-
itly as possible so that a critical other can follow
the analysis as closely as possible. In a way, the
explicit presentation of the analytic process is a
help to the critic because it allows her to pinpoint
the exact spot where disagreement with the
analysis might take place. This is part of what
makes this method scientific – it’s transparency
to the critical other. In any case, phenomenologi-
cal analyses are slow, and challenging, but there
is no better way to get to know the data well and
intuit what is needed.
As can be seen, our analyses were completed
with two columns, but that is because the
original descriptions were brief. When original
descriptions are long, say 25–40 pages, then
all the data cannot be handled in only two
columns. It should also be noted that not all
of the meaning units have to be transformed
the same number of times because all meaning
units are not equally psychologically rich. Some
very rich meaning units may take three or four
transformations and impoverished units may be
accomplished with a single transformation. It is
important to stress that the criterion is the best
expression of the psychological meaning of a unit
whether it is done once or several times.
5 The last step is to get the general structure of the
experience. This is done by reviewing all of the
transformations written in the second column
in order to determine the essential ones. But the
essential structure may be expressed in ways
that are different from the individual elucidations
because the latter are correlated with specific
parts and the general structure relates to the
whole description. This is an eidetic process uti-
lizing the eidetic reduction. The eidetic reduction
requires that the researcher looks at a particular
phenomenon and then systematically varies it in
order to determine its essence. The structures for
the two descriptions are:
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188
P1: General structure of learning for Beach sample
For P1, learning is the acceptance of a permission
to indulge in one’s imaginative and pleasant incli-
nations in certain worldly settings, and the reso-
lution to continue to do so, despite a pronounced
difference with a more authoritative other.
P2: General structure of learning for Rie sample
For P2 learning consists in the acquisition of a
sustaining, benecial habit with respect to the
treatment of a dangerous but delicate instrument
that resulted from an early encounter with an au-
thoritative other whom P2 discovered was correct
in his advice as opposed to P2’s desires. P2 also
learned that an apparently rugged instrument
could be damaged by childish play.
The above structures are the results of the study
and the fact that there are two structures indicates
that the two descriptions could not be subsumed
into one structure. The major difference that
accounts for that finding is the fact that in the first
description learning was a wholly experiential
process and the second one was about the hand-
ling of a physical object. It is interesting to see
that one common denominator between the two
descriptions is that both involved a relationship
with a more authoritative other. However, in P2’s
case, he eventually went along with the authorita-
tive figure’s viewpoint but P1’s learning meant
resisting the authoritative figure’s perspective.
If we look at the general structures we can see
that they do capture what is essential about the two
experiences with respect to learning. For P1 it was
not a matter of acquiring a skill or being able to
do something new, but rather of giving herself per-
mission to do what she already knew how to do.
We do not know all of the details of her history so
we do not know the specific reasons that she did
not allow herself to indulge in fantasy, but we do
know that she affirmed this choice despite the pref-
erence for realistic descriptions by her friend. And
we know that her choice was not situation specific
because she resolved to do it more in her future.
It was something like a permanent change in her
character. I would say that her description was an
adequate one: just enough data to intuit a structure.
P2’s description, on the other hand, was a
good one. There was plenty of detail and even
accessory information. But the core of the learn-
ing situation was that he is now careful with his
rifle because of this particular childhood experi-
ence and the way he related to his father at that
time. He realized that his playing with the instru-
ment caused his father to fail to achieve what he
intended in a vital situation and undoubtedly that
helped P2 to change his childish attitude. Today
he acts completely responsibly with respect to the
rifle precisely to avoid the situation that angered
his father.
We shall now test whether the psychological
structures genuinely capture the essential features
of the original description. For P1 the structure
indicates that what was essentially learning for P1
was that she permitted herself to indulge in depict-
ing certain realistic settings in personally imagi-
native ways, notwithstanding the presence of a
more accurate realistic description by her friend
who understood the reality more accurately. In
the face of whatever pressure the presence of her
friend may have had on her, P1 resisted such pres-
sure and chose to entertain her own preferred way
of experiencing natural settings. P1 then recalled
that she lived in her imaginative mode rather fre-
quently when in the presence of nature. Perhaps
she couldn’t understand why she had departed
from that mode, and so she made a resolution
that she would continue with her preferred mode
despite her friends more realistic preference. In a
certain sense, she learned that she could indulge
in the preferred imaginative mode, that her history
told her was important to her, and for some reason
she had given up. For her, the experience reflected
an important change in her character.
