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I have searched several definitions of phenomenology from the

1. Patton (1990):
"a phenomenological studyis one that focused on
descriptions of what people experience and how it is that
they experience what they experience. One can employ a
general phenomenological perspective to elucidate the
importance of using methods that capture people's
experience of the world without conducting a
phenomenological study that focuses on the essence of
shared experience." (p.71)
2. Creswell (1998):
"Researchers search for essentials, invariant structure (or
essence) or the central underlying meaning of the experience
and emphasize the intentionality of consciousness where
experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward
consciousness based on memory, image and meaning."
3. Rossman and Rallis (1998):
"Phenomenology is a tradition in German philosophy with a
focus on the essence of lived experience. Those engaged in
phenomenological research focus in-depth on the meaning of
a particular aspect of experience, assuming that through
dialogue and reflection the quintessential meaning of the
experience will be reviewed. Language is viewed as the
primary symbol system through which meaning is both
constructed and conveyed (Holstein & Gubrium, 1994). The
purposes of phenomenological inquiry are description,
interpretation, and critical self-reflection into the "world as
world" (Van Manen, 1990) Central are the notions of
intentionality and caring: the researcher inquires about the
essence of lived experience." (p. 72)
The phenomenological inquiry is particularly appropriate to address
meanings and perspectives of research participants. The major
concern of phenomenological analysis is to understand "how the
everyday, inter-subjective world is constituted" (Schwandt, 2000)
from the participants' perspective. The basic philosophical
assumption underlying this inquiry has most often been illustrated
by Husserl's (1962) statements - "we can only know what we

experience." Thus, any inquiry cannot engage in 'sciences of facts'

because there are not absolutely facts; we only can establish
'knowledge of essences'. The essence is the central underlying
meaning of the experience shared within the different lived
The researcher should first look into the individual point of view, i.e.
the realization of subject consciousness perceived in the objects, to
get to understand human phenomena as lived and experienced,
which Giorgi (1985) pointed out as the major characteristics of a
phenomenological psychological method. The major data source for
this inner perspective is interviewing. Patton (1990) stated the
purpose of interviewing specifically as "to find out what is in and on
someone else's mind", and that is exactly what the target of the
phenomenological study focuses on, i.e. the perception of lived
There should be two perspectives of phenomenological analysis of
the perception of lived experience: from the people who are living
through the phenomenon, and from the researcher, whose has
great interest in the phenomenon. In order to 'return to the things
themselves' (Husserl, 1970), the researcher cannot impose the
meanings for the learners, for example, because they are the
absolute sources of their own existence living through the learning
environment. However, it seems to be impossible to detach
personal interpretations from the things that are personally
interesting. Thus, the researcher has to be aware of his or her own
experience being infused into both his or engagement in the
interviews and the analysis of data.
The Procedures of Phenomenological Inquiry (Creswell, 1998)
Creswell (1998) proposed the following process:
1. The researcher needs to understand the philosophical
perspectives behind the approach, especially the concept of
studying how people experience a phenomenon
2. The investigator writes research questions that explore the
meaning of that experience for individuals and asks
individuals to describe their everyday lived experience.
3. The investigator collects data from individuals who have
experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Typically,
this information is collected through long interviews.
4. The phenomenological data analysis: the protocols are
divided into statements or horizonalization, the units are

transformed into clusters of meaning, tie the transformation

together to make a general description of the experience,
including textural description, what is experienced and
structural description, i.e how it is experienced.
5. The phenomenological report ends with the reader underlying
better the essential, invariant structure of the experience.
Data Analysis
Creswell (1998) stated that phenomenological data analysis
proceeds through the methodology of reduction, the analysis of
specific statements and themes, and a search for all possible
meanings. The researcher needs to set aside all prejudgments,
bracketing his or her experiences.
Moustakas' (1994) ideas in Creswell's Qualitative Inquiry and
Research Design are good recommendations for the researcher to
keep balanced between subjectivity and objectivity. He said that
"establishing the truth of things" begins with the researcher's
perception. One must reflect, first, on the meaning of the
experience of oneself; then one must turn outward, to those being
interviewed, and establish "intersubejctive validity," the testing out
of this understanding with other persons through a back-and-forth
social interaction. But the investigator need not stop at this point.
The focus of a phenomenological study according to Patton (1990)
lies in the "descriptions of what people experience and how it is
that they experience." The goal is to identify essence of the shared
experience that underlies all the variations in this particular
learning experience. Essence is viewed as commonalties in the
human experiences. According to Patton (1990), the steps include:
1. Epoche: a phase in which the researcher eliminate, or clarify
about preconception. Researchers need to be aware of
"prejudices, viewpoints or assumptions regarding the
phenomenon under investigation" (Katz, 1987).
2. Phenomenological reduction: the researcher brackets out the
world and presuppositions to identify the data in pure form,
uncontaminated by extraneous intrusions.
3. Bracketing involves the following steps (Denzin, 1989):
o Locate within the personal experience or self-story, key
phrases and statements that speak directly to the
phenomenon in question.

