Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The hermeneutic reduction: openness

Method: Bracket all interpretation and reflectively explicate whatever assumptions seem to need attention in writing the research text.


One needs to reflect on one’s own preunderstandings, frameworks, and biases regarding the (psychological, political, and ideological) motivation and the nature of the question, in search for genuine openness in one’s conversational relation with the phenomenon. In the reduction one needs to overcome one’s subjective or private feelings, preferences, inclinations, or expectations that may seduce or tempt one to come to premature, wishful, or onesided understandings of an experience and that would prevent one from coming to terms with a phenomenon as it is lived through.


On the one hand this means that one needs to practice a critical self-awareness with respect to the assumptions that prevent one from being as open as possible to the sense and significance of the phenomenon. We need to forget as it were our vested interests and preunderstandings. We need to practise a radical openness to the phenomenon.


On the other hand it means that one needs to realize that forgetting all of one’s preunderstandings is not really possible and therefore these various assumptions and interests may need to be explicated so as to exorcise them in an attempt to let speak that what wishes to speak.


Practically, the hermeneutic reduction consist of reflectively examining and turning over in one’s textual labor the various preunderstandings that seem to impinge on the reflective gaze. This does not mean that one must hope to arrive at some kind of pure vantage point, as if such a pure gaze were possible. But it requires that the various dimensions of lived meaning of a particular human experience are investigated for their various sources and layers of meaning, rather than being overlaid with a particular frame of meaning. Phenomenological inquiry continually is open to questioning assumptions and preunderstanding.