Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Seeking: A phenomenologist is a seeker of meaning.


The phenomenologist seeks to be a writer, and as writer he or she seeks to enter the space of the text where one tries to gain a view of or to touch the subject one is trying to describe. Seeking to be a writer. But what does that mean? What does phenomenology ask of the person who wants to practice it? I do not mean to speak of the technology of writing. The act of writing is difficult and fraught with frustrations. In fact, no writer becomes successful in seeking to be a writer. What makes writing successful is to search for the meaning that motivates one to be a writer/researcher in the first place.


Writing is a solitary activity. While it is commonly assumed that writing is usually performed as a communicative act and therefore social in its intent, the experiential fact is that at the moment of writing I am here by myself at this writing desk or in this writing space. Many authors have commented on this intensely solitary, even lonely dimension of writing.


When an author manages to set a questioning mood, then the text may infect the reader with a sudden realization of the unsuspected enigmatic nature of ordinary reality. This infectious evocation of perplexity and wonder is perhaps what Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962, p. xiii) had in mind when he spoke of phenomenological method as a peculiar attitude and attentiveness to the things of the world. Or when he referred more directly to Eugen Finke+s declaration that at the heart of the famous phenomenological reduction lies the orientation of wonder, wonder in the face of the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Wonder is that moment of being when one is overcome by awe or perplexity-such as when something familiar has turned profoundly unfamiliar, when our gaze has been captured by the gaze of something staring back at us.


From a philosophical perspective it is not at all surprising that wonder is the central methodological feature of phenomenological inquiry, since phenomenology is a philosophical project. Plato and aristotle had argued that all philosophical thought begins in wonder, but we may also turn it around and say that philosophical reflection is the product of wonder. In other words, wonder is both the condition and the primariry principle of phenomenological method (Verhoeven 1967, pp. 30-50). But how can wonder be a method? and how does the state of wonder relate to the process of inquiry and questioning that animates the phenomenological interest?


Phenomenology not only finds its starting point in wonder it must also induce wonder (van Manen 1990, pp. 44, 45). For a phenomenological text to “lead” the way to human understanding it must lead the reader to wonder. The text must induce a questioning wonder.