o Interpret the meanings of these phrases, as an

informed reader
o Obtain the subject's interpretations of these phrases, if
o Inspect these meanings for what they reveal about the
essential recurring features of the phenomenon being
o Offer a tentative statement, or definition, of the
phenomenon in terms of the essential recurring
features identified.
4. Textural portrayal of each theme: a description of an
5. Development of structural synthesis: containing the bones of
the experience: the true meanings of the experience of
deeper meanings for the individual.
The entire analysis process aims to examine the lived experience
from the ones who produced the experience rather than imposition
of other people's interpretations. It should be the interpretations of
the participants in the phenomenon under study that define the
commonalties of the lived experience in the phenomenon. It is not
the researcher's own thinking of the phenomenon, the other
researchers' experience of the phenomenon, or the theoretical
descriptions of the phenomenon that are under analysis.
One analysis principle was suggested in the field book (Rossman
and Raliis, 1998): "phenomenological analysis requires that the
researcher approach the texts with an open mind, seeking what
meaning and structures emerge." (p. 184) In their suggestions,
they encourage the analysts to choose what they will like to focus
on. Is that the way? It seems to contradict the concept of " Epoch"
and "bracketing", in which the researcher has to recognize personal
bias, and take a fresh look at the stated experience. How does a
research resolve the dilemma between" subjectivity" and
"objectivity"? Interpretations are always subjective.
Phenomenological studies pursue "essences", which could be
created in the moments of the analysis (although the creation
seems to be grounded in the data, the interpretations of the data
can be beyond the data themselves.) Essences are abstract, but
the phenomenon is not. What is closer to the truth? Ideas of the
objects, or objects themselves?
Heuristic process of phenomenological analysis described by

Moustakas inlcudes:

Immersion: the researcher is involved in the world of the


Incubation: a space for awareness, intuitive or tacit insights,

and understanding

Illumination: active knowing process to expand the

understanding of the experience

Explication: reflective actions

Creative synthesis: bring together to show the patterns and


Creswell (1998) described the general structure of

phenomenological study as follows:
1. Introduction: problem and questions
2. Research procedures: phenomenological and philosophical
assumptions, data collection, analysis, outcomes
3. Significant statements
4. Meanings of statements
5. Themes of meanings
6. Exhaustive descriptions of phenomenon
Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design:
Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Fetterman, D. M. (1998). Ethnography: Step by step. 2nd edition.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Giorgi, A. (1985). (Ed). Phenomenology and psychological research.
Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.
Holstein, J. A., & Gubrium, J. F. (1994). Phenomenology,
ethnomethodology, and interpretive practice. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S.
Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 262-272).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Husserl, E. (1970). Logical investigation. New York: Humanities

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park,
CA: Sage.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E., G. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies,
contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S.
Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed., pp. 163188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods (
2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Rossman, R. B., & Ralllis, S. F. (1998). Learning in the field: An
introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Stack, C. (1974). All our kin: Strategies for survival in a black
community. New York, NY: Haper & Row, Publishers.
Schwandt, T. A. (2000). Three epistemological stances for
qualitative inquiry: Interpretivism, hermenutics, and social
construction. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln, (Eds). Handbook of
qualitative research, p. 189- 213. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Van Manen, J. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human
science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany: State University
of New York Press.


Adapted from Scott Plunketts Course Pack
Symbolic interaction theory describes the family as a unit of interacting
This theory focuses attention on the way that people interact through
o words, gestures, rules, and roles.

The symbolic interaction perspective is based on how humans develop

a complex set of symbols to give meaning to the world (LaRossa &
Reitzes, 1993).
Meaning evolves from their interactions in their environment and with
These interactions are subjectively interpreted through existing
Understanding these symbols is important in understanding human
Interactions with larger societal processes influence the individual, and
It is through interaction that humans develop a concept of larger social
structures and also of self concept.
Society affects behavior through constraints by societal norms and
Self concept also affects behavior.
Symbolic interactionisms unique contributions to family studies are
1 families are social groups and
2 that individuals develop both a concept of self and their identities
through social interaction.
Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret and
give meaning to the world though our interactions with others.


George Herbert Mead (1934) often cited as the main contributor to

symbolic interactionism
Never published his theory
Blumer, his student published it after his death
o Meaning evolves from gestures (an action which produces a
response in another)

o Language is a set of shared meaning

o Taking the role of the generalized other defined as the ability to
extend interpersonal meanings to an entire group

Herbert Blumer (1969) Meads Student

credited with the term symbolic interactionism. He also
summarized the basic assumptions of symbolic interaction from
Meads earlier work






Individuals are not born with a sense of self but develop self-concepts
through social interaction
Self-concept is developed through the process of interaction and
communication with others
Self-concept is shaped by the reactions of significant others and by our
perceptions of their reactions
Self-concept, once developed, provides an important motive for
Self-fulfilling prophecy is the tendency for our expectations, and/or
others expectations of us to evoke expected responses
Humans interact and develop roles in the family according to symbols
used to describe the family.
These roles are based on the symbolic meaning attached to each role.
How family members react to a situation is determined by how they
interpret the situation. So, it is important to understand the symbols
the family uses to understand their interactions and behaviors.
In a family, complicated sets of meanings are transmitted through
symbols that permit each member to communicate with each other
and share experiences (Peterson, 1986).





