Historical Background of Phenomenology in Research


Phenomenology, as a philosophical approach, has played a significant role in research methodology throughout history. Its roots can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers, but it was not until the 20th century that phenomenology became a prominent method in research.

The word “phenomenology” comes from the Greek word “phainomenon,” which means “to appear” or “to show up.” In its simplest form, phenomenology is the study of human experience and consciousness. It focuses on understanding how people make sense of their experiences and how they interpret the world around them.

One of the earliest philosophers to develop the concept of phenomenology was Edmund Husserl. He believed that human experience is the foundation of all knowledge and should be the starting point for any philosophical inquiry. In his groundbreaking work, “Logical Investigations,” published in 1900-1901, Husserl introduced the idea of “intentionality,” which suggests that consciousness is always directed towards an object, a person, or a situation. This means that our thoughts, perceptions, and actions are always about something, and they cannot exist independently of that something.

Husserl’s work paved the way for many other philosophers who further developed phenomenology as a philosophical inquiry. Martin Heidegger, one of Husserl’s students, expanded on the concept of phenomenology and proposed the idea of “being-in-the-world.” According to Heidegger, individuals are always in a state of being-in-the-world and are constantly engaged in the world through their experiences.

In the 20th century, phenomenology became more prevalent in research through the work of philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Alfred Schutz. These philosophers focused on applying phenomenological principles to various disciplines, including psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Merleau-Ponty, for example, emphasized the importance of embodied experience in understanding the world. He believed that our physical bodies and the way we move in the world shape our perception and understanding of the world. Sartre, on the other hand, focused on the concept of intentionality and the self. He argued that individuals are constantly creating their own identities through their actions and conscious experiences.

In the field of psychology, phenomenology has been adopted as a qualitative research method, particularly in the study of human consciousness and experience. Psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow utilized phenomenological approaches in their humanistic theories of personality and self-actualization.

In sociology and anthropology, phenomenology has been used to study social and cultural phenomena. Alfred Schutz, a sociologist, applied phenomenological principles to understand how individuals interpret and make sense of their social realities. He believed that our everyday experiences and interactions with others shape our understanding of the world.

Phenomenology has also been influential in the field of educational research. Educators have used phenomenological approaches to understand the lived experiences of students, teachers, and other stakeholders in the educational environment. It has been particularly useful in exploring the subjective meanings and perspectives of individuals in the classroom.

In conclusion, the historical background of phenomenology in research can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers, but it was not until the 20th century that it gained prominence as a research method. The work of philosophers such as Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and others has paved the way for the application of phenomenological principles in various disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, and education. Today, phenomenology continues to be a significant approach in understanding human experience and consciousness, making it a valuable tool in the research process.