Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

“A language that sings the world”

May 30th, 2005

I was asked by one interpreter if there was a difference between what I’m trying to do with my research and what journalists do when they research and publish stories. Many of the points I considered possible distinctions were persuasively argued as not that different, but the one point which seemed most different is the notion of participation in the writing/publication process.
I started reading this book Leda loaned me, Researching Lived Experience by Max Van Manen, which describes the phenomenological angle in terms that reflect my ontology. Van Manen says, “phenomenology attempts to explicate the meanings as we live them in our everyday existence, our lifeworld” (11).

Phenomenology is a focus on consciousness, broadly conceived: “anything that presents itself to consciousness…whether…real or imagined, empirically measured or subjectively felt. Consciousness is the only access human beings have to the world” (9). Necessarily, then, it is through consciousness that we are related to the world; hence a phenomenological approach is always concerned with the dialectic between consciousness and things of the world. Van Manen adds the term hermeneutics to capture the continuous, cyclical nature of phenomenological experience: “We might say that hermeneutic phenomenology is a philosophy of the personal, the individual, which we pursue against the background of an understanding of the evasive character of the logos of other, the whole, the communal, or the social (italics in original, 7).
One key distinction, I believe, between a phenomenological approach and a journalistic approach is that phenomenology is not concerned solely with the so-called rational. “Knowing is not a purely cognitive act” (6). Because phenomenology is inherently dialogical, “to do research is always to question the way we experience the world, to want to know the world in which we live as human beings. And since to know the world is profoundly to be in the world in a certain way, the act of researching &emdash; questioning &emdash; theorizing is the intentional act of attaching ourselves to the world, to become more fully part of it, or better, to become the world” (italics in original, 5).
Van Manen continues: “Hermeneutic phenomenological research reintegrates part and whole, the contingent and the essential, value and desire. It encourages a certain attentive awareness to the details and seemingly trivial dimensions of our everyday…lives. It makes us thoughtfully aware of the consequential in the inconsequential, the significant in the taken-for-granted” (8). As a science, phenomenology “attempts to articulate, through the content and form of text, the structures of meaning embedded in lived experience (rather than leaving the meaning implicit as for example in poetry or literary texts)…it is self-critical in the sense that it continually examines its own goals and methods in an attempt to come to terms with the strengths and shortcomings of its approach and achievements. It is intersubjective in that the human science researcher needs the other (for example, the reader) in order to develop a dialogic relation with the phenomenon, and thus validate the phenomenon as described” (italics in original, 11).
Consciousness can only be studied in retrospection: “Reflection on lived experience is always recollective; it is reflection on experience that is already passed or lived through” (10) and as such (here’s the unnerving part!), “does not offer us the possibility of effective theory with which we can now explain and/or control the world, but rather it offers us the possibility of plausible insights that bring us in more direct contact with the world” (9). In this regard, phenomenology views “the experiential situation as the topos of real pedagogic acting” (7), and the “textual reflection on the lived experiences and practical actions of everyday life with the intent to increase one’s thoughtfulness and practical resourcefulness or tact” (4). Van Manen refers back to the trickster Diogenes, who believed “a human being is not just something you automatically are, it is also something you must try to be” (italics in original, 5).
In sum, “phenomenological research has, as its ultimate aim, the fulfillment of our human nature: to become more fully who we are” (12). “Phenomenology…is a poetizing project; it tries an incantative, evocative speaking, a primal telling, wherein we aim to involve the voice in an original singing of the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1973). But poetizing is not ‘merely’ a type of poetry, a making of verses. Poetizing is thinking on original experience and is thus speaking in a more primal sense. Language that authentically speaks the world rather than abstractly speaking of it is a language reverberates the world, as Merleau-Ponty says, a language that sings the world” (italics in original, 13).

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