- phenomenology, phenomenological sociologyPhenomenology is a philosophical method of inquiry developed by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl. It involves the systematic investigation of consciousness. Consciousness, it is argued, is the only phenomenon of which we can be sure. It is assumed that our experience of the world, including everything from our perception of objects through to our knowledge of mathematical formulae, is constituted in and by consciousness. To trace this process of constitution, we have to disregard what we know about the world, and address the question of how, or by what processes, that knowledge comes into being. This strategy is known as bracketing or phenomenological reduction.On the face of it phenomenology does not seem to offer much inspiration to sociology. Husserl started with individual consciousness and found himself in trouble over establishing that other people actually exist. It is less surprising that phenomenology was developed principally by the major existentialist thinkers of the twentieth century. The (controversial) bridge to sociology was established by a pupil of Husserl, Alfred Schutz, who fled the rise of fascism in Europe and combined his work as a philosopher, in the United States, with work as a banker. His Phenomenology of the Social World (1932) sets out the basic principles of phenomenological sociology. It describes how, from a basic stream of undifferentiated experience, we construct the objects and our knowledge of these objects that we take for granted in our everyday lives. The basic act of consciousness is (first-order) typification: bringing together typical and enduring elements in the stream of experience, building up typical models of things and people, and building a shared social world. The job of the sociologist is to construct second-order typifications: a rational model of the social world based on the (first-order) theories which actors offer to explain their own activities. Schutz talks about sociology as creating a world of rational puppets which we then manipulate to discover how people might act in the real world.Phenomenology became a resource for sociologists in the late 1960s as many of the orthodoxies of the post-war period were rejected. Its most lasting influence has been on ethnomethodology . Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, in The Social Construction of Reality (1966), offered a general social theory based on phenomenology claiming to combine the features of theories both of social action and social structure: the social world is constructed through processes of typifications, which then take on an objective quality, above and beyond the social groups who produce them. Around the same time, this notion of objectification was connected by some authors to Karl Marx's theory of alienation, in an attempt to produce humanist forms of Marxism . One source of inspiration for this work was Husserl's later studies of science, which argued that the sciences had become divorced from the fabric of human experience, and were in fact obstructing (alienating) our understanding of ourselves.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.