The Changing Character of Phenomenological Psychology

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Abstract

The methodologies of Husserlian and contemporary phenomenological psychology are compared. The Husserlian project was an a priori, descriptive, intuitive inquiry into the universal, necessary structures of intentional phenomena. Contemporary phenomenological psychology, examined here through a review of contemporary psychological articles and methodological sources, includes four types of methods: empirical, hermeneutic, traditional and experimental. Phenomenological psychology continues to attempt to describe the essences of experiences. However, in contrast to the Husserlian phase, the current stage of the movement is characterized by the inclusion of the experience of a group of subjects in addition to that of the researcher, the use of hermeneutic rather than descriptive methods, existentialism as an interpretive guide, and the use of empirical as well as a priori evidence for the generalizability of descriptions. Essentialism as a central tenet of phenomenological psychology is criticized in light of anthropological evidence.

For twenty - five years, a growing number of writers have identified a philosophical and methodological crisis in mainstream positivistic psychology (Cf. Brandt, 1982; Gergen, 1978, 1982; Giorgi, 1970; Harre & Secord, 1972; Koch, 1981; Koch & Leary, 1985; Reason & Rowan, 1981; Sampson, 1978; Sarason, 1981; Smith, 1972; Westcott, 1988; Westland, 1978). Their concerns have had to do with what they see as the stultifying and distorting effects on the study of human psychology which have resulted from the positivist, natural science perspective. Many alternatives have been proposed, some worked out in greater detail than others (Cf. Rychlak, 1975, 1977; Harre & Secord, 1972; Harre, 1974; Gergen, 1982; Giorgi, 1970; Reason & Rowan, 1981).

One alternative to mainstream psychology has been phenomenological psychology, a perspective which has much to recommend it: it has a stimulating, highly developed philosophical background (Spiegelberg, 1960); it has methods for analyzing experience, action, and textual material, including a receptive yet critical approach toward the use of self - reports (e.g., Kvale, 1983); it has a long tradition of research which has produced a body of stimulating ideas about psychological phenomena (e.g., Binswanger, 1963; Husserl, 1928/1964; Merleau - Ponty, 1962; Strasser, 1956/1977; Straus, 1966; Cf. Spiegelberg,1972).

As phenomenological psychology has evolved over the past (approximately) eighty years, the guiding theory of the movement has received several interpretations and has been extended in a number of different ways. A reader approaching phenomenological psychology for the first time might be struck by the diversity of methods which present themselves within this movement. What are these methods, and in what sense is each phenomenological? This paper will examine these questions by comparing the methods of early and contemporary phenomenological psychology While there are several branches of contemporary phenomenological psychology, the community associated with the psychology department of Duquesne University invites close examination because for the past two decades it has dominated the phenomenological movement in North America. The Journal of Phenomenological Psychology (hereafter JPP) and The Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, the two major periodicals of the movement, are published there, and a large proportion of the authors and editors of these journals are Duquesne faculty or graduates. The serial Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological Psychology and many texts on the topic - in fact, the vast majority of phenomenological research in North America - are published by The Duquesne University Press. Duquesne has become the "capital of phenomenological psychology in the New World" (Misiak & Sexton, 1973, p. 62).

Just as this orientation has many branches, it also has many roots; the writings of Edmund Husserl have been selected as the point of departure for the present discussion of methods in phenomenological psychology for several reasons. …