For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).

Phenomenology and tourism

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Phenomena, Experiences and Me: an introduction to phenomenology and tourism

This article intends to demystify the term phenomenology and at the same time to explain the importance to open one’s mind to subjective experiences as source for knowledge acquisition of the reality each of us lives. Therefore the description of phenomenology is something personal, and that could not be any different since the own experience of any phenomenon or whatever happens around us concerns the process of experiencing and becoming conscious. The character of this article is of an educational nature directed at undergraduate students of social sciences in general. At the end the link is made with tourism and some applications of phenomenological concepts.


It should be clear that each person’s awareness and perception is in accordance with the whole range of experiences recorded in his or her memory and is based on notions, images, prejudices and previous impressions. The act of involving our personal criteria in the evaluation of external phenomena and to lift these criteria to an inter-relational level leads to wide and enriching interpretations of the reality we live within ourselves. What we have to realize is that whatever happens to us or in our environment forms a potential source for information, depending whether there exists a particular reason to extract a certain fact or occurrence from its context to be presented on its own. This also means that for information to be recognized as such it must generate some specific interest in someone.

Our own existence embodies a certain representation and interpretation of the lived world and our contact with things is continuously interceded by prejudice and expectations whereby the role of language dominates. Whatever questioning of reality elicits answers that are manipulated beforehand, since there exists always the pre-comprehension of everything we think. We understand through the comparison with what we need to understand with what we already know. Understanding is a circular activity within a circle of interpretation. A sentence for example is a unit of understanding. Its words are interpreted within the meaning of the complete phrase, while the meaning of that phrase depends of its context that in turn depends on the meaning of its elements, what closes the circle. In this sense logic as a linear model is not sufficient for comprehension.

Moreover, things have no meaning within themselves, because they mean something different for the person who projects himself as a greengrocer, sportsman or scientist, for example. Each of them have different projections that determine the way they see things. The greengrocer sees a fruit from his commercial viewpoint, which is different to the view of a biologist or a very hungry person. That is to say this fruit is not so much a neutral piece of data that exists outside our perception, but depends on the intention of which an object is scrutinized and then appreciated. Another way to describe this idea distinguishes different structures of one thing: there is a changing appearance in accordance with our intention and its context, which is called the first structure of a thing; then a thing has certain physical properties that make it stable over time and in phenomenology this is called the second structure. Within the line of thought of Descartes the two structures are presented the other way round – the mathematical/physical structure first, representing a way of thinking that still dominates in most parts of the world.

Phenomenology concerns foremost the first structure and therefore uses rich descriptions of atmospheres or environments and what Husserl calls the categorical observation, that can also be related to poetry or art in general. This partly explains why so-called “phenomenologists” feel a discrepancy with sciences such as mathematics or physics that only study the second structure of things. Therefore we can summarize our perception of phenomena from another angle: within the framework of phenomenology it is assumed that each person holds a different world-view and therefore of each phenomenon. The chair that is right in front of you is different for each person observing it, while according to Cartesian thinking (of Descartes) everybody supposedly sees the same chair. Our experience is much richer in content than just what is observed through the senses and within the phenomenological tradition there exists a direction towards the meaning of things within our experience, and more specificly the meaning of objects, events, the flow of time, yourself and the other as presented in the lived world around us.

We can add that the distinction between the knowledge of our perception of things and the knowledge of a thing itself is one of the fundamental themes in Plato’s philosophy. In his Theory of Forms the intellectual reality possesses immaterial and eternal qualities and therefore cannot be subject to change and constitutes the archetype of the other reality, the sensible one that consists of what we call normally “things” of material characteristics and will change therefore, resulting in being just a copy of the intellectual reality.

 Husserl’s Phenomenology

Phenomenology has its roots in the end of the 19th century based on a philosophical movement of A. Brentano (1838-1917) and later by E. Husserl (1859-1938). Phenomenology as development by them was directed at a replacement of the reigning paradigms of positivism and adopted individual perception as a reliable resource for knowledge production. It can be seen as a sort of extension of Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) ideas, who argumented that what he called Noumenas are in themselves unknown things and have to be distinguished from the Phenomena that represent the world as it appears in our mind. Kant insisted that what we experience in our mind is reality and that no object is knowable by itself if not through the intervention of the subjectivity of the person who is observing.

