Phenomenology & Description I

Writing is beautiful. The commitment, the invention, the body and occasion. Falling into a good piece of phenomenological description rivals any epic poem or classic novel. Writing is the flesh of phenomenology. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine phenomenology without it’s body of writing. From the start, Husserl tends to describe the written artefact of phenomenological investigation as “expression”. The written down phenomenological findings are not meant to ‘represent’ the observed phenomenological experience of the past but serve to be a “predictive form derived from it” (Husserl Ideas I p355).

We write for the future. We write phenomenological descriptions from observation not to capture the ended temporalities, but to open the future. From that starting point of Husserl and, more or less, onwards, there has been little attendance to the process and experience of writing phenomenological description.

There are many texts written on phenomenological method. Take for example Kersten’s Phenomenological Method: Theory and Practice. In these 433 pages is the familiar pattern of how we understand phenomenology in its two stages; one spoken, one silent.  First we observe; we then describe, thus producing a written text (which we can call a ‘phenomenological description’). What we find in this book, and many similar other texts, are careful and rigorous treatments of the standard methodological techniques for undertaking phenomenological observations (reduction, the noetic-noematic distinction, unbuilding, bracketing, orientation, critical reflection, etc.). What we do not find, are any discussions of what is involved in the process of writing phenomenology.


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  1. I have come across a very few. Most texts do seem to assume that the writing just ‘happens’.

    Mark D. Vagle’s Crafting Phenomenological Research(2014) touches a bit on writing, mostly by providing examples and discussing what these writing samples seek to convey. Max van Manen has a couple of sensitive, almost phenomenological accounts of approaches to writing in Phenomenology of Practice(2014). Karin Dahlberg touches on it in her Reflective Lifeworld Research (2001).

    Thank you for the Kersten reference!

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    1. Van Manen also has the applied text Writing in the Dark (2016) but the quality of the descriptive work is low. The University of Utrecht had a handful of really good phenomenology writers in the 1980s but they didn’t write about how they write.


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