Phenomenology of Pedagogy


Hi all,

is any of you using phenomenology of pedagogy of van Manen? I kind of find it very difficult to understand how it works. I am more familiar with IPA (Smith, 1996) but I am now debating which of the two approaches suits my research best.

Thank you!


*bump* Anyone?

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Petalouda, when I was looking for suitable methodologies for my study, I was drawn to phenomenology, not sure why. My supervisor originally suggested grounded theory and I was all set to take this approach but ultimately didn't feel this was right for me or the study after a lot of thought, although I really liked Charmaz and constructivist GT as a method overall.

Anyway, in my search I found Van Manen and hermaneutical phenomenology just by browsing around. I immediately felt that phenomenology was a method that was 'right' and was going to follow his methods but then read some more and now am following Moustakas-who advocates empirical, transcendental or psychological, phenomenology.

I read enough of the theory to get a 'gut feeling' about which one would suit me, my style and the study more and in the end I stuck with Moustakas.

Van Manen seems to advocate an interpretation of the phenonemon-which is perceived or viewed in a holistic way-sort of like an event-it's described like an interpretation or a mediation of lived experience. However, it sort sounds like IPA as well. Though perhaps IPA uses a less open-ended process (?).

Moustakas has a more structured method that results in a rich description of the participants' experiences. This approach seemed a little more like my own way of approaching things anyway, which is why I went with it. I guess finally I liked the structure of Moustakas-that I could use epoche (to bracket out my own experience) and I liked the idea of a rich and textured description of participant experiences, where I could use the themes, etc, to also create a structured description of all aspects of the phenonemon (or what was actually happening).

I borrowed out both books by Van Manen and Moustakas from the uni library but finally found this text below really helpful-and bought it because it was such a useful guide. You might find it helpful but while it has phenomenology as one of its five approaches-it doesn't have a lot about IPA.

Creswell, J.W. (2013) Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches 3rd Ed. CA: Sage Publications.

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Additionally, I have copied and pasted a small excerpt from a paper on "Introduction to Phenomenology" (found on google search) by Linda Finlay (no date given).

This quote below provides useful examples of different types of phenomenology.

A descriptive empirical phenomenologist might well ask: ‘What is the lived experience of feeling lost?’ They might compare the protocols (written descriptions) offered by participants about one instance of feeling lost and attempt to identify the essential or general structures underlying the phenomenon of feeling lost.

The heuristic researcher could well focus more intensely on the question: ‘What is my experience of feeling lost?’ While they might draw on a range of data from stories, poems, artwork, literature, journals, they would also look inward, attending to their own feelings/experiences by using a reflective diary. They would aim to produce a composite description and creative synthesis of the experience.

A lifeworld researcher would ask ‘What is the lifeworld of one who feels lost?’ Collecting and analysing interview data, they would focus on existential themes such as the person’s sense of self-identity and embodied relations with others when experiencing a feeling of being lost.

The IPA researcher would focus on ‘What is the individual experience of feeling lost?’ They would aim to capture individual variations between co-researchers. Thematic analysis would involve some explicit interpretation on the part of both co-researcher and researcher.

The Critical Narrative Approach researcher would ask ‘What story or stories does a person tell of their experience of feeling lost?’ having interviewed perhaps just one person. The analysis would be focused on the narrative produced and how it was co-created in the research context.

The Relational researcher might similarly interview just one person asking ask ‘What is it like to feel lost?’. They might focus on the co-researchers’ self-identity and ‘creative adjustment’ (their sense of self, their being-in-the-world and the defensive way they’ve learned to cope). The research data would be seen to be co-created in the dialogical research encounter and the relational dynamics between researcher and co-researchers would be reflexively explored
(Quote above taken from 'Introduction to Phenomenology', Linda Finlay,


Hi Pjlu,

similarly to your case, my supervisor has been more inclined towards grounded theory. However, the problem in my case is that I have already collected my data...... During the first phase of the PhD, I claimed that I was going to do an ethnography, just because this is what I was taught from the department. I was unfamiliar with all the different methodologies, theoretical orientaitons that I had no clue what everything meant.... I did my data collection and only now that I am asked to do my analysis I have questioned myself: what all these mean? Reading more about ethnography, grounded theory and phenomenology, as you, I have that feeling that phenomenology is the most appropriate one.