Meaning itself is not inherent in objects

Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that
they have assigned to them
Meaning arises in the process of interaction between people. that is,
it takes place in the context of relationships whether with family or
Meanings are handled in and modified through an interpretive
process used by the person in dealing with things he or she
Once people define a situation as real, it's very real in its

2 Language

As human beings we have the unique ability to name things

As children interact with family, peers, and others, they learn

language and, concurrently, they learn the social meanings attached
to certain words
o That is, language is the source of meaning

Meaning arises out of social interactions with one another, and

language is the vehicle

In Meads view, social life and communication between people are

possible only when we understand and can use a common
language, (Wood, 1997)

3 Thought or Minding
An ability distinctly different from animals in that we have the ability
to think about things rather than simply reacting instinctually
An inner conversation with oneself
A reflective pause through which we modify our interpretation of
an ability to take the role of The Other
Major Premises of Symbolic Interaction Theory
1. Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meaning
they have

These things do not have an inherent or unvarying meaning

Rather, their meanings differ depending on how we define and
respond to them
how we define, or give meaning to the things we encounter
will shape our actions toward them
Therefore, if we wish to understand human behavior we must
know how people define the things objects, events, individuals,
groups, structuresthey encounter in their environment

2. The meaning attributed to those things arises out of social

interaction with others

We are not born knowing the meanings of things

We dont learn these meanings simply through individual
experiences, but rather through the interactions with others

3. These meanings are modified through an interpretive


the meanings of the things we encounter, though formed by

social interaction, are altered through our understandings
An individuals interpretation of the meaning will guide and
determine action

7 Major Assumptions of Symbolic Interactionism Theory

1 People are unique creatures because of their ability to use symbols.
2. People become distinctively human through their interaction with
3. People are conscious and self-reflective beings who actively shape their
own behavior.
4. People are purposeful creatures who act in and toward situations.
5. Human society consists of people engaging in symbolic interaction.
6. The social act should be the fundamental unit of social psychological
7. To understand peoples social acts, we need to use methods that enable
us to discern the meanings they attribute to these acts.

Major Concepts, Definitions and Terms

Identities - the self-meanings in a role.

Language A system of symbols shared with other members of

society, used for the purposes of communication and representation

Looking Glass Self - the mental image that results from taking the
role of the other, imaging how we look to another person.

Meaning the purpose or significance attributed to something.

Meaning is determined by how we respond to and make use of it

Mind A process of mental activity consisting of self, interaction, And

reflection, based on socially acquired symbols. Does not refer to an
inner psychic world separated from society.

Naming or Labeling - Name-calling can be devastating because it

forces us to view ourselves through a warped mirror. Name calling like
stupid can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy. If a person sees himself as
stupid he is likely to act stupid.

Roles refer to collections of expectations that define regularized

patterns of behavior within family life (Peterson, 1986, p. 22).
Roles within the family may include but not be limited to the
following: nurturer, socializer, provider, and decision-maker.
Role-taking is the ability to see oneself as an object, in other words,
to be able to see how others perceive ones self.
Role-taking allows the individual to monitor and coordinate personal
behavior in order to facilitate interaction with others and also to
anticipate the responses of other individuals.
Role conflict refers to the situation in which there are conflicting
expectations about a specified role.
Role making is the process of improvising, exploring, and judging
what is appropriate on the basis of the situation and the response of
others at the moment (Peterson, 1986, p. 23).

The Self
O According to Mead, self does not exist at birth but is developed
through interaction with others
o emerges from the social interaction of humans in which the
individual takes on the role of the "other" and internalizes the
attitudes and perceptions of others through those interactions
o The interaction of an individuals self-conception ("I") and the
generalized, perceived view that others have of the individual
O The ongoing process of combining the I and the ME.
o An individuals self-conception
o The subjective self

Me - The Generalized Other

o the generalized, perceived view that others have of the individual
o The mental image of oneself that is based on expectations and
responses from others
O The image of the self-seen in other people's reactions

Self-concept: the image we have of who and what we are (formed in

childhood by how significant others treat/respond to us). The selfconcept is not fixed and unchanging if in childhood your teachers tell
you youre stupid, but later in life your teachers and friends begin to
treat you as if youre very bright, your self-concept is likely to change.

Self-fulfilling prophecy- The tendency for our expectations to evoke

responses in others that confirm what we originally anticipated. Each
one of us affects how others view themselves. Our expectations evoke
responses that confirm what we originally anticipated. Phenomenon:
The way I choose to see the world creates the world I see.
Significant symbol A word or gesture that has a common meaning
to an individual and others.
Social Act Behavior that in some way takes into account the other
person, group or social organization, and is guided by what they do. It
emerges through the process of communication and interaction.
Symbol manipulation The means through which we motivate
others to action through the use of symbols
Since people are symbolic creatures, they can interpret and talk
their inner experiences, such as their thoughts or desires, thus
enhancing communication and interactions with others