Subtextual Phenomenology: A Methodology for Valid, First-Person Research

By Vallack, Jocene | Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Subtextual Phenomenology: A Methodology for Valid, First-Person Research


Vallack, Jocene, Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods


1. Introduction

1.1 Phenomenology in the context of twentieth century modernism

Qualitative Inquiry is increasingly credited with the capacity to give information about social research that cannot be gleaned through statistics. Few will now question its usefulness in contemporary, academic research, but this was not the case throughout most of the twentieth century. Dominated by modernism, twentieth century research was seen to be most valid if it was scientific - that is, about testing a hypothesis about the physical world. Science was all. Feelings were seen as immeasurable, and therefore they were not fit for research. Even when psychology was emerging and vying to be recognised as a valid science, it needed to demonstrate that it was also "scientific". Consequently, Behaviourism was favoured, as it claimed to be based on measurable and repeatable experiments. It was statistical, so it looked like rigorous research to modernist scholars.

Early in the twentieth century, Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were writing about ideas that were ahead of the times. They embraced more abstract concepts - transcendental phenomenology, psychoanalysis and archetypal forms, respectively. Like Plato, who gave us ancient archetypes in the forms of the Greek Gods, their ideas were more about how to know (epistemological) than how to be (ontological). But modernism favoured the ontological domain. It preferred the measurability of sensory data, and its ability to tell us things about the lifeworld in which we live. The metaphysical genius of Husserl was not recognised because Husserl, like Freud and Jung, was ahead of his time. Unfortunately, in Husserl's case, contemporaries who did not understand his phenomenology, stole his terminology and attempted to use it to fashion a version of "phenomenology" that made little sense outside of Husserl's transcendental context. Heidegger, and those who followed him, created the nonsense that some will call 'phenomenology' in research today. His letters to Jasper, to which I refer later in this text, show his outrageous and arrogant intention to displace the "old man" and become a "famous philosopher". Politically, too, Heidegger was a Nazi and Husserl was Jewish, but that may or may not be relevant to Heidegger's belligerent ignorance of Husserl's phenomenology.

In this new millennium, one hundred years after Husserl, pioneers in Qualitative Research have hacked through the woolly thinking of modernism to lighten our ways of knowing ourselves. In the context of Husserl's thinking, phenomenology makes sense. It is pretty straight forward, actually, once the reader gets past the confusion surrounding the terminology, caused by a century of misrepresentation of phenomenology. Subtextual Phenomenology emerged through my reading Husserl's words - his explanations - not the second-hand, misconstrued applications that remain censored by the limitations of modernism.

There are more ways of knowing about ourselves than through the senses. Husserl recognised intuition as the catalyst for phenomenological reduction. Jung identified intuition as an important component in one's personality profile. Universally, intuition is known as a legitimate means to insight, despite the coy hesitations of the western world to embrace it unconditionally. Husserl, and later Jung, knew that the most subjective truth may also be the most universal (intersubjective) truth. So through researching one's own experiences one may reach profound, social insights. But how do we put this theory into practice?

Subtextual Phenomenology is a step-by-step approach to putting Husserl's Transcendental Phenomenology to work in research. It is a methodology for social inquiry, which depends on first-person research. The subjective data is then analysed through art, or meditation or some other method of dipping into the unconscious. The researcher works first-hand in the area to be researched. The most candid and personal data is collected. …

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