Still though, it is so much hard work to understand all the terms, different philosophers and variants of phenomenological research... Regarding Moustakas, for some reason I linked his work with Heuristic Inquiry. Is this what you are doing? Can I ask in what field are you applying this type of research?

It is true that IPA and Phenomenology of Pedagogy (van Manen) have a common ground which from my understandings this is the theories of phenomenology and hermeneutics. However IPA also draws from Symbolism Interactionism whereas the Phenomenology from Pedagogy from semiotics. Another difference is the focus. IPA research focuses more in the field of psychology whereas the second one in education. As the context of my research is education and the participants are pedagogists, I am inclined more using the Phenomenology of Pedagogy. However, in my methodology chapter I am discussing the similarities/differences between the two in order to show to the examiner (and hopefully convince them) the critical thinking.....................

Furthermore, thank you for the quotes. I have read some of Finlay's work. Below are some references you might find them useful:

Finlay, L. Unfolding the Phenomenological Research Process: Iterative Stages of “Seeing Afresh”. Journal of Humanistic Psychology.
Finlay, L. (2009). Debating Phenomenological Research Methods. Phenomenology & Practice, 3(1), 6-25.

Regarding bracketing I have found these two articles very useful:

Finlay, L. (2008). A Dance Between the Reduction and Reflexivity: Explicating the "Phenomenological Psychological Attitude". Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 39(1), 1-32.
Finlay, L. (2008). A Dance Between the Reduction and Reflexivity: Explicating the "Phenomenological Psychological Attitude". Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 39(1), 1-32.


Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Petalouda, I'm about to head into work for the day, so will make this brief but will come back later this evening and clarify anything if needed. I am in education and that is originally why I chose Van Manen (given his work with educators and children) but I personally can cope with only so much 'open endedness'-just part of my personality. I like to keep things open for so long and then I need to end up with a product. (In this case, my thesis).

I am using what is called empirical transcendental (or psychological) phenomenology. I wish it was just called empirical (but that's me and it wouldn't be completely accurate anyway). But I am using a combination of interviews, observations and a short written reflection from my participants. I am hoping to have around 9-10 participants. However, my supervisor wants a little bit of mixed methods in there, so she has asked me to survey a group as well (very good but no teachers in my three research sites have time to do the online survey, so now I have to go and invade their staff meetings with a hard copy later this year).

My participants will also include children and ancilliary staff, so they may form part of the observation and conversations as well. I had a formidible ethics application to do and none of my research involves my own school, students or staff working at my own place.

I may have to adapt some methodologies overall but when it comes to the data forming around each participant I intend to follow a step by step process outlined in Moustakas (1994) on page 120, called a modification of the Van Kaam process.

Moustakas, C. (1994) Phenomenological Research Methods. Sage Publications.

Thank you very much for the Finlay references-they look to be really helpful. You are further ahead than me, so I am not sure how helpful my input will be though.


Hi Pjlu, thanks for all the informaation. I think it is important to share our thoughts (and later on our work) with others as this gives us a broader understanding of the topic of phenomenology. So even if I am further ahead than you on my PhD, still at the viva the questions will be related (I think) to those particular discussions we do: why this and not the other? I have borrowed Moustakas book but I didnt find the time yet to have a look. I was actually wondering about the definition of 'transcendental phenomenology' and what methodologies this involves?

I am now reading about reduction/epoche/ phenomenological attitude (Finlay) which all related to openess. I still havent figured out van Manen's philosophy about this topic. I was wondering if you have any resources to recomment about his work beside his book (1990)? I fully recomment Gearing's article and one of Finlay's articles ((something about unfolding phenomenological research).

I have to go now but I will return. My son just returned and he is only 1 with passion on co2p2uters.

Avatar for Pjlu

Petalouda, just to clarify 'transcendental phenomenology', I have taken this quote from Moustakas who is discussing Husserl and transcendental phenomenology: "It emphasises subjectivity and discovery of the essences of experience and provides a systematic and disciplined methodology for the derivation of knowledge".

