Monday, December 24, 2007

Phenomenology : Society as a Human Construction

Phenomenology is used in two basic ways in sociology: (1) to theorize about substantive sociological problems and (2) to enhance the adequacy of sociological research methods. Since phenomenology insists that society is a human construction, sociology itself and its theories and methods are also constructions (Cicourel 1964; 1973). Thus, phenomenology seeks to offer a corrective to the field's emphasis on positivist conceptualizations and research methods that may take for granted the very issues that phenomenologists find of interest. Phenomenology presents theoretical techniques and qualitative methods that illuminate the human meanings of social life.
Phenomenology has until recently been viewed as at most a challenger of the more conventional styles of sociological work and at the least an irritant. Increasingly, phenomenology is coming to be viewed as an adjunctive or even integral part of the discipline, contributing useful analytic tools to balance objectivist approaches (Aho 1998; Levesque-Lopman 1988; Luckmann 1978; Psathas 1973; Rogers 1983).


The central task in social phenomenology is to demonstrate the reciprocal interactions among the processes of human action, situational structuring, and reality construction. Rather than contending that any aspect is a causal factor, phenomenology views all dimensions as constitutive of all others. Phenomenologists use the term reflexivity to characterize the way in which constituent dimensions serve as both foundation and consequence of all human projects. The task of phenomenology, then, is to make manifest the incessant tangle or reflexivity of action, situation, and reality in the various modes of being in the world.

Phenomenology commences with an analysis of the natural attitude. This is understood as the way ordinary individuals participate in the world, taking its existence for granted, assuming its objectivity, and undertaking action projects as if they were predetermined. Language, culture, and common sense are experienced in the natural attitude as objective features of an external world that are learned by actors in the course of their lives.
Human beings are open to patterned social experience and strive toward meaningful involvement in a knowable world. They are characterized by a typifying mode of consciousness tending to classify sense data. In phenomenological terms humans experience the world in terms of typifications: Children are exposed to the common sounds and sights of their environments, including their own bodies, people, animals, vehicles, and so on. They come to apprehend the categorical identity and typified meanings of each in terms of conventional linguistic forms. In a similar manner, children learn the formulas for doing common activities. These practical means of doing are called recipes for action. Typifications and recipes, once internalized, tend to settle beneath the level of full awareness, that is, become sedimented, as do layers of rock. Thus, in the natural attitude, the foundations of actors' knowledge of meaning and action are obscured to the actors themselves.

Actors assume that knowledge is objective and all people reason in a like manner. Each actor assumes that every other actor knows what he or she knows of this world: All believe that they share common sense. However, each person's biography is unique, and each develops a relatively distinct stock of typifications and recipes. Therefore, interpretations may diverge. Everyday social interaction is replete with ways in which actors create feelings that common sense is shared, that mutual understanding is occurring, and that everything is all right. Phenomenology emphasizes that humans live within an intersubjective world, yet they at best approximate shared realities. While a paramount reality is commonly experienced in this manner, particular realities or finite provinces of meaning are also constructed and experienced by diverse cultural, social, or occupational groupings.

For phenomenology, all human consciousness is practical.

it is always of something. Actors intend projects into the world; they act in order to implement goals based on their typifications and recipes, their stock of knowledge at hand. Consciousness as an intentional process is composed of thinking, perceiving, feeling, remembering, imagining, and anticipating directed toward the world. The objects of consciousness, these intentional acts, are the sources of all social realities that are, in turn, the materials of common sense.

Thus, typifications derived from common sense are internalized, becoming the tools that individual consciousness uses to constitute a lifeworld, the unified arena of human awareness and action. Common sense serves as an ever-present resource to assure actors that the reality that is projected from human subjectivity is an objective reality. Since all actors are involved in this intentional work, they sustain the collaborative effort to reify their projections and thereby reinforce the very frameworks that provide the construction tools.

Social interaction is viewed phenomenologically as a process of reciprocal interpretive constructions of actors applying their stock of knowledge at hand to the occasion. Interactors orient themselves to others by taking into account typified meanings of actors in typified situations known to them through common sense. Action schemes are geared by each to the presumed projects of others. The conduct resulting from the intersection of intentional acts indicates to members of the collectivity that communication or coordination or something of the like is occurring among them. For these members, conduct and utterances serve as indexical expressions of the properties of the situation enabling each to proceed with the interaction while interpreting others, context, and self. Through the use of certain interpretive practices, members order the situation for themselves in sensical and coherent terms: In their talk they gloss over apparent irrelevancies, fill in innumerable gaps, ignore inconsistencies, and assume a continuity of meaning, thereby formulating the occasion itself.


Mr. Glaser — the designer of the “I Heart N.Y.” icon, Gothamist points out — was apparently asked about, or simply offered (it’s unclear), his opinion on why so few women achieve greatness in graphic design. Here’s how Gothamist said the awkward moment went down:

Glaser said that the reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that “women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home.” He continued: “Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it’s never going to change.” About day care and nannies, he said, “None of them are good solutions.”


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