On the Future of Phenomenological Sociology

Nam-In Lee


1. Applied phenomenology is one of the fields in which the phenomenology of the 21st century has to advance. This paper will deal with the possibility of developing applied phenomenology with respect to phenomenological sociology. There have been some debates on phenomenological sociology in the second half of the 20th century. In 1965, Tiryakian proposed a list of phenomenological sociology that includes the different aspects of sociology developed by Viedrkandt, Mannheim, Gurwitsch, Scheler, Weber, Durkheim, Thomas, and Parsons. (1) Some scholars such as Kolaja, Berger, Heap/Roth have criticized Tiryakian’s view, and Tiryakian himself attempted to defend his position. (2) However, unfortunately no agreements have been reached in regard to the proper definition of phenomenological sociology. Heap/Roth proposed another list of phenomenological sociology that includes hermeneutic sociology, Schutzian sociology, reflective sociology, and ethno-methodology. By assessing these debates, I will attempt to clarify what phenomenological sociology is about and furthermore to show that there are abundant possibilities of developing it.

2. Even though Tiryakian and his critics have contributed a great deal for the clarification of phenomenological sociology, their researches have fundamental limitation that have prevented them from understanding the proper meaning of phenomenological sociology. Focusing mainly on empirical sociology, most of them did not attempt to clarify the field of phenomenological sociology with respect to the general context of phenomenology as a whole. To understand the proper meaning of phenomenological sociology, one, however, has to take into account the whole context of phenomenology in which phenomenological sociology takes a place. Concerning this context, we have to pay attention to the two following facts. First, Husserl conceives of phenomenology as an organic whole that is comprised of not only the various dimensions of the philosophical phenomenology such as the transcendental phenomenology, formal ontology, and regional ontology, but also of empirical science that is founded on the philosophical phenomenology in various ways. Second, phenomenological sociology could be developed on the various dimensions of phenomenology, namely on the dimension of the transcendental phenomenology, that of regional ontology, and that of empirical science, since the sociological facts could be investigated on three different dimensions of phenomenology mentioned above. (However, we cannot develop phenomenological sociology on the dimension of formal ontology, since formal ontology is a formal science that is empty in its contents.) Correspondingly, we have to make a distinction among three different dimensions of phenomenological sociology: the dimension of the transcendental phenomenological sociology, that of the ontological phenomenological sociology, and that of the empirical phenomenological sociology.

  1. The empirical phenomenological sociology is a kind of empirical science and, as empirical science in general aiming to describe and to explain various kinds of empirical facts, it attempts to describe and explain the sociological facts in terms of empirical facts.
  2. The ontological phenomenological sociology is a kind of regional ontology, and as regional ontology in general aiming to clarify the essential structures of the facts, it seeks to elucidate the essential structures of sociological facts.
  3. The transcendental phenomenological sociology is a kind of transcendental phenomenology and, as transcendental phenomenology in general aiming to clarify the condition of the   possibility of something, it attempts to explicate the condition of the possibility for the constitution of sociological facts.

3. These three dimensions of phenomenological sociology are called phenomenological, insofar as they use the various kinds of the phenomenological method. But they do not need the same kind; rather they need different kinds of phenomenological method.

