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date: 29 March 2023

Phenomenological Arguments and Concepts for Anthropologylocked

Phenomenological Arguments and Concepts for Anthropologylocked

  • Bernhard LeistleBernhard LeistleCarleton University


Phenomenology is an important branch of 20th century philosophy, which originated in Germany but has been taken up in many countries all over the world. In cultural anthropology, it has informed theoretical as well as methodological perspectives and approaches and has led some anthropologists to proclaim a subdiscipline of “phenomenological anthropology.” The definitions of this subdiscipline and, consequently, the criteria for inclusion in it, however, vary widely and work that is labeled “phenomenological” sometimes shows a lack of acquaintance with philosophical phenomenology. This is typical for interdisciplinary projects, which face the difficulty of formulating the basis for a dialogue between intellectual disciplines with different orientations and traditions.

In contrast to a common misunderstanding, phenomenology is not a first-person description of experience but a systematic inquiry into the structures and processes of experience and their philosophical significance. In this effort, the concept of the “intentionality of consciousness” is often described as phenomenology’s major theoretical discovery. This key notion of an essential relation between mind and world can serve as point of access and touchstone for cultural anthropologists to gain a working understanding of other phenomenological concepts like epoché, being-in-the-world, life-world, or otherness. As a philosophy, phenomenology stresses open-endedness, indeterminacy, and in-betweenness of experience and human existence; in this capacity it suggests to cultural anthropologists paradigmatic ways in which to think about their discipline and its relationship to its object of study, the “culturally Other.” But anthropology’s relationship to phenomenology need not necessarily be dogmatic, and phenomenological anthropology can be carried out within the conventional paradigm of a hermeneutic science. In this context, phenomenology provides a wealth of theoretical concepts like embodiment, intersubjectivity, intercorporeality, which enable anthropologists to perform innovative empirical analyses on a wide variety of topics including, but not limited to, cultural differences in sensory experience, cultural contagion of health and illness, immigration, and transnationalism.


  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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