Phenomenological Sociology

Identifying myself as a phenomenological sociologist may need some explanation since phenomenological sociology has different forms, reflecting the influence of different theorists. I consider myself a phenomenological sociologist because in my sociological investigations (as well as my teaching) I am inspired and guided by the writings of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Some phenomenological sociologists draw particularly on the works of Alfred Schutz, and although his work has been of great importance to my thinking, it is Husserl's work that has served me as an analytic and methodological foundation. Every science, whether natural or social, rests on some philosophical perspective, whether or not that dependence is recognized. The explicit acknowledgment of a philosophical framework makes it possible to remain aware of the underpinnings of both research and theorizing. Although some version of positivism underlies much of sociology, I have found phenomenology a more fruitful basis for undergirding sociological analysis. Husserl urges respect for "the originary right of all data," i.e., its existence in its own terms prior to its formulation by investigators. Of particular importance is a commitment to minimizing assumptions. Phenomenological methodology guides investigators in the suspension of their own perspectives so that the perspectives and lived experiences of those studied emerge with clarity and in their own terms.

I define sociology as the systematic study of the social, i.e., the interactions of two or more individuals and the many products of those interactions. This broad definition allows for the incorporation of the work of social constructionists, symbolic interactionists and ethnomethodologists under the broad framework of qualitative, interpretive sociology. I recognize that such incorporation is controversial, but I see continuity in the work of those whose goal is to understand the social world as members live and explain it, continuity that is facilitated by a phenomenological perspective.


Edmund Husserl, founder of phenomemology

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)
Photograph kindly provided by Professor Ullrich Melle, Director, Husserl Archives, Leuven, Belgium

Phenomenological Sociology


Edmund Husserl

Alfred Schutz

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