For P2 what he essentially learned was to habitu-
ally treat a rifle in a careful way so that it was always
ready to be used when one needed it. The circum-
stances that contributed to the formation of P2’s
habit are also important. P2 previously had a child-
ish and playful attitude with respect to the rifle and
such playful activity actually damaged the rifle so
that when his father went to use it in a vital situation,
it failed to function. The father correlated the failure
of the rifle with his children’s play and he scolded
and punished them for it. He then advised them on
the proper use of rifles, and P2 learned, belatedly,
that his father was correct in his advice and that P2’s
childish attitude was wrong. P2 also learned how a
certain type of childish play could damage a rifle
and that a rifle was a delicate and potentially lethal
instrument that could easily be damaged.
Sometimes, even larger contexts for learning
show themselves. In the rifle example, it can be
shown that retrospectively P2 appreciated the dif-
ference between a child’s world of play and the
more serious adult world with respect to lethal
weapons. As a child, P2 ‘played’ with a real weapon
and caused it to malfunction. As an adult he treats
it with proper respect and keeps it in functioning
condition. He ‘learned’ to maintain a proper adult
attitude with respect to lethal weapons.
More importantly, light is also thrown on gen-
eral features of the process of experiential learn-
ing. P2 as a child, approached the use of the rifle
playfully because that was a dominant feature of
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The DescripTive phenomenological psychological meThoD 189
his world at that age, even though such an atti-
tude was not appropriate for the weapon. Partially
because of that experience, P2 learned to adopt the
proper attitude. Interestingly, many descriptions
of the experience of learning show how an initial
assumption brought to a situation is inappropriate
and it is what accounts for failures that ultimately
require a change to proper assumptions in order
for correct performance to take place. The reason
for this is the temporal characteristic of experienc-
ing in general. Husserl (1991) has demonstrated
that the experience of the present, now, is not a
point but a certain spread. A present moment con-
sists of a now and protentional and retentional
threads. Protention refers to the experience of the
immediate future and retention refers to the expe-
rience of what immediately receded into the past –
but both belong within the present. Thus, the most
recent lived experience and the most advancing
lived experience belong to the present instant.
When learning is meant to happen, persons, based
on past experience or reasonable projections,
anticipate what the experience is going to be like
and often are wrong and so learning is required
to perform capably. Thus, in a previous research
study (Giorgi, 1985), a father assumed that his son
loved to play chess, so he gave him a chess set, but
then became aware that the son did not after all in
fact like the game of chess. So the father had to
reorient his understanding of his son’s interest in
chess. Also, a guest assumed that her past social
behavior would be adequate for a new social situ-
ation but then discovered that it wasn’t. In each
case, the meaning protended for the new situation
was not adequate, caused difficulties, and had to
be changed. It is hard to approach new situations
without some anticipatory meaning and if the
anticipated meaning does not fit well, then learn-
ing ensues.
The determination of general structures is basi-
cally a reflective process that tries to determine
what is essential to each description. It is more
efficient if the descriptions fit under one structure
but such a conclusion should not be forced. The
discovery of differences is as important as unifor-
mities. As noted above, these structures are typical
and not universal. They are determined by going
over the transformed meaning units in order to see
what the key meanings are and if they relate to
the whole description or not. Usually, one has to
reword the transformed meanings so that they can
be applied to the whole description and not just a
part. Most frequently however new meanings have
to be intuited to comprehend what is essential to
the whole description. But the structure should
contain implicitly all of the key meanings that
contributed to the determination of the structure.
The way to check for this step is to compare the
written structure with all of the transformed mean-
ing units that formed its basis.