  1. In order to develop the empirical phenomenological sociology, we have to carry out, first of all, the sociological phenomenological reduction. The sociological phenomenological reduction is the method that enables us to go back to the sociological facts as empirical ones. From the phenomenological point of view, various kinds of sociological fact are the products of intentionalities. Therefore, in order to clarify the sociological facts, one has to go back to the various kinds of intentionalities. In fact, Husserl developed the phenomenological method, namely the method of phenomenological psychological reduction, (3) to go back to the intentionalities. In this sense, the sociological phenomenological reduction is the variation of the phenomenological psychological reduction, namely the phenomenological psychological reduction applied to the sociological facts. The ethno-methodological reduction used by some proponents of ethono-methodology is a kind of sociological phenomenological reduction. Various kinds of the sociological phenomenological reduction should be elaborated, since there are different kinds of sociological fact that have different ontological structures. For example, the sociological phenomenological reduction required for ethno-methodology should be distinguished from the requirement for sociology of knowledge.
  2. In order to establish the ontological phenomenological sociology, we have to carry out the sociological phenomenological reduction first, and then the eidetic reduction must be added. The eidetic reduction is a necessary component of the method in the ontological phenomenological sociology, since the latter aims to clarify the essential structure instead of the empirical structure of the sociological facts.
  3. In order to develop the transcendental phenomenological sociology, we have to perform the transcendental phenomenological reduction and eidetic reduction. The transcendental phenomenological reduction as the method of transcendental phenomenological sociology aims to grasp the plurality of transcendental subjectivity that provides the condition of the possibility for the constitution of various kinds of sociological fact. We have to examine which of the various kinds of the transcendental phenomenological reductions developed by Husserl are relevant for this purpose. The transcendental phenomenological sociology is a kind of essential science, and the method of eidetic reduction is an essential component of its method.

4. We have to lay emphasis on the fact that the essential characteristic of phenomenological sociology is the explicit or implicit use of the various kinds of the phenomenological methods. Phenomenological sociology is distinguished from those concepts of sociology that do not use the method of the phenomenological reduction at all. Therefore, it is distinguished from those concepts of sociology that are bound up with natural science or are quantitatively oriented. The distinction between the phenomenological and the non-phenomenological sociology should be dealt with in more detail.
    Some scholars participated in the debates on phenomenological sociology also consider the use of the phenomenological method to be the essential characteristic of phenomenological sociology. However, they do not make a clear distinction among different kinds of the phenomenological reduction. Most of them simply assume that there might be only one kind of the phenomenological reduction, namely the transcendental phenomenological reduction. According to them, in order to be called phenomenological, empirical sociology has to use the method of the transcendental phenomenological reduction. But this position contradicts the basic tenet of phenomenology. According to phenomenology, science has to conceive its method of research on the basis of the matters that it is dealing with, and it should not borrow its method of research from another science that is dealing with another kind of matter. The empirical phenomenological sociology could not borrow its method of research from the transcendental phenomenology, since its proper domain of matter is not the matter of the transcendental phenomenology. If empirical sociology uses the method of the transcendental phenomenological reduction, it becomes an anti-phenomenological science, since, being totally blind to the empirical sociological facts, it could not investigate the latter properly.

5. The fact that three different dimensions of phenomenological sociology have to use different kinds of the phenomenological method should not motivate one to imagine that they do not have any relationships with each other. Contrary to what one might believe, there are foundational relationships among them.
    In the debates on phenomenological sociology, most scholars, implicitly or explicitly, paid attention to the foundational relationship between the “transcendental phenomenology” and the “phenomenological sociology.” However, they did not understand the proper meaning of the foundational relationship in this context. According to them, the foundational relationship between them implies that the latter has to use the same method as the former, which contradicts the basic phenomenological tenet as mentioned above.
    Properly speaking, the foundational relationship between among different dimensions of phenomenological sociology means something totally different from what they have in mind. For example, the foundational relationship between the empirical phenomenological sociology and the ontological phenomenological sociology means that the former has to be guided by the latter in its method of research. The reason for this lies in the fact that the essential structures of the sociological facts clarified by the ontological phenomenological sociology could give us a norm that has a direct implication for the research method of empirical phenomenological sociology. In this context, it should be noted to the fact that “a certain method […] is a norm which arises from the fundamental regional specificity and the universal structures of the region in question” (Hua III/1, 161). As the ontological phenomenological sociology could show, it is the essence of the sociological fact that it is the product of intentionalities. In this case, the essence of the sociological fact could give us a methodological norm for the empirical phenomenological sociology, namely the norm that the empirical sociology has to use the sociological phenomenological reduction, because it has to investigate the sociological facts from the perspective of intentionality. Thus, the foundational relationship between the empirical phenomenological sociology and the ontological phenomenological sociology consists in the fact that the former gets a direction for its method of research from the latter, it does not mean that the former has to use the same method as the latter.
    As shown above, the foundational relationships among three dimensions of phenomenological sociology are much more complicated than one might imagine. That is, the transcendental phenomenological foundation means something other than the ontological foundation. The various kinds of foundational relationship should be examined in more detail.

