Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Phenomenology of practice

Phenomenology of practice could also be called experiential phenomenology, lifeworld phenomenology, or applied phenomenology.


Professional practitioners tend to be less interested in the philosophy of phenomenological method than its practice and application. Therefore, when exploring the nature of phenomenological research, it is helpful to make an immediate distinction between phenomenological research performed by professional philosophers and phenomenological research conducted by professional practitioners. The interest of the professional philosopher tends to lie with philosophical topics, themes, and issues emanating from the study of historical developments of philosophical systems and from the study of issues arising from the works of leading phenomenologists. For example, a philosopher may investigate the possibility of the phenomenological constitution of the transcendental ego, or the relation between transcendental phenomenology in Husserl and ontological phenomenology in Heidegger.


In contrast, professional practitioners tend to work within the applied domains of the human sciences such as education, clinical psychology, nursing, medicine, and specializations such as psychiatry or midwifery. A practitioner in the health sciences may study concerns such as the nurse/doctor-patient relation, how young children experience pain, or how the body is experienced in illness and in health.


Of course, there are exceptions to this very general distinction between philosophical and practical phenomenology. There are philosophers who apply their inquiries to every day life concerns of people and others whose writings on technology, for example, have a direct bearing on the ways that practitioners may understand their daily work.


There are some historical precedents for this notion of applied or practical phenomenology. The Swiss physician Binswanger was one of the first to introduce the phenomenology of Husserl, Scheler, and Heidegger into the study and practice of psychiatry. Between the 1940s and 1960s in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany there were phenomenologists who applied phenomenological methods to their practical professional concerns. The Utrecht School consisted of an assortment of phenomenologically-oriented psychologists (Buytendijk, Linschoten, van Lennep), educators and pedagogues (Langeveld, Beekman), pediatricians (Beets), criminologists and jurists (Pompe), psychiatrists (Rmke, van den Berg), and others, who formed a farily close association of like-minded academics (see Levering and van Manen, forthcoming). And since the 1970s some of this work has inspired North american variations of a practice based phenomenology-initially especially in psychology (eg., Giorgi and Moustakas), in nursing (eg, Benner) and in education (eg, van Manen).