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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:

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:


4th International Symposium on Phenomenological Research in Education – HU Berlin

The program for this year’s symposium on phenomenological research in education (Lived Body – Corporeality – Embodiment: Pedagogical Perspectives of a Phenomenology of the Lived Body), organized by Malte Brinkmann, is now available. You can find the full program here.

The conference takes place from 18th to 20th September 2017 at the Humboldt-University of Berlin. Further information on the registration process as well as the registration form can be found on the website of the Department of General Education/Philosophy of Education.

Publication Announcement: Confrence Proceedings of the 3rd Symposium on “Phenomenological Research in Education” published

The conference proceedings entitled “Pedagogy – Phenomenology. Defining Relations and Challenges” have recently been published. They document the 3rd symposium on Phenomenological Research in Education entitled “Pedagogy Phenomenology – Phenomenology Pedagogy”, held in September 2015. Editors are Malte Brinkmann, Marc Fabian Buck and Sales Severin Rödel. These conference proceedings are the third of the conference series “Phenomenological Research in Education” and investigate the similarities and differences of Phenomenology and Pedagogy from a historical, a systematic, a practice-oriented and a methodological standpoint. Traditional and recent approaches in the field of Phenomenological Research in Education in Germany as well as in the international discourse are compiled and evaluated productively. The relationship between Pedagogy and Phenomenology is discussed and demonstrated in the form of Phenomenological Description and Analysis, historical as well as systematic research, studies on learning and education in the classroom context and investigations regarding phenomenological research practice. Table of contents:
I) Systematic and Historical Studies on the Relation of Pedagogy and Phenomenology
II) Pedagogical Phenomena
III) Pedagogy and Phenomenology in the Classroom Context
IV) Phenomenology as a Practice of Pedagogical Research

The conference proceedings published by Springer VS are accessible via this link.

Further volumes of this conference series can be accessed here.

Workshop “phenomenological videography” at HU Berlin: Attentiveness in pedagogical contexts

In a workshop on “phenomenological videography”, which took place on the 9th of March 2017 at HU Berlin, Department of General Education and Philosophy of Education, we explored the practice and theory of pedagogical attentiveness. We discussed different theories of attentiveness (mindfulness, awareness, ethics of attentiveness) and made them fruitful for pedagogical contexts. Starting from a theory of inter-attentionality, which we developed in our videographical research Berlin, aspects of phenomenological and videographical methodology were presented and discussed (Pedagogical-Phenomenological Videography, Embodiment and Learning).

From an etymological perspective, the German word for attentiveness (Achtsamkeit) is related to the verb “to esteem” (achten) and the nouns “respect” and “attention” (Schätzen, Beachtung, Aufmerksamkeit). There are three different levels of meaning: a) “to deem sth as …” (dafürhalten, erachten); b) “to consider sth” (beachten); c) “to pay attention to sth” (acht geben). As a contrary meaning to these terms, we also find the word “despise” (verachten). Being attentive thus means to be careful and to consider something with full attentiveness (

Attentiveness is an abstract concept, not a phenomenon. It can become a phenomenon, however, if we transfer it into a concrete form of practice. Then we can differentiate various practices of attentiveness: looking closely at sth, listening to sth, turning to sth or someone, encouraging someone and – in the horizon of negativity – to keep someone from doing sth and to restrict someone.
Attentiveness is an ambivalent, embodied practice of being open towards the world in the mode of “releasement” or “calm composure” (Gelassenheit, Heidegger). From a pedagogical perspective it is a normative practice, which is directed towards the Other. These practices of attentiveness can be described in a qualitative way and can be captured videographically, as they are related to embodied interactions (Verkörperungen) – at least this was our thesis.

In the following data session, we analysed video data from our research project research project and tried to relate the outcomes of the analysis to a theory and practice of pedagogical attentiveness.

Malte Brinkmann (Photography: Martin Pohl and Johannes Türstig)

Contemplative Phenomenology Workshop: The Experience of the Present Moment

Thank you Denis Francesconi for the following event information:

The Mind and Life Institute supports the Contemplative Phenomenology Workshop.

Participants will have the chance to probe, with the help of a team of specialists from Europe and beyond, into various aspects of first-person inquiry, especially those that are relevant for contemplative disciplines: Philosophical phenomenology and lived experience, Cross-interactions between contemplative approaches and empirical first-person approaches, and Buddhist phenomenology.

The workshop is presented by Michel Bitbol, Natalie Depraz and Claire Petitmengin and it will take place in Nemours, France, on 12-16 June 2017.

Phenomenology and Mindfulness

Here you can find information about an interesting conference about Phenomenology and Mindfulness: Phenomenology and Mindfulness: Interdisciplinary Coalition of North American Phenomenologists Ninth Annual Meeting, Ramapo College of New Jersey, May 25–28, 2017.

(Deutsch) Eva Simms – Interview zum Verhältnis Psychologie und Phänomenologie

(sorry, this article is only available in German as it refers to an interview in German language)

Workshop on Phenomenological Videography in China

Sales Rödel and Malte Brinkmann present the concept of Pedagogical-Phenomenological Videography at a workshop in the context of the 3rd Sino-Germany Dialogue on Didactic at the East China Normal University in Shanghai.

Im the context of a long-standing cooperation between the ECNU and the Humboldt-University of Berlin, the first center for videographical classroom research will soon be established. We are looking forward to the continual intercultural exchange with our Chinese colleagues.

Prof. Dr. Malte Brinkmann, Dr. des Sales Rödel

Postscript on the “Elephant” in “Phenomenology”

Here you can find an insightful article about the “‘Elephant (象)’ glyph in the Chinese term for ‘Phenomenology (现象学)'”.

(Deutsch) Einladung zum Workshop “Phänomenologische Videographie”

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

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