Chapter V

Philosophical Foundations of Phenomenology

Creswell (2007) urges practitioners of phenomenology to discuss the philosophical foundations of phenomenology prior to engaging with the process, pointing out that Moustakas (1994) uses over 100 pages to outline the philosophical foundations before discussing the methodology associated with this qualitative approach.  Based on the writings of Husserl (1929), Moustakas (1994) and van Manen (1990) describe two different ways to think about phenomenology. van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenology approach is much more focused on the researcher’s interpretation of events through various written texts; whereas Moustakas’ transcendental approach includes the step of the researcher “bracketing” or describing his or her experience related to the phenomenon in order to eliminate any presuppositions in the analysis (Creswell, 2007). The term “transcendental” refers to Moustakas’ (1994) belief that the researcher, having bracketed his or her own experience, will be able to perceive the phenomenon “freshly, as if for the first time” (p. 34). Common to both approaches, however, is the idea that the phenomenon being described is a conscious one and that the descriptions of the phenomenon are descriptions of the “essence” of the phenomenon.

This phenomenological investigation followed the procedures outlined in Creswell’s (2007) protocol, which follows the structure advocated by Moustakas (1994), but also van Manen’s (1990) recommendation that the phenomenological task is one in which texts are interpreted, not only described. The texts in this study were submitted in response to open-ended questions asked throughout the survey.

A central tenet of contemporary understandings of the phenomenological process is the belief that the phenomenon in question is about something in the real world. This can be seen first in Husserl’s insistence that “The basic property of all manners of consciousness in which I live as ego is, as we say, its intentionality — is being consciousness [sic] of something” (emphasis added) (1929, pp. 10–11). Husserl’s argument was echoed by van Manen (1990) who argued: “Hermeneutic phenomenological human science is interested in the human world as we find it in all its variegated aspects” (emphasis in original) (p. 18). Moustakas (1994) is also clear that phenomenology seeks to understand something in the external world; he claims that “directness is an intrinsic feature of intentionality, that the mind is directed toward some entity” (emphasis added) (p. 28). All three are reliant on the idea that consciousness requires intentionality.

So consciousness is always about or of some object or phenomenon, and phenomenology is a method used to describe people’s experience of that object or phenomenon. In this study, the descriptions are based on the statements given by the graduate students who experienced the phenomenon of the study buddy activity in the course they were taking. The messages conveyed in the statements are assumed to correspond to what the participants actually experienced during the study buddy activity. This assumption does not mean that these descriptions capture the entirety of the phenomenon in complete detail. Rather, the descriptions capture the essence of the phenomenon, or as van Manen (1990) would contend, the descriptions are heavily reliant upon the researcher’s interpretation of the phenomenon, based on the information gathered from the participants.

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