6. In order to develop phenomenological sociology systematically, it is necessary to make a clear distinction among three different dimensions of phenomenological sociology. However, in the debates on phenomenological sociology, this distinction has not been investigated sufficiently. When closely examined, one can see that each dimension of phenomenological sociology has abundant possibilities to be developed in various directions.

a. The empirical phenomenological sociology is the discipline that could have a great impact on the empirical sociologists. Among the different concepts of sociology mentioned above, there are some kinds of sociology that could be classified under empirical phenomenological sociology. For instance, Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, Weber’s religious sociology, Thomas’s sociology, Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology, and reflective sociology can be regarded as kinds of empirical phenomenological sociology. In this context, one has to keep in mind that, in dealing with sociological facts as products of intentionality, it is necessary to use the method of the sociological phenomenological reduction. Yet besides these concepts of sociology, there are more possibilities to develop the empirical phenomenological sociology. Sociology conceived by A. Giddens is a good example for the further development of the empirical phenomenological sociology which concerns the process of the social construction of reality.

b. The ontological phenomenology also has abundant possibilities to be developed in various directions. There are examples of the ontological phenomenological sociology among various kinds of sociology mentioned above. For instance, one can find the ontological phenomenological sociology in Weber’s theory of social action, since he attempts to clarify the essential structures of social action as the basic category of verstehende Soziologie. In this sense, one could say that, developing his theory of social action, Weber is carrying out the sociological phenomenological reduction and the eidetic reduction implicitly. Weber’s theory of social action as the ontological phenomenological sociology is the fundamental ground for his religious sociology, which, as verstehende Soziologie, is developed on the empirical dimension. The other examples of the ontological phenomenological sociology are Vierkandt’s formal sociology, Parsons’s general theory of action, and Schutz’s phenomenological sociology. Husserl, as a founder of phenomenology, also attempted several times to elaborate the ontological phenomenological sociology; however, to the best of my knowledge, he never sought to develop the empirical phenomenological sociology. Various kinds of the ontological phenomenological sociology that have not yet been conceived could be developed as the ontological foundation of various kinds of empirical phenomenological sociology, for example, the ontological sociology of knowledge as the ontological foundation for the empirical sociology.

c. There have been no attempts to develop the transcendental phenomenological sociology in the debates on phenomenological sociology. However, there are also abundant possibilities to develop the transcendental phenomenological sociology in various directions. Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity articulated from the perspective of transcendental phenomenology is a good example of the transcendental phenomenological sociology. As an empirical sociologist, one might not have any interest in the transcendental phenomenological sociology, but one should not forget that it has a great significance for the empirical phenomenological sociology, since it deals with the transcendental phenomenological foundation of the latter. The transcendental phenomenological sociology could be developed in various directions, for example, it could be developed in as a static as well as a genetic one.

Notes

(1) E. A. Tiryakian, “Existential Phenomenology and the Sociological Tradition”, in: American Sociological Review 30(1965).

(2) J. Kolaja, “On Existential Phenomenology and Sociology(I)”, in: American Sociological Review 34(1966); P. L. Berger, “On Existential Phenomenology and Sociology(II)”, in: American Sociological Review 34(1966); E. A.. Tiryakian, “Reply to Kolaja and Berger”, in: American Sociological Review 34(1966), J. L. Heap/P. A. Roth, “On Phenomenological Sociology”, in: American Sociological Review 38(1973).

(3) Here phenomenological psychological reduction should be understood as a procedure that does not include the process of eidetic reduction.