Of course, the findings of a study should be
compared with the results of other studies. As
our purpose here is to only demonstrate a sample
of the method, space only permits us to mention
briefly that our results here are quite convergent
with what Merleau-Ponty described using a differ-
ent method and different analyses. Merleau-Ponty
(1963: 96), in critically reviewing certain animal
studies concerned with learning, stated that learn-
ing seemed to be ‘a new creation after which the
behavioral history is qualitatively modified’ or
that learning is ‘a general alteration of behavior
which is manifested in a multitude of actions.’
Such generality is evidenced in our descriptions.
P1 states that after that experience she will allow
herself to be more imaginative with nature and P2
says that he now sights his rifle every time before
he is going to use it again. Because of the learn-
ing the behavioral repertoire of our participants
is qualitatively changed with respect to situations
encountered in their lives. A fulsome discussion
with Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of develop-
mental change as a gestalt ‘restructuration’ would
certainly be warranted.
In conclusion we would only reiterate that,
because they are so inseparably intertwined, we
have explicated the link between phenomenologi-
cal philosophy and its corollary in phenomenolog-
ical psychological methodology. At the same time,
we have distinguished the psychological adapta-
tion from the purely philosophical method. Again,
while what we have presented in this chapter is in
no way a completed research project, we hope it
has served as a sample data analysis offered for
the purpose of illustrating the phenomenological
approach to psychological research methodology
and how its findings can be related to relevant
findings in the literature.
CONCLUSION AND PROSPECTS
Our fidelity to Husserl’s emphasis on description is
a defining feature of this method. While we are
fully aware that many contemporary qualitative
methodologies tend to accentuate interpretation
(see Chapter 16), we feel the descriptive emphasis
continues to offer a significant contribution to the
increasing repertoire of qualitative methods becom-
ing available to psychologists. In other publications
we had presented a full defense of this emphasis
(Giorgi, 1970a, 2000, 2012, 2014) on the basis of,
not only phenomenology’s comprehensive critique
of the domination of naturalist methods in
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psychology, but also the epistemological necessity
for a fully and radically qualitative psychology. The
descriptive phenomenological method has been
time tested over the course of several decades of
research and we believe its strong foundations in
Husserl’s overall philosophy of science can with-
stand any criticism from experimental psycholo-
gists with regard to scientific legitimacy. Though
the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology is not
exclusively devoted to this particular phenomeno-
logical method, many studies using this method
have been consistently published in this journal
since its inception in 1970. While modifications
have been made, and adaptations have been
employed for different topics and disciplines, the
core essential steps have been shown to be robust
and enduring. Applications show a broad spectrum
of uses in psychology. We can review a short
sample of applications on the following topics:
decision making (Cloonan, 1971), social anxiety
(Beck, 2013), early emotional memories
(Englander, 2007), women’s depression (Røseth
etal., 2011, 2013), psychotherapy research (Giorgi,
B., 2011), Alzheimer’s disease (Ekman et al.,
2012), being criminally victimized (Churchill and
Wertz, 2015), medical trauma (Wertz, 2011) and
even studies in law enforcement (Broomé, 2013).
This is only a brief sampling of psychological phe-
nomena to which this method is being successfully
applied. One recent development by Englander
(2012) is the expansion of this overall Husserlian
approach into the data gathering interview process.
There is every reason to believe that, while staying
faithful to the five core steps, this method can con-
tinue to be adapted to increasingly challenging
phenomena and research topics. The enduring
nature of this method gives every indication that it
will continue to play a significant and lasting role
in the accelerating diversification of methodologies
we are witnessing in psychology today.
Note
1 We dedicate this chapter to the memory of
Barbro Giorgi who was the beloved partner of
Amedeo Giorgi and co-author of the previous
edition of this chapter. She was a skilled and
caring therapist, a promising phenomenological
researcher and a dear friend to many in the phe-
nomenological community.
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There was no such thing as a definite beginning of a Phenomenological Movement, let alone a school, in Husserl’s wake, just as little as there had been a deliberate and clearly marked founding of phenomenology in his own development. But around 1905 Husserl began to attract a number of students, in the beginning chiefly from Munich, who developed a kind of group spirit and initiative which led gradually to the formation of the Göttingen Circle.
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