So in effect, what this is saying is that within a person or being's subjective experience is a valuable form of knowledge or understanding that is as real or as tangible as anything else in the world as we know it. The methodology provides a process whereby this knowledge can be known and understood in its essential (and abstract form). The methodology also helps us understand and separate our own biases from this knowledge, although some might argue that we can't really do this-that all knowledge is a construction or by product of the relationship between two subjects. This might be more of a Van Manen perspective-although I would have to look at his book again-its been a couple of months and I'm a part time PhD student, so my knowledge comes in spurts and waxes and wanes a little depending on how busy my work & life 'world' is.

I don't know which I believe quite frankly, but with Moustakas, at least with the epoche, I have a way of separating some of my own assumptions and prejudices out from my observations-and as I am recording and then transcribing, looking for themes and clusters of meanings. I like his focus on structures as well-how participants might experience time, space and other relationships impacting on their own professional practice but in the microview or lens-rather than the macro lens. But I also like finding this out, not necessarily by asking this as a question, but by looking how it comes out in the essential themes of their conversations-almost unconsciously.

How nice to have a little son who loves the computer-my youngest son has just obtained a graduate software programming job in the city (Sydney) and has loved computers for many years. I just have a smelly little dog now greeting me with a 'manky old bone' that I am trying to prevent him from sneaking into the house!

Avatar for Pjlu

Sorry Petaloud, I don't have many research articles on Van Manen-I read his book and and then found Moustakas, read most of that-compared the two and went with Moustakas after reading the Creswell one -or parts thereof-as well. Also read some Husserl but not as much.
Most of my journal articles read for methodology theory were involving constructivist grounded theory-when I thought I was going to do that and they were generally nursing and healthcare journal articles.

I did go onto the websites-see below

These links have many articles listed which might be helpful.


Hi Pjlu,

thank you for the explanation. It is quite hard sometimes to grasp all the theory and even methodological choices we are seek to do. Thank you also for the website, I have downloaded most of the articles and I am in the process of reading them.

Perhaps children show their passions from young age, even from 1? :)

Alll the best,

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Petalouda,
I found this article incredibly useful. It compares hermaneutical phenomenology (ala Van Manen) to empirical phenomenology (ala Giorgi, Van Kaam) and also provides an example of each using the same data and participant (or actor).

The differences in approaches are really clear.

The article is:

Empirical and Hermeneutic Approaches to Phenomenological Research in Psychology: A Comparison

Serge F. Hein and Wendy J. Austin University of Alberta

Psychological Methods 2001, Vol.6, No. 1,3-17

(The article is much better than the abstract-don't be put off).

Empirical phenomenology and hermeneutic phenomenology, the 2 most common approaches to phenomenological research in psychology, are described, and their similarities and differences examined. A specific method associated with each form of phenomenological inquiry was used to analyze an interview transcript of a woman's experience of work-family role conflict. A considerable degree of simi- larity was found in the resulting descriptions. It is argued that such convergence in analyses is due to the human capacities of reflection and intuition and the presence of intersubjective meanings. The similarity in the analyses is also encouraging about researchers' ability to reveal meaning despite the use of different methods and the difficulties associated with interpreting meaning.


What an interesting discussion!

Quote From Pjlu:
Hi Petalouda, when I was looking for suitable methodologies for my study, I was drawn to phenomenology, not sure why. My supervisor originally suggested grounded theory and I was all set to take this approach but ultimately didn't feel this was right for me or the study after a lot of thought, although I really liked Charmaz and constructivist GT as a method overall.

Pjlu: May I ask why you decided to move away from constructivist GT? I'm using this methodology now myself and I've used it to evaluate about 50 semi-structured interviews. Was it because it didn't fit with your particular research area, or was it for different reasons - i.e. didn't suit your research approach, the methods that Charmaz advocated wasn't

Personally I used constructivist GT because it allowed me to use the methods of GT selectively in the interpretation and analysis of my data, rather than employing the traditional GT method from the start to finish as prescribed by Glasser or Strauss/Corbin. The traditional GT theorists maintains that it is a methodology, not a method, but I like to think of it as a method.