A complete definition of phenomenology is paradoxical by lack of a central theme. Indeed, it is neither a doctrine or a philosophical school, but rather a style of thinking and a method that is open to experiencing in different ways each time with changing results, which may confuse any person that tries to define the meaning of phenomenology. The phenomenology as a philosophical study field can be distinguished from other fields, such as ontology (the study of existence), the epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of what is good or bad) among others.

The phenomenology according to Husserl concerns basically a systematic reflection and study of structures of consciousness and the phenomena as they appear in acts of consciousness. Literally, the phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the forms in which we experience things, that is to say the meaning of things within our experience. Phenomenology can clearly be distinguished from Cartesian thinking that sees the world as objects, sets of objects and objects that act and react to each other. Phenomenology is the study of the structures of consciousness experienced from the point of view of the first person ‘Me’. A wide range of types of experiences are studied, such as the perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, wishing and strength of will, while even physical consciousness is involved, physical action, social action and the linguistic activity. The structures of these forms of experiencing involve what Husserl calls the intentionality, that is to say the direction of the experience towards things in the world, dealing with a consciousness of or about something. An experience is directed at an object on the basis of its content or meaning (what the objects represent, also historically) together with the appropriate conditions that apply.

According to Descartes (17th century) and later positivism among other schools of thought the human being possesses a body and a soul, the latter being linked to our faculty of reasoning. The human being exists because s/he thinks, which is an activity of the soul that forms part of reasoning, while at the same time the human body has certain physical dimensions, size and form, that is to say the body can be mathematically defined. A marked separation is made between a person (body and soul) and the world. In phenomenology this separation is denied and neither it is accepted that things have meaning primarily because of their shape and measures. The denial of the separation of subject and object was originally introduced by Brentano and later by his pupil Husserl. They applied the notion of intention: psychical phenomena posses a direction towards something, which physical objects do not. Consciousness rests not within oneself (Descartes), but maintain a continuous activity of myself characterized by the intentionality towards things.

Phenomenology for Husserl is the science that tries to discover the essential structures of the conscience and is characterized to search for original experiences and to expose them in their context. This means that on one hand one considers an external world that gives a phenomenon some sense and on the other an internal world that realizes how the experience is perceived as a whole from the perspective of the one who lives it. The conscience is always being conscious of something, it is a flow of experiences that does not stop. All that we hear is of something (a song for example) and all we see is of something (a chair or a flower), or all desire points at something we love. One of the concepts in phenomenology is “myself” that exists in comparison to “the other”. Without the other there is no myself (me) and the form in which the other is experienced cannot be separated of the way one experiences the self. The continuity of being oneself can be achieved in a relation and not so much as an exclusive internal process.

Another pillar that supports the concepts and methodologies of phenomenology is the notion of the essence of a thing. Phenomenology presents itself as a philosophical reflection that insists on founding objectivity of knowledge on a method whose main rule is to leave the things themselves present the essence of their content through an intuitive glance that presents things spontaneously as they are to those that experience them, while bracketing their judgement on the validity of their prejudices, opinions or interpretations on those objects. The objective of phenomenological explorations is to be conscious that they are systematically applied through repeated observations and critical studies as to reduce the effects of prejudice. It is therefore preponderant to search for essence free of prejudice, memories or expectations and it is precisely this search that can be compared with peeling an onion whereby layer by layer is removed until getting at the essence of a thing or phenomenon – a search that is also called “epoché” or “bracketing”. The act of seeing a flower for example is an experience regardless if you can touch the flower, if you see it on the Internet or in a dream. The confrontation with this”flower” is a conscious experience whereby the physical state does not matter, since that refers to the second phenomenological structure.

