Eidetic Intuition

For Husserl (1913/1931), the goal of phenomenology is to identify the essence (invariant structure) of the phenomenon we are interested in. We are seeking to intuit the eidos (the form) of the object of consciousness as given. The process is, therefore, termed eidetic intuition. In any phenomenological analysis, we therefore seek to separate out the invariant (the essence) from that which varies across experience. Most analyses will not ignore the material that varies but rather use it to inform the meaning of the invariant structure as a product of particular social and cultural contexts. One strategy for gaining access to the essence is to engage in maximum variation sampling where we actively seek to recruit a set of participants with a common experience but varying background features (e.g. in terms of age, sex, sexuality, ethnicity/race, class, disability etc.). The idea is that these different perspectives on an experience will enable the analyst to identify those elements that are common to all the participants and those which vary according to some demographic factor.

In addition, when engaging in a phenomenological analysis, we might seek to employ the free or variational method (sometimes also called imaginative variation). The idea here is to explore alternative analytic possibilities for any phenomenon, to engage in thought experiments where we consider the impact of background variables on the phenomenon. So, for instance, we might think through the implications of class on a phenomenon and imaginatively vary the class of the participants (in our heads) to see if this would fundamentally change our analytic understanding of the essence of the phenomenon. That is, if we changed the class of our participants, would we still understand the structure in the same way? It is possible to work through (imaginatively) multiple aspects of the lifeworld until we feel we have reached saturation and can be confident in the essence of the particular phenomenon being researched.

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