Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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Transcendental phenomenology

core definition

Transcendental phenomenology attempts to grasp the essential nature of the social world, unencumbered by assumptions, prejudices and scientific theories.

explanatory context

Phenomenology attempts to interpret the world from the point of view of the social actors operating within a given context. Transcendental phenomenology, as developed by Edmund Husserl, wanted to transcend surface interpretation and to uncover the essence of social phenomena. To achieve this Huseerl argued that all non-existential aspects need to be bracketed away. The process is usually seen as inviolving a double bracketing or epoché [as he referred to it]. The first level of bracketing dispenses with peripheral notions, actions and so on and the second, more difficult epoché sets aside all ones preconceptions, assumptions and prejudices about a particular phenomenon, including all, so-called, scientific knowledge.


Transcendental phenomenology thus leads to a new'cleaner', uncluttered, essentialist perception of the world.

analytical review

van Manen (2011) wrote:

By transcendental phenomenology we refer primarily to the work of Edmund Husserl and his early assistants Edith Stein and Eugen Fink. Husserl’s pathbreaking work on phenomenology inspired the thinking of many scholars and the development of various movements. Husserl often used the words “transcendental” and “phenomenology” interchangeably to describe the special method of the eidetic reduction by means of which the phenomena are described. Through the method of imaginative variation, (examples of instantiation, and comparative examination) the invariant or eidetic aspects of a particular phenomenon are explicated.
Husserl described phenomenology as the rigorous science of all conceivable transcendental phenomena. All knowledge should be based on absolutely certain insights. But the rigor of the method of phenomenology is interpreted philosophically rather than in terms of any elaborate, objective procedures of the physical and natural sciences. The natural sciences start from a complex set of presuppositions, frameworks and perspectives of knowledge, but these are not questioned by the sciences themselves. For Husserl, phenomenology is a rigorous, human science precisely because it investigates the way that knowledge comes into being and clarifies the assumptions upon which all human understandings are grounded.....

Smith (2008) wrote:

In Ideas Husserl presented phenomenology with a transcendental turn. In part this means that Husserl took on the Kantian idiom of “transcendental idealism”, looking for conditions of the possibility of knowledge, or of consciousness generally, and arguably turning away from any reality beyond phenomena. But Husserl's transcendental turn also involved his discovery of the method of epoché (from the Greek skeptics' notion of abstaining from belief). We are to practice phenomenology, Husserl proposed, by “bracketing” the question of the existence of the natural world around us. We thereby turn our attention, in reflection, to the structure of our own conscious experience. Our first key result is the observation that each act of consciousness is a consciousness of something, that is, intentional, or directed toward something. Consider my visual experience wherein I see a tree across the square. In phenomenological reflection, we need not concern ourselves with whether the tree exists: my experience is of a tree whether or not such a tree exists. However, we do need to concern ourselves with how the object is meant or intended. I see a Eucalyptus tree, not a Yucca tree; I see that object as a Eucalyptus, with a certain shape, with bark stripping off, etc. Thus, bracketing the tree itself, we turn our attention to my experience of the tree, and specifically to the content or meaning in my experience. This tree-as-perceived Husserl calls the noema or noematic sense of the experience.

associated issues


related areas

See also







van Manen (2011, 'Transcendental phenomenology' available at, accessed 9 May 2013, still available 29 December 2016.

Smith, D.W., 2008, 'Phenomenology', first published 16 November 2003; substantive revision 28 July 2008, available at, accessed 9 May 2013, further substantive revision 16 December 2013, still available 29 December 2016 (quoted material seemingly unchanged).

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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