Critical Review of Epistemological Principles of Phenomenology with an Emphasis on Geography

Document Type : بنیادی(Stem, Basic)


1 Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

2 PhD Candidate in Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Phenomenology is one of the dominant philosophical schools that gradually entered the western philosophy in the late 19th century, and then attention has been paid to different scientific domains particularly in humanities, geography and human geography. Phenomenology is the study or recognition of phenomena and the phenomena consists of everything that appears to the mind. In other words, phenomenology is direct perception and intuition, without the intermediary of objects and phenomena. The purpose of the mediator in knowing everything is the conventional philosophical and scientific hypotheses, theories, categories and templates, and particular pre-assumptions of the reader. Knowing anything without using conventional formats will be possible only through direct intuition of nature. Thus, this approach seeks direct intuition of objects and phenomena, and in this regard refuses the hypotheses, categories and pre-assumptions. Therefore, phenomenology is considered as a realistic but experimental approach toward realities. Thus, seemingly this traditional philosophy of science must be classified under the realistic viewpoint. Nevertheless, due to emphasis of the school on suspending the realities of external world, as a mind-independent character and full emphasis on phenomenological character of realities, subjective character of phenomena, and eventually due to the phenomenological tradition relying on the intuitive experience approach, against some realistic attributes, this traditional philosophy of science must be classified under the realistic viewpoint. Nevertheless, regardless of positive aspect of this approach, with immediate experience of objects and phenomena, the approach mentioned above has some basic and epistemological insufficiency which will encounter serious hardships as a scientific approach in the geography domain. Therefore, it lacks the efficiency and required capabilities in the study fields related to social science, and particularly geography, as a “scientific” approach and methodology. The main objective of this study is to analyze this issue from the viewpoint of logical and epistemological analyses.
The present study with philosophy and logical nature is among the fundamental and theoretical research. This study is based on descriptive and analytical method (logical) and its analysis is conducted based on logical reasoning and arguments. Therefore, discussions and matters are considered in the series of documentaries. 
Results and discussion
Across the last few decades, the philosophy of phenomenology has been one of the main and dominant schools in the field of western thought. It gradually developed from the second half of the 20th century, has contributed to the formation of intellectual foundations of western scholars and has influenced many fields particularly humanities domain, especially geography. In human geography, across the last decades, we see an evolving tendency among geographers in the field of urban studies, urban design and planning, rural planning, social geography, economic geography, political geography, cultural geography, and some other subcategories. They are directed towards a kind of human geography that has been influenced by by philosophy and methodology of phenomenology, or its derivatives, such as existentialism and interpretive and hermeneutic methods. The question is to see what methodology and principles the inspired geography is based on and what is its ultimate goal?  Phenomenological geography refers to geographic studies in which geographic phenomena and subjects are studied by researchers without any intermediaries, regardless of formal and abstract templates, and without reliance on pre-assumptions, theories and customary prejudice in scientific studies and merely as a phenomenology. Thus, in this regard, phenomenological geography has the following characters; A)  Immediate experience of objects and phenomena, 2) Review of place identity individually and uniquely (monography), 3) Intuitive and interpretive method in recognizing and understanding the phenomena, 4) Recognition of phenomena in the form of common sense, 5) Utilizing descriptions instead of explanation in identifying the phenomena, 6) Refusing pre-assumptions and categories and theories in identifying the phenomena.
Meanwhile, the presence and close participation of the researcher in the study of subjects and environmental phenomena and the description and explanation of phenomena and their real descriptions are considered as a positive character of this approach. However, refusing the hypotheses and pre-assumptions (which are actually impossible) and focus on awareness and subjective cognitions and suspension of external world (Epoché) in the process of recognizing phenomena can actually turns it into an idealistic approach, and unique cognitions of phenomena also lead to the lack of validation independent of the researcher, and ultimately confronts this approach with relativism. Thus, this can make phenomenology inefficient as a scientific method in geographic studies.
The philosophy and phenomenological methodology in different sciences, particularly in the field of humanities and social sciences, especially geography, merely refer to the participation of the researchers in the study of subjects and environmental phenomena. The approaches consider remote description and explanation of the phenomena inefficient. They emphasize on their real and deep description through direct and immediate intuition, and particularly suggest direct descriptions and real experiences in the field of researches related to practical plans for geographic places. It is worthwhile and important, and this aspect of phenomenology approach is considered a positive and strong point.Nevertheless, regardless of this positive aspect, the approach mentioned above has some basic and epistemological insufficiency, such as: refusing hypotheses and pre-assumptions, idealistic attitude and subjectivism, nomothetic approach in reviewing the phenomena which leads to the lack of true and false criteria or a lack of validation independent of the researcher’s mind. In other words, the approach leads to the lack of objectivity and, eventually, historicity and relativism. These issues encounter serious hardships utilizing it as a scientific approach in the geography domain, and thus, it lacks the efficiency and required capabilities to be utilized in the study fields related to social science, and particularly geography, as a “scientific” approach and methodology.    


Main Subjects

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Volume 51, Issue 2
July 2019
Pages 471-492
  • Receive Date: 11 October 2018
  • Revise Date: 19 January 2019
  • Accept Date: 19 January 2019
  • First Publish Date: 22 June 2019