In the most simplistic form, phenomenology is the study of conscious phenomena, and analysis of the way in which things or experiences show themselves (Sanders, 1982). Although phenomenology can be found in the works of many individuals, the founding father of the phenomenological movement was German philosopher Edmund Husserl (Embree, 1997). Phenomenology is abroad broad stream with many current, but is derived from the Greek verb which mean to appear or to show one’s self (Sanders, 1982).
Husserl explains phenomenology as something more than a descriptive psychology, due to the fact that it is concerned with essences (ideas or form) which are derived from an intentional analysis of the correlation between the object as perceived and the subjective object (Popkin, 1999). Husserl’s conception once again expands when he figures that consciousness is intentional, and uses the term intentionality to refer to the connection between the object and the appearance of the object to one’s consciousness (Popkin, 1999). That means any description of it must also encompass its object and how they are intended (Popkin, 1999). In a more simple form, intentionality refers to the total meaning of an object, which is always more than what can be seen from a single perspective. He discusses that phenomenology is an eidetic psychology on the interpretation that essences are discerned by an eidetic institution rather than an empirical observation (Popkin, 1999). He argues that phenomenology is the study of all modes of possible objectivity for consciousness and not just consciousness (Popkin, 1999).
The basis of phenomenology has two distinct features: the eidetic reduction and bracketing (Popkin, 1999). Eidetic reduction is basically the process of shifting the reflective focus from facts to essences, it is going beyond the conventional patterns of though and action (Popkin, 1999). The second being transcendental reduction which brackets the existence of objects of consciousness in order to consider them strictly as meanings. Using his doctorate in math to good use, he used the term bracketing to describe this process “If one wants to bring another part of an equation (or observation) into focus, other parts are bracketed, leaving them constant but out of consideration. The bracketed matter does not cease to exist; rather, it is temporarily put out of action” (Sanders, 1982, 355).
Although Husserl was persecuted by the Nazis and died in 1938 for being Jewish, numerous disciplines have used and built upon Husserl’s idea of phenomenology including the field of archaeology (Popkin, 1999).
A successor to Husserl, Heidegger’s perception of phenomenology is much more useful in archaeology. He recognized the importance of an embodied experience of the world, his challenge to the Cartesian spilt of mind and body, of nature and culture, his conceptualization of being in the world and of dwelling (Tilley, 2006).
With Heidegger’s work on phenomenology, there are three points that can be accepted into archaeology: (Barrett, 2009, 280)
- The archaeological record cannot be understood without a human presence. Meaning arises in a human engagement with material conditions.
- The body is the medium through which this engagement occurs
- By using his or her own body as the medium of engagement, the archaeologist can encounter a past Being-in-the-world
Phenomenology works with archaeology because it involves the understanding and description of things as they are experienced by something or someone. The subject is consciously aware of its surroundings, as Tilley describes in the way one observes landscapes, looking for clues which may provide the subject with ‘meaning’ of the past (Tilley, 2006).
Phenomenology is heavily connected with philosophy, so for this term to be used in archaeology, one had to avoid the technical aspects and look at landscapes as the main study (Barrett, 2006). The archaeological approach is defined more by two rejections rather than what is adopts (Barrett, 2006)). Firstly, one has to reject the methodological consensus of a scientific archaeology (Barrett, 2006). In realizing that past history is a cultural product of the present, it is important to understand that they must be implicated in the making of the present and future (Barrett, 2006). The second rejection is that mechanisms of history are reducible to a series of general processes that operate cross-culturally (Barrett, 2006).
By relating phenomenology back to the course in which we talk about time, space, and place and how it is all connected within the landscape, one uses the term phenomenology in that there is never a dull moment that we are separate from the work in both past present and future. “It is the phenomenologist that have most carefully theorised the distinctions between space and place, and between place and landscape, suggesting on the one hand that space cannot exist apart from the event and activities within which it is implicated- that is derives its meaning from particular places, and on the other that: A landscape is a series of names locales, a set of relational places, linking by path, movements and narratives” (Tilley, 2006, 306).
Barrett, C.J. (2006). A Phenomenology of Landscapes. Journal of Social Archaeology, 9(3), 275-294.
Embree, L. (1997). What is Phenomenology? The Encyclopedia of Phenomenology, 18, 1-10.
Popkin, H.R. (1999). The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. Columbia University Press.
Sanders, P. (1982). Phenomenology: A New Way of Viewing Organizational Research. Academy of Management Review, 7(3), 353-360.
Tilley, C. (2006). Handbook of Material Culture. SAGE Publication Ltd.