Communication as Discovery!

We’ve reached the end of this particular road, and we’re about to start upon a new one.

That’s right guys and gals, this is the last post…about traditions, that is. Didn’t scare you there, did I? Good. So on to our final tradition – the phenomenological tradition.

Boy, that’s a mouthful!

Under this tradition, communication is seen as the experience of the self and others through dialogue. Very “we come to know all beings through language” kind of deal here. If you ask me, it’s a rather existential tradition.

Now, because that word looks super made up and I intend to save you the trouble of Googling it, I will tell you that phenomenology is an intentional analysis of daily life, and that it looks at the perception of phenomena – which includes objects, events and conditions.

Sound like mumbo-jumbo? No worries.

Phenomenology deals with people’s individual, subjective ways of seeing things from their singular points of view. So rather than looking at patterns or stuff like that, it looks at the idiosyncrasies of people’s reality.


Perspective and lived experience are central, so just in case you didn’t realise, the individualistic and subjective nature of the phenomenological tradition mean it falls more on the humanistic side of the spectrum.

If we think of phenomenology as a world of exploration, interpretation is its core – its nucleus even. The very lifeblood from which it is…you get the point. When it comes to communication, phenomenological scholars want to know why it is so difficult to establish and sustain meaningful and authentic human relationships, and how we can reduce or even eliminate that problem.

I personally think humans have been asking that forever. Seriously, what is with the world? We aren’t trusting and then we aren’t trustworthy and it all goes to craps. But that’s a rant for another day…

Back to my point. Interpretation is viewed as being separated from reality, and that has a lot to do with the fact that individual interpretation is what constructs individual reality.

different1Stanley Deetz explains this using three basic principles.
1. We come to know the world as we engage in it. So the absurdly short character on the left has a meaning of ‘deep’ which is indicative of his life experience (or that he’s standing in a hole), and the insanely tall on one the right has another interpretation based on his.
2. We know the world through the meaning we attribute to it through language. This is just as how Lefty attributes tallness to Mr Right, because he realises that someone above his height is considered tall, or at the very least, taller than him.
3. The meaning of something consists of its potential, so we determine meaning by how we relate to an object. So the meaning of the ‘deep’ puddle for Lefty consists of its potential to drown or engulf him.

Poor little Lefty.

This tradition has three variations attached to it. edmund-husserlThe first, Classical Phenomenology, was coined by Edmund Husserl (right). Interestingly enough, this particular variation has roots in the scientific theoretical approach. It maintains that truth can only be obtained through disciplined direct experience since objects present themselves through consciousness; and humans have to set aside their biases.

Way to be different, Mr Husserl!

Because of the objectiveness of Classical Phenomenology, scholars generally agree that though the phenomenological tradition tends to fall closer to the humanistic side of theory, it is not wholly and solely so.

The Phenomenology of Perception recognises the human being as the entity responsible for creating meaning in the world. It is founded on the notion that the knower cannot be separated from the known, and that human beings affect and are affected by their world through their experience.

Hermeneutic Phenomenology takes its cues from the Phenomenology of Perception, but is specific to communication. In this variation, reality is known by naturally experiencing the world by using language in context. The underlying principle is that things first exist (and continue to do so) through language; thus communication is the means by which we assign meaning to experience.

And we’ve come full circle. We’ve looked at traditions in socio-psychology, cybernetics, rhetoric, semiotics, ethics, society/culture, critical scholarship, and phenomenology.

Stay tuned for a look at the communication theories, where we take a look at what they’re all about and put them into the context of real-life. I’ll let you in on the first one: Politeness Theory.

Cyndi, the Traditionalist blooming into a theorist
(who spelt “phenomenology” wrong every time she wrote it)



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