A table, a glass, a voice, a melody, a sensation, a touch, a problem, a surprise, a sentiment while learning, an experience between parents and child in education – these are topics that phenomenological philosophy and phenomenological educational science are concerned with. They are phenomena perceived sensually and in an embodied way. When they occur, we are involved individually and inter-subjectively at the same time. To the things themselves – this claim by Husserl, the founder of modern phenomenology, is guiding phenomenological practice. Phenomena “show themselves”. They are not objectively given facts but they appear as something in the mode of intentionality. “The formula something as something means that something (actual, possible, or impossible) is linked to something else (a sense, a meaning) and is at the same time separated from it” (Waldenfels 2011, p. 21). In intentionality, something appears as close or distant, strange or familiar, in memory, in taste, touch, or plain view. A plurality of meanings arises according to one’s individual position, interest and context, and in keeping with spatial-temporal, inter-subjective and (im)material structures. Intentional engagement in educational settings is constituted as experience, and many phenomenologists profiled below specifically understand phenomenology as the study and theory of lived experience (Erfahrung). Experience, as Husserl explains, occurs between the active production of meaning and its passive reception, arising both through “active passivity” and “passive intention” (Husserl 2001).
This means that perception directed at phenomena, in which individual sense is formed (Noesis) in the intentional act, is dependent on what shows itself in the act of perception (Noema). This passivity as characteristic for perceiving and experiencing is an important starting point for phenomenological analyses. They include spatial, temporal and embodied conditions and limitations of perceiving, thinking and acting. Experience is thus not considered to be a finished product, or an output, but a process. The “jagged lines of experience” (Waldenfels 2002) show themselves in resistant moments. These are found in things ‘un-ready-to-hand’ (Heidegger), in moments of resistance or in Widerfahrnissen (Waldenfels’ notion of pathos) as well as in human struggle, pain or disappointment (Husserl), irritations, not-knowing, not-knowing-how (Buck 1989) or crises (Bollnow). They are focussed as life-worldly, inter-corporal and inter-subjective processes marked by differences, ruptures and experiences of foreignness (Waldenfels 2002). Phenomenology starts at concrete life-worldly experiences as they occur historically and systematically earlier than their scientific concepts and methods. These primordial “silent” experiences are pre-verbal, pre-discursive and pre-reflexive (Hua I, p. 77) in the beginning. Phenomenological reflexion aims at respecting different articulations of experiences instead of occupying or colonising them.
Husserl’s thoughts are the basis of Heidegger’s, Sartre’s, Merleau-Ponty’s, Levinas’ and Plessner’s philosophy as well as of Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowledge. Phenomenology significantly influences continental philosophy with exponents such as Foucault, Derrida, Waldenfels, Ricœur and Nancy. It has furthermore become fruitful for other sciences such as sociology, aesthetics, image theory, anthropology, art and literature as well as psychology and neurosciences.
The orientation towards the life-world gives it a privilege in contrast to cognitivist and rationalist concepts, as it regards the lived body as the elementary dimension of experience in learning and educating. Husserl already determines the lived body as the “zero point of all orientation” (Hua IV, p. 158). When the lived body comes to our attention as something, we experience it as more than just a body, we experience it as lived body, as phenomenon. It is thus not to be regarded as a thing amongst others. It is rather a “transfer point” (Hua IV, p. 286) between the self and the world. Merleau-Ponty and Plessner also highlight the structure lived body (Leib) and body (Körper). The lived body is the medium of our experience of the world and of our self-awareness. It produces meanings and creates tools for “practically” and productively interpreting the world. Only within and through the lived body can we experience the here and now, up and down, right and left, earlier and later. We always perceive something meaningfully and from a certain perspective. The lived body always appears as something specific, as beautiful, as desirable. The “embodied cognition theory” (ECT) makes these phenomenological insights fruitful for a neuroscientific theory of mind, brain and attention (S. Gallagher, N. Depraz). The favour of life-worldly experiences and a sceptical distance towards theoretical, scientific, ideological and fundamentalist positions can show the way to a “third way” (Merleau-Ponty) between positivism and idealism, empiricism and rationalism.
Within pedagogy, phenomenology has a history that is over one hundred years long. From the beginning, Husserl’s main themes – time, lived body, world, otherness – are systematically combined with theories and practices of Bildung and education. Most approaches share the descriptive approach to pedagogical experience. They approach phenomena differently, using methods such as “phenomenography”, (F. Marton), “descriptive phenomenological method” (A. Giorgi), a “transcendental phenomenology” (C. Moustakas’) or an “interpretative phenomenological analysis” (J. Smith). Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus’ “model of learning” as the gradual acquisition of knowledge and skill also has phenomenological roots. Max van Manen’s “hermeneutic phenomenology” is a phenomenological method for empirical research. Van Manen regards pedagogical experiences as singular relations between adult and child, in which the adult acts intentionally for the sake of the child’s present circumstances and his or her likely future. In this context, the adult’s actions are to be guided by tact, which van Manen characterises in terms of “pathic” understanding: situated, relational, embodied, and enactive forms of “non-cognitive” learning and knowing.
Phenomenological orientations can recently be found in anthropology, early childhood education, aesthetic and cultural education, school pedagogy and school research, and, self-evidently, in educational studies. Pedagogical experiences are theoretically and empirically described in their temporal, sensual and mundane dimensions as they occur and are reflected in their respective contexts. They integrate space and time of learning and educating as well as lived body, otherness and foreigness in experiences and culture. They are discussed in fields of life-world and foreignness (Lippitz), of re-learning and corporeality (Meyer-Drawe), practice and attention (Brinkmann). Concrete embodied, emotional, social and material aspects are the focus of attention in phenomenological approaches to analyses of learning and educating as experience. These life-worldly embodied experiences can be joy, embarrassment, disappointment and irritation as well as disgust, envy, jealousy and anger in learning and educating. Phenomenological practices demand opening oneself to “the things” – as “they are given”. The phenomenological attitude demands composure, attention and attentiveness for things other and foreign, for lived sense and embodied processes – an engaged passivity.