The beginnings of phenomenological research in education

Aloys Fischer (1880-1937): “Deskriptive Pädagogik” (1914)

“The basic question of all description is, what the Given in the experience is. Every pedagogy and every school in pedagogy talks about education […] every school believes to know about the matter which was labelled “education” in every detail and is quick about stating what and how education should be. […] Not the meaning of the words, which is just the linguistic clarification of the meaning, but the description of the matter at question is the task which lays at the foundation of all scientific research, it is the task that makes research possible.” (Fischer 1914/1961, p. 144, translation by S.R.)

Fischer is a representative of the “Munich School” surrounding Theodor Lipps, an educational theorist and a pioneer of research in education (Bildung). The Munich phenomenologists came into contact with Husserl from 1902, who was then teaching in Göttingen. Husserl’s “Logische Untersuchungen” were critically received and connected to psychological and pedagogical questions. Fischer is one of the first to use the methodical tool of description as a means of intersubjective validation of experience and (pedagogical) interactions.

Thus description gets a methodological function and helps to address questions of the subject matter of pedagogy as a science. According to Fischer, description enables the researcher to explore “pure facts” and the „ ground of certainty” (Fischer 1914/1961, p. 144), on which educational science is established. After going through the phenomenological reduction (ibid., p. 147), phenomenological description can guarantee a “theory-free” (ibid., p. 142) description, which is also free from preconditions or prejudices. Fischer proves the fruitfulness of this method in his works on psychology and school pedagogy.

Fischer’s Realontologie (ontology of reality), the strict formalism of his method as well as the reduction of the phenomenological method to mere description and pure facts have been frequently criticized within German educational sciences. The main point of criticism is that Fischer reduces pedagogy to a science of objective facts, while not recognizing the normative and moral implications of his own research. However, Fischer has contributed a lot to scientific and empirical pedagogy. The question of description and the question of the subject matter of pedagogy still play an important role in contemporary reflections on education, learning and Bildung.

Primary sources:
Fischer, Aloys (1914/1961). Deskriptive Pädagogik. In T. Rutt (Ed.), Aloys Fischer. Ausgewählte pädagogische Schriften. Paderborn: Schöningh, S. 137-154.

Additional readings:
Lippitz, Wilfried (2010): Aloys Fischer (1880-1937). ‚Deskriptive Pädagogik‘ oder ‚Prinzipienwissenschaft von der Erziehung‘. Zu den Anfängen phänomenologischer Forschungen in der Erziehungswissenschaft. In: Brinkmann, M. (Hrsg.): Erziehung. Phänomenologische Perspektiven. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, S. 23–38.

Brinkmann, Malte (2016): Phenomenological research in education. A systematic overview of German phenomenological pedagogy from the beginnings up to today. In: Dallari, M. (Hrsg.): Encyclopaideia. Journal of phenomenology and education, vol. 20, no 45, S. 96-114 (Online access: https://encp.unibo.it/).

Brinkmann, Malte (2017): Phänomenologische Erziehungswissenschaft. Ein systematischer Überblick von ihren Anfängen bis heute. In: Brinkmann, Malte/Rödel, Sales Severin/Buck, Marc Fabian (Hrsg.): Pädagogik – Phänomenologie. Phänomenologie – Pädagogik. Verhältnisbestimmungen und Herausforderungen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 17-46. (Online access: http://www.springer.com/de/book/9783658157425#otherversion=9783658157432)

Image: https://www.tlu.ee/opmat/ka/opiobjekt/KAV6001/pedagoogikateadlased_kutsepedagoogikas/aloys_fisher.html

1 Comment

  1. Very informative article. It would be great to see more of these appear on the blog. Thanks!
    Greetings from Vancouver, Canada.

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