The classic “phenomenologists” (between quotation marks because phenomenology is not something exact and each one handles his or her own version) distinguish two main methods, apart from other trends in this vast area that takes up phenomenology. The first tries to describe the type of experience exactly like we found it within our own experiences (current and past). Husserl and the Frenchman Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) talk of pure and rich descriptions of lived experiences. With the second method we interpret an experience by relating it with the relevant characteristics of its context. According to this trend the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) used the term hermeneutics, that is to say the art of interpretation within a context and more specifically within social and linguistic contexts. Heidegger’s hermeneutics describes the being-in-the-world (Dasein), among others, giving meaning to our being in the lived world (Lebenswelt) through representations and analyses.

Phenomenology and science

Phenomenology has been applied in about every corner of knowledge production and development. On the level of academic research work phenomenology accepts individual perception as a reliable resource for knowledge production and employs mainly qualitative methodologies, while trying to avoid prejudices and preconceived suppositions concerning human experiences, sentiments and answers to particular situations. Based on impressionism among others, with hermeneutics as developed by Heidegger a new way was paved with specific focus on meaning and not on measures, i.e. not to provide variable results in a positivist sense, but to add a viewpoint of the issue under investigation. This allows a researcher to dig into the perceptions, perspectives, understanding and emotions of people who have experienced and lived effectively the phenomenon or situation in observation.

In the case of psychology, for example, a phenomenological approach implies more an exploration of the relations a person maintains with his external world than an exploration of a person’s inner-world. If this relation is directed towards an object, within this process the object acquires a subjective and human dimension. An example would be the case when a person suffers of depressions and at that moment the world around him seems to be grey, dark and cold. On one hand the human being is reflected in things, but on the other the meaning of things influences the human being. A thing-in-itself (Descartes: ‘chose materielle’) is denied.

Phenomenology can be described as the investigation and description of phenomena as they are experienced consciously by the person who lived them. This is first of all directed through conversations and interviews, apart from direct observation or the study of audio visual material. The degree of experience of the participants does not matter, or their social and cultural background or preconceived ideas, because the research is primarily focussed on lived space, lived body, lived time and lived human relations. The element of context also means that research is usually carried out on the spot under conditions that are as natural as possible and not clinical. The approach of academic research is of a holistic character, which also point at the importance of context and the assumption that a whole is more than the sum of its parts; moreover it should be clear that phenomenology invites a multidisciplinary research approach.

 Some well-known phenomenologists

There have been a series of philosophers and sociologists that have contributed or have applied phenomenological thinking. An example is Karl Marx (1818-1883), who put the phenomenological problem of appearances in the centre of his criticism of political economy in an effort to reveal the interconnectedness and social relations of exploitation. Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961) committed himself with the husserlian concept of Lebenswelt (lived world) and understands philosophy as a phenomenological activity of examining the world, wherebythe descriptive method of the lived experience results adequate to treat existentialist problems. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) believed that our ideas are the product of real life experiences and that novels and theatre plays can very well describe fundamental experiences within the same standards of philosophical essays. Additionally, for Sartre intentionality applies to emotions as well as knowledge, to desires as well as perceptions. An interesting case is that of Michel Foucault (1926-1984, French sociologist and philosopher) who did not want to have anything to do with phenomenological ideas, although most part of his work respires phenomenological sentiments. For Foucault phenomenology is far too personalized and directed at Me, while within his concepts the human being forms an intrinsic part of a broader discursive formation and even episteme – that is to say the individualistic succumbs to the social and to the environment.

Some applications within phenomenology

To finish this short introduction to a theme without limits some concepts will be explained that have been developed under phenomenological influence:

  • Holistic > Holism is a concept created in 1926 by Jan Christiaan Smuts, who discovered that the tendency of nature to use a creative evolution to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In general terms, holism refers to a system and its qualities that are analysed as a whole in a global and integrated manner, because from a functional point of view it can only be understood in this way and not as a simple sum of its parts.

