My beautiful journey with phenomenology

Wonder fills the soul

Just days away – the first handfod.NL event – #hNL21 ‘Phenomenology In Practice’ workshops with Professor Cathy Adams and Professor Nina Bonderup-Dohn (10-11 June 2021) A last call invitation to join in, and to also share some of my unfolding phenomenological journey. To look forward to the future, and the phenomenology research seeded through hanfod.NL, feeding into the 13th International Conference on Networked Learning (NLC2022, Sweden). A bridge to the biennial gathering hosted by our sponsors, the Networked Learning Conference Consortium (homed by Aalborg University, Denmark), who entrusted Dr Mike Johnson, Cardiff University and myself to launch a new initiative to help foster Networked Learning research and stimulate collaboration and networking in-between the main conference events.

The relationships and connections formed and nourished have been so very rich and meaningful, within and bridging the phenomenological and Networked Learning communities. Guided by my phenomenological heroes, past and present, from Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, and Sartre, through to Professor Emeritus Max Van Manen, Professor Catherine Adams, and further enriched by all the special people I have the privilege to have great conversations with, too many to name all. Dr Mike Johnson, Professor Nina Bonderup Dohn, Dr Joni Turville, my doctoral mentors, – and all the voices that lift me up and keep me in a state of wonder. The inspirational texts spanning the centuries, poets like Marie Rainer Rilke and John O’ Donohue to modern day, boundary extending thinkers and friends, who inspire me to see beyond, and lift up, past constraints and conventions. To seek meaning but also to awakening.

Feeling quite humbled and happy today. Thank you.

A capture of some of my learning journey…

click to enlarge

So just a taste of some of the hanfod.NL related conversations recently.

4 Replies to “My beautiful journey with phenomenology”

  1. Hi Felicity, before I commit to a phenomenological position in my research, I thought I’d play ‘devil’s advocate’ and analyse its main weakness (elaborated with the help of Terry Eagleton!) To begin, a quote from Husserl’s champion, Dermot Moran:
    “Shaken by the War (1914-18), students were turning towards philosophy of life and existentialism. Husserl’s response was to develop a philosophical ‘system’ (as he acknowledged in 1921, in the Foreword to his revised Sixth Investigation, Logical Investigations 6 Vol. 2: 177)), an all-encompassing phenomenological philosophy that would answer the cognitive and spiritual need of humanity”.
    (Moran 2005:35)

    From any period of uncertainty springs a need for certainty – from outward chaos to inward order. Husserl was intent on developing a new philosophical method which would bring some certainty to a culture in crisis: he proposed a self-sufficient, inward-directed consciousness in which objects were regarded not as things in themselves, but posited – intended – by consciousness. This main aim of phenomenology can be construed as the aim of philosophy in general: to understand the relationship between thought and the world we think about. Following the history of philosophy from Plato, to Hegel and Marx, who all considered the problem in terms of dialectics – form/matter; thought/sensation; history/eternity – phenomenology investigates a similar dualism: consciousness/object.
    For Husserl, a sense of certainty is derived from reducing – bracketing out – all beyond our immediate experience: a reduction to the contents of our consciousness alone, his notion of phenomenological reduction, summed up in the phrase ‘Back to the things themselves’. All realities become pure phenomena – appearances in the mind. Am I on the right track?
    But this raises the question about language: for Husserl, phenomena exist without language; language is merely a name-giving to meanings already in existence. How meanings can be articulated without language is a pertinent question which Husserl cannot answer. We commonly talk about language by saying that it ‘expresses’ meaning, as if the meanings were already existing, but since the ‘linguistic turn’, beginning with Saussure and embracing developments in literary theory (Halliday 2005), we understand that language actually produces meaning;
    “…the view formulated by Whorf, following on from Sapir, and also…by Hjelmslev and by Firth. In this view language does not passively reflect reality; language actively creates reality. It is the grammar – but now in the sense of lexicogrammar, the grammar plus the vocabulary, with no real distinction between the two – that shapes experience and transforms our perceptions into meanings. The categories and concepts of our material existence are not ‘given’ to us prior to their expression in language. Rather, they are construed by language, at the intersection of the material with the symbolic”.
    (Halliday 1990: 145)

    Language is semogenic. Husserl doesn’t recognise this, instead he imagines language as purely expressive of consciousness; but such solitary introspective expressions could not be shared. There can be no such thing as a private language (not even a visual one, despite the opinion of some uninformed art school tutors I know!)
    “This idea of a meaningless solitary utterance untainted by the external world is a peculiarly fitting image of phenomenology…For all its claims to have retrieved the living world of human action and experience from the arid clutches of traditional philosophy, phenomenology begins and ends as a head without a world”.
    (Eagleton 1983: 61)

    Have you considered such criticism? Is there a position to refute the basic point, that Husserl ignores language as the main means to making meaning?

    Eagleton, T. 1983 Literary Theory. An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.
    Halliday, M.A.K. 1990 New Ways of Meaning: The Challenge to Applied Linguistics. In Webster, J. (ed.) 2003 On Language and Linguistics. M.A.K. Halliday. Vol. 3. London: Continuum. 139-174.
    Halliday, M.A.K. 2005 On Matter and Meaning: The Two Realms of Human Experience. Linguistics and the Human Sciences. Vol. 1 Issue 1. 59-82.
    Husserl, E. (1921) 1984 Foreword. Logical Investigations. Vol. 2. Panzer, U. (ed.) Dordrecht: Kluwer. 177.
    Moran, D. 2005 Edmund Husserl. Founder of Phenomenology. Cambridge: Polity.


    1. Thank you for your wonderfully rich comments. A late reply from your morning comment, as its bank holiday and I was headed to the beach with the kids 🙂 As I declare in the post (Heidegger my leaning) and linked posts, I opted for a Heideggerian approach, acknowledging some of the issues you identify through Husserl’s work. Part of my early doctoral challenge was to find a way to clearly distinguishing between the ontological and epistemological assumptions underpinning the major branches, transcendental, hermeneutic, post and post-intentional is an important foundation upon which to build knowledge and subsequent practice. I warmed more to the hermeneutic phenomenology which rejects that the Husserlian ‘essences’ of experience or consciousness can be isolated outside of the researcher’s cultural and historical location. That in fact, as humans, we are unable to ‘bracket’ out our presuppositions and previous experiences to attain a more objective view of phenomena. Heidegger avoids converting experience into a thing or an object but aims to understand a phenomenon as a living moment in its living meaningfulness. Unlike Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology it was important for me as an educator/researcher to make sense of the world as I exist within it, interpreting the meanings found in relation to phenomen, for example, to search for themes by engaging with the data interpretively. A researchers’ previous knowledge and assumptions, in my mind, can help them better understand the phenomenon under study. Hermeneutic phenomenology takes the stance that all understanding is phenomenological and that understanding can only come about through language (Gadamer 2004). There is a clear acknowledgement ‘understandings’ can and do change when there is ‘openness to other interpretations’ (Gadamer, 1960/1975; van Manen, 1997). For me, in the context of education, this can support an enhanced understanding of the life-worlds of educators and learners alike. As you do, I am open to criticisms of all approaches, as is healthy to mindful of biases and barriers, to work to mitigate, and open to what different lenses bring.


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