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Phenomenological Methods

The analysis of the US data is carried out predominantly in the phenomenological register. Saying this means that a) the philosophical enterprise of phenomenology is reduced to empirical methods and that b) these methods, in turn, are adjusted to the object of study, i.e., legal phenomena. Therefore, in this short introduction, I will elaborate only that aspect of phenomenological methodology that exhibits direct relevance to what is inscribed in the name of this project, law-in-action, namely, the phenomena constituted in and by legal action.

No entry point in phenomenology is possible without evoking the name of the founder of phenomenological philosophy, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). The Husserlian legacy is enormous in both its scope and its impact. Not only it instigated a new philosophical paradigm (currently known as Continental Philosophy), it offered a new way of examining the world. The Husserlian scholarship distinguishes among three co-extensive analytical registers (roughly defined as static, genetic, and generative) that encompass decades of intense analyses. My interests are confined primarily to the latest, generative, period that emphasizes the intersubjective dimension of the life-world. According to Husserl, the life-world forms the horizon for all perceptions and anticipations. It is also the constitutive ground of all our interests and life-projects. It is thus the life-world that allows for the social world in all its contextual manifestations.

The latter postulate was elaborated in light of the Weberian sociology by Alfred Schutz (1899-1959). By building upon Weber's theory of action, Schutz confirmed the intersubjective character of inter-actional behaviour. For Schutz, action is what continuously bestows meaning upon this world leading to its transformations. More importantly, meaning-bestowment takes place simultaneously in active intentionality and in social interaction. At the juncture of the individual and social realms stands Symbol. Thus conceptualized, at the break of the last century, symbolic inter-action rises at the helm of phenomenological sociology, paving the way for incorporating phenomenological insights into the emergent communication studies. It is from within those studies that three most pertinent—for this research--methodological strands appeared. They are conversation analysis, ethnomethodology, and ethnography of communication. Although not properly phenomenological, at least not in the Husserlian sense, these methods may count as off-phenomenological, for while departing from the traditional phenomenological themes (e.g., time, the Other, corporeality, perception), they retained basic methodological commitments. Below I would like to briefly present the key tenets of each method.

A precursor to conversation analysis, ethnomethodology grounded its program in the study of human actions as contextually stipulated practical accomplishments, that is, the ethnomethodologist approaches people's methods as ethnomethods, i.e., natural and unreflective conducts carried out toward specific goals. It was Harold Garfinkel (b. 1917) who, in the late1950s, proposed to study these methods in themselves rather than as a part of scientific ontology. At about the same time as ethnomethodology instituted a radical breakaway from the old modelling sociology, Dell Hymes (b. 1927) launched an alternative to linguistics-based anthropology. By re-defining the key concept of anthropology—culture--as speech community, he radicalized the boundary between the study of language and the study of its use. Founded by Harvey Sacks (1935-1975), conversation analysis narrowed the ethnomethodological project to the study of conversational structure. Similarly to ethnomethodology, conversation analysis gave the ultimate benefit of meaning construction to the interacting participants themselves. Its focus on the micro-properties of talk makes it one of the most technical analytical tools of communication studies. Owing to their phenomenological basis, all the discussed methodologies can be applied separately or in a combination, thus disclosing human phenomena in multi-perspectival elaborations, without, however, compromizing focal and analytical consistency. The research carried out under the rubric of US case-study employs all the above methods. For the specifics of methodological applications, click on Research .


Suggested Reading

Garfinkel, Harold (1984). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge : Polity Press.

Husserl, Edmund (1970). The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Trans. David Carr. Evanston : Northwestern University Press.

Hymes, Dell (1974). Foundations of Sociolinguistics. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press

Sacks, Harvey (1992). Lectures on Conversation. Oxford : Blackwell.

Schutz, Alfred (1967). The Phenomenology of the Social World. Trans. George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert. Evanston : Northwestern University Press.



New activities

Special Issue on "Law and Biography" in BIOS

Call for Abstracts/French-German Conference on “Enfermement/Freiheitsentzug

Latest Texts/Books

My ethnography on the English Crown Court procedure by BRILL

Our comparative ethnography of criminal defence work in different procedural regimes by PALGRAVE

Teaching in SS 2011

Scheffer: „Einführung in die Institutionelle Ethnographie“ Kurs in Moodle

Scheffer: „Was tun Verfahren? Eine sozialwissenschaftliche Debatte“ Kurs in Moodle

Scheffer: „Arbeitskreis politische Ethnographie“ Termine in Moodle

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