Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives

The roots of the current emphasis on the phenomenology of health and illness lie in the field of philosophy. Numerous philosophers have addressed questions that are phenomenological in nature, including Dilthey, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, James, Merleau-Ponty, Peirce, Sartre, and Shutz. Central to the phenomenological approach has been an effort to incorporate notions of culture into phenomenological constructs. The term phenomenology refers to the distinction introduced by Kant between phenomena, which are the appearances of reality in consciousness, and noumena, which are the things-in-themselves, independent of consciousness (Bidney, 1973). The term itself was first used by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Mind in 1807, a record of the "spiritual anthropology of man derived from a comparative study of the history of human culture" (Bidney, 1973, p. 110).

Edmund Husserl, widely credited with the rise of phenomenology, viewed all modern philosophy as originating in the Cartesian Meditations. He regarded the task of philosophy as providing a view to understanding how an autonomous philosophy and science are possible, and sought to develop a rigorous science of transcendental phenomenology. Unlike Descartes' temporary suspension of the certitude of existence implicit in the experience of the world, based on the Cartesian ego who doubts the existence of the world, Husserl viewed this suspension as a permanent attitude toward the world in which the existential world was reduced through the "phenomenological reduction." He used this concept to describe a basic phenomenological procedure of bracketing all judgments about the ontological nature of perceived objects and reducing what is given in cognitive experience to the essentials of its form (eidetic reduction), ultimately bracketing the knower him or herself, and leading to transcendental reduction (Husserl, 1960). (For anthropological discussions, see Bidney, 1973; M. Jackson, 1996; Watson & Watson-Franke, 1985).

The concept of the lifeworld, or lebenswelt, introduced by Husserl, is the world as given in experience prior to critical reflection, the world as experienced, including the experience of the world of nature as well as the world of culture (Husserl, 1970). Husserl gave ontological priority to the lifeworld over the world of theoretical thought and explanations (Weltanschauung) in an effort to make philosophy more responsive to the demands of human life and to break down the division between explanatory models and everyday life (M. Jackson, 1996, p. 13). In addressing the lifeworld as he formulated phenomenological sociology, Schutz (1967) developed the concept of intersubjectivity, which refers to what is common to individuals. Arguing for the critical place of the lifeworld in ethnography, M. Jackson (1996, pp. 7-8) describes it as "that domain of everyday, immediate social existence and practical activity, with all its habituality, its crises, its vernacular and idiomatic character, its biographical particularities, its decisive events and indecisive strategies, which theoretical knowledge addresses but does not determine." In developing his theoretical approach in medical anthropology, Kleinman (1992, p. 172) has coined the term, "local moral worlds" to capture the lived experience of the lifeworld.

The concept of radical empiricism, as discussed by James and Husserl, includes cultural phenomena. In radical empiricism, experience of the essence of a cultural phenomenon is combined with experience of subjective existence to yield the meaning of the phenomenon in the life of the subject (Bidney, 1973, pp. 126-127). In applying radical empiricism to anthropology, M. Jackson (1989, p. 3) differentiates radical empiricism from traditional empiricism by the emphasis in the former on intersubjective experience, stressing the importance of the ethnographer's interactions with those he or she lives with and studies, and clarifying the ways in which anthropological knowledge is grounded in practical, personal, and participatory experience in the field as much as in detached observations.

Embodiment, as one aspect of phenomenology, can be construed both as a method and also as an emerging theoretical perspective in anthropology. Merleau-Ponty (1962) viewed phenomenology as a method, with embodiment as one aspect of that method. Embodiment refers to being, to living through the body, to the state of being embodied. Merleau-Ponty attributes a transcendental function to the body-subject: the body is the basis of the constitution of the human world. He refers to automatic bodily functioning as the preobjective self, a culturally constituted way of being-in-the-world. In interpreting Merleau-Ponty's work, Dillon (1991, Preface, p. xv), observes: "the body contributes to the world we live in but the reverse is also true: the world contributes to the constitution of our body." Bourdieu's work (1977, 1984, 1990) represents a shift from a focus on the body as a source of symbolism to an awareness of the body as the locus of social practice. Recent work in anthropology examines embodiment and social practice (for example, A. Becker, 1995; G. Becker, 1997, 2000; Csordas, 1990, 1993, 1994a, 1994b, 1997; Desjarlais, 1992a; Devisch, 1993; G. Frank, 2000; M. Jackson, 1989, 1996, 1998; Roseman, 1991; Stoller, 1989b, 1995, 1997).

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