Thanks for your thoughts in advance

Avatar for Pjlu

HI Tane,

Initially because I was being too conscientious or 'true to the method'. When my supervisor mentioned it, I researched it. Well she didn't mention constructivist-but after looking at the Glasser and Strauss versions, I quickly started reading articles from nursing disciplines and worked out that Charmaz seemed like a great method.

But I was troubled by a couple of things-one the emphasis on little or no lit review-although I think this is clarified by Charmaz somewhat-the second by a sibling who is a professor sharing some horror stories about students who only wrote interpretations or descriptions using this method, including a examinee who she had had to give a write and resubmit to.

My own supervisor is an absolute empiricist-who uses quantitative and qualitative data but coming from an educational background in maths teaching and maths as a discipline-does not have her primary focus on the sort of qualitative research I am doing, so was a little limited in her advice about GT.

Then at our PhD compulsory seminars and workshops last year (Research Degree 101 and 102 :) !)-we had to submit a lit review draft, intro chapter, full research plan and ethics application drafts as our assignments. I became a bit worried about whether I was going to
1 Be able to start without too much background information in a true grounded theory way (esp as I had to do a full-huge ethics app)
2 I wondered what my philosophy or theoretical background was going to be as professionally I tend to be a bit eclectic and pragmatic in my approach to teaching
3 I needed to fully outline my group of participants and my methodologies to Ethics Committee as a research student with limited experience and didn't think a vague outline of a topic plus a 'snowball' sample style that didn't specify exactly what I was going to do and with whom-would cut it with the committee-and I was right.

So in a huge trawl for information, I looked at the five main approaches for qualitative research (in Social sciences but esp. in education and healthcare) and realised that phenomenology was not only a better personal fit-but would allow me to complete all of the above without fudging things.

I am not worried in this particular study, whether I create new theory-what I want to do is clarify and elicit meaning through describing and interpreting what is actually happening for the participants/actors in my topic. I tend to be comforted by the philosophy that experience has meaning-at least it does for the actors-and that meaning can be many layered and without realising it, I was drawn to a topic that does have an autobiographical element to it (as many phenomenological studies do).

Your study sounds huge-well done...none of this, I hope, puts the negative spin on GT-it's a great method but phenomenology and its underpinning philosophical approaches seemed to suit me better. Apologies for epic length btw.


Hi Pjlu,

Thanks for sharing your thought process. Indeed it sounds like you made the best decision for your research under the circumstances - new methods like Charmaz's comes with its own risk of not being as well-known as other methodologies. It would be especially worse if the person claiming to use the methodology didn't understand how to apply it to his or her own research, and ultimately that's my greatest fear - that can't convince the reader that I know what I'm talking about, or my research doesn't fit the methodology I used.

Upon rereading Denzin & Lincoln's handbook of qualitative research (4th ed.) they confirmed that there's a revolution within the qualitative research community because of the multiple perspectives on cultures, politics, race, ethnicities and modes of thinking about the world cannot be adequately captured with the extant methodologies developed in the 20th century. My main insecurity in adopting Charmaz's constructivist GT has to do with the baggage that traditional GT brings to its more contemporary (and definitively qualitative) variation. The reason for sticking with it in the end is because it gave me a way to organize and structure the huge amount of data I ended up collecting, to 'trust' in the process to know that the essence of the data via themes and categories can help me to develop a robust theory. And the 'constructivist' element just acknowledges the fact that it is my interpretation and construct.

I also submitted full research proposal at the end of first year - mine ended up changing from my initial version for reasons out of my control, but it was good because it forced me to think about methods and research scope in more depth than I was comfortable with at the time! From what you've described constructivist GT would have addressed #1 and #2 of your concerns, but it seems like you've made the right choice to go with the one you're comfortable with!

Good luck & thanks again for the stimulating discussion!



Multiple - interviews

Hi all - again! I am back to work again after a month of interruption .

I have done more than one interviews with some participants and I was wondering if any of you followed the same approach. I am now stuck on finding references to support this action.

I initially stated that I was going to do case studies so I decided that I should do two interviews for each particiapant. later on though I considered Phenomenology of Pedagogy as more appropriate methodology but I have already done the two interviews.

I think it is not wrong especially if someone needs to collect even more information in order to collect rich informaiton about the experiences of his/her participants. But this is just a feeling I have, not stated somewhere?

All the best with your work.