Phenomenology is a philosophy of knowledge that emphasizes direct observation of phenomena. Unlike positivist approach it seeks to sense reality and to describe it in words rather than numbers : words that reflect consciousness and perception.
Foundation built by Edmund husserl who suggested, scientific method was inappropriate for study of human thought and action.
Phenomenology just focus on producing descriptions of what they experience rather than explanation and causes.
Side note. Positivism vs phenomenology
positive is believed that it is possible to create a science of society based on same principles and procedures used in natural sciences like physics and chemistry.
This study would reveal invariable laws of society and principles that govern human behaviour.
So it can be objectively measured and quantified like temperature and pressure.
human behaviour features like meaning feelings and purpose are not important for this study and only features that are observable and quantifiable should be studied.
Features of phenomenology
rejects the assumptions and argue that social and natural sciences are fundamentally different and their methods and assumptions are not the same.
Consciousness which includes thoughts feelings meanings intention and awareness are core features of humans.
Therefore humans do not simply act on external stimulus but also so a stone their consciousness and perceive meaning.
Researcher cannot simply observe phenomena from the outside and impose external logic upon it. She must interpret the internal logic of why that action was taken by the actor.
in reality scholars take mixed approach of mixed subjectivity and objectivity in research. Schultz advocated that study of society should be " phenomenology of intersubjectivity."
Phenomenology in anthropology
Participant observation relies on phenomenology, as a society is best studied when the researcher is part of their culture language meanings burns etc.
Clifford Geertz applied phenomenology in studying social phenomena of Barley cockfight. It gave him an insider perspective of the experience and the deep meanings behind this cultural activity. He described the phenomena rather than quantifying it.
Religion and rituals. Victor Turner detailed account of Ndembu rituals and why they do it and what's the worldview and the context of meaning with in which they perform these rituals.
Cognitive anthropologists applied this philosophy and try to understand the meaning and the worldview of tribals from their own perspective. Harold Conklin give detailed account of how the tribals view their environment.
Vidyarthi's study on Maler describe their worldview and culture in terms of Maler belief system and spirits and give the concept of nature man spirit complex.
Limits and criticism
M Harris cultural materialism approach shows that outside perspective of a culture also gives an important perspective of the head and reasons behind a cultural phenomena.
Since everyone has different meanings and way of experiencing, there is, High subjectivity of researcher and biases or culture of the earth can influence the research and describing the phenomena
Cannot compare and test hypothesis of theories from descriptions alone. This restricts wider study.
So, phenomenology has influenced anthropological methods studies and theories. But a mix of objectivity is also required.