  • Liminality > comes form the Latin word limen that means threshold. The term was invented and presented by the French anthropologist Arthur van Gennep in 1909 to describe a rite of initiation of adolescents towards adults. During the 1960′s liminality was applied to concepts of transition from one state to another, whereby it is difficult to appreciate the frontiers between concepts. Within liminality, borders instead of separating serve for interaction and confluence.

  • Emic-Etic > phonemics is the study of phonemes, which are sets of sounds produced in one specific language and represents an understandable meaning to the native speakers of that language. Phonemes are only related to one specific language and its culture and each language therefore possesses its own sets of phonemics. Phonetics is simply a physical and acoustic study of the sounds used in whatever language. The terms emic and etic were first introduced in linguistics by Kenneth Pike in 1967 and later these concepts were applied in anthropology, whereby emic referred to the knowledge and interpretations as told by a community itself from within, while etic refers to generalizations of human behaviour from the viewpoint of an (academic) observer. In general the term emic can be related to a phenomenological trend and etic inclines more towards Cartesian thinking.

  • Space-Place-Cyberspace > Boundaries of spaces are flexible and have been constructed symbolically and interpretatively. In general spaces are cold and emotionally inaccessible, that is to say, spaces may have certain characteristics, but they never have character. On the other hand place means a space that reaches beyond material presence and tangible qualities such as size, proportions of characteristics: a place is what people make of a space through their emotional attachment and interaction – they are humanized spaces. An example is the difference between a hotel room (space to sleep) and one’s own bedroom (place to sleep). In the case of cyberspaces, the Internet is an infrastructure that can be described as a virtual environment where the laws of physics do not apply, since cyberspace has no mass or size, that is to say no physical boundaries. The conventional relation between physical space and time come together in cyberspace: an intangible world, but real, where Cartesian interpretations do not apply, but human imagination rule as an instrument for promoting social relations. Cyberspace does not compete with either places or spaces, but it complements them. It has the ability to relate without occupying any “space”, butstill fulfilling a similar function to architecture: cyberspace provides an infrastructure for social interaction.

 Phenomenology and Tourism

Within the study of tourism, phenomenology has served as a path towards the description and understanding of experiences lived by hosts as well as guests. That is to say it is about an encounter between one and the other, whereby the latter from a phenomenological viewpoint refers to people from outside a host community, in practice being travellers, pilgrims, salesmen, tourists and so on. Tourism and travel studies within a phenomenological framework have concentrated more than anything else on the lived experience by participants in an encounter, dealing with mainly qualitative research with emphasis on rich descriptions and with ample room for interpretations and reactions by participants and researchers themselves.

Within the lived world the concept of a space/place paradigm forms a useful tool to dissect the relations between them and us. The phenomenological approach towards travel practices emphasizes spaces with flexible boundaries based on symbolic interpretations that invite an encounter between what is here with people from out there, whereby an interaction takes place between human as well as material stakeholders. Within this context the space where people live can be understood as places for them: humanized spaces, which translates the encounter into the locals living in their places meeting strangers who arrive at spaces that are unknown to them. When engaging and interacting in this foreign space, that at first may even seem hostile, visitorstry to turn a physical and mental space into a relational place, depending, among others, their liminal status. It is precisely this part of the encounter that is governed by a concept that is as old as humanity itself: hospitality as a set of customs, etiquettes and rights. This means that the economic part in travel practices and the positivist approach that usually accompanies it forms just a part of this much wider concept of hospitality.

The dominating economic view of tourism from late 19th century onwards was based on a positivist tradtion and followed Cartesian lines, whereby visitors were considered clients and the local population and infrastructure as providers. In these cases too fenomenological based research has been carried out to test client satisfaction among others, systematically ignoring the fact that the encounter between ‘us’ as local population and ‘them’ as visitors embraces a much wider scope on different socio-economic levels, counting with mutual understanding on the basis of equal power. The concept of emic may be useful for research on these levels.

The purpose of this short introduction to phenomenology is first of all to create a recognition of the different ways a human being can view the world and secondly to break a lance for non-linear ways of thinking, whereby, among others, subjectivity is acknowleged as a valid source of knowledge.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

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