Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

It is impossible to practice the phenomenological method without understanding the meaning and significance of the reduction. “Reduction” is the technical term that describes a phenomenological device which permits us to discover what Merleau-Ponty (1962) calls “the spontaneous surge of the lifeworld”. The aim of the reduction is to reachieve what he describes as a “direct and primitive contact with the world” as we experience it –rather than as we conceptualize it.


The term “reduction” derives from re-ducere, to lead back. This is the “direct and primitive contact” of which Merleau-Ponty speaks. As such, it is perhaps experienced as a moment of lived meaning, of meaningfulness. So the method of the reduction is meant to bring the aspects of meaning that belong to the phenomena of our lifeworld into nearness. In particular, it aims to bring into focus the uniqueness of the particular phenomenon to which we are oriented.


It would be a mistake to see the reduction as a predetermined procedure that we should apply to the phenomenon that is being researched. The practice of human science is never simply a matter of procedure. Rather the reduction refers to a certain attentiveness. If we want to come to an understanding of the unique meaning and significance of something we need to reflect on it by practicing a thoughtful attentiveness.


The term “reduction” can be misleading since reduction is ironically a protest against reductionism understood as abstracting, codifying, shortening. So how then is reflection supposed to emulate lived meaning or prereflective experience? As The emulator is “language”, and the process of emulating is performed through writing. The intent of writing is to produce textual “portrayals” that resonate and make intelligible the kinds of meanings that we seem to recognize in life as we live it.


Of course, we need to realize as well that in some sense nothing is simply “given” –human intentionality always already predisposes us to perceive things in certain ways (logically, consistently, conceptually, clearly, etc.). The “meaning-structures” of reflective experience can never fully imitate lived experience from which they were reduced. Nevertheless, the techniques of phenomenological reflection aim to bring about a state or condition of phenomenological “seeing” or understanding that is as much an experience of meaningfulness as it is a form of knowledge.


So the reduction is a certain reflective attentiveness that must be practiced for phenomenological understanding to occur. The reduction is consequently not only a research method, it also describes the phenomenological attitude that must be adopted by anyone who wishes to participate in the questions that a certain project pursues. In other words, phenomenological meaning and understanding have to be produced constantly anew by the writers and the readers of phenomenological texts.