Putting Consumer Experience Back into Consumer Research: The Philosophy and Method of Existential-Phenomenology




Existential-phenomenology is presented as an alternative paradigm for conceptualizing and studying consumer experience. Basic theoretical tenets of existential­ phenomenology are contrasted  with more traditional assumptions  and methods used in consumer research. The metaphors used by each paradigm to describe its world view are provided and their respective implications  for consumer  research discussed. One phenomenological research method is detailed, and examples  of how the method is applied and the type of data it produces are provided. An epistemological analysis reveals that existential-phenomenology can provide an empirically based and methodologically rigorous understanding of consumer phenomena.


[i] JOURNAL OF CONSUMER  RESEARCH • Vol. 16 September 1989     Craig J. Thompson  is a Ph.D. candidate and  William B. Lo­cander is Distinguished Professor of Marketing, both at the Depart­ment of Marketing,  Logistics, and  Transportation, University  of Tennessee,  Knoxville,  TN  37996.  Howard  R.  Pollio  is Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, University  of Tennessee,  Knoxville, TN 37996. The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the University of Tennessee’s  Learning Research Center. The authors  also thank Sarah Gardial,  David Schumann, Paul Speck,  Robert  Woodruff, and three anonymous JCR reviewers for their helpful comments.

This article presents existential-phenomenology as a paradigm for studying consumer experience. A paradigm refers to a group of researchers shar­ing common assumptions about the nature of reality, utilizing  common   methodologies, and  dealing  with similar  problems (Kuhn  1970). Adherents of a paradigm have both a philosophy of what the world is like and investigative methods deriving from that perspective.  Existential-phenomenology is a paradigm that blends the philosophy  of existentialism with the methods  of phenomenology (Valle and  King 1978).   The result is a contextually based, holistic psychology that  views human  beings in non-dualistic terms and seeks to attain a first-person description of experience (Giorgi 1983).

Jacob (1987) notes that much confusion about descriptive methodologies has arisen from treating all such methods as though they were homogeneous. In consumer research, “interpretive” methods (Hudson and  Ozanne  1988) primarily  have proceeded  in the  ethnographic (Belk 1987; Belk, Sherry, and Wallendorf 1988; Hirschman  1986; Holbrook  1987; Wallendorf  1987), semiotic  (Holbrook and   Grayson 1986; Mick 1986; Sherry and Camargo 1987), or structuralist (Levy 1981; O’Shaughnessy 1985) traditions. Although these approaches sometimes take a phenomenological perspective, they are not per se existential­ phenomenology.

Existentialism, the philosophy underlying existential-phenomenology, is associated with the works of Dilthey (1958/orig. 1890), Sartre (1962/orig. 1943), Heidegger (1962/orig. 1927), and   Merleau-Ponty ( 1962/orig.  1945). The research methods of existential-phenomenology derive primarily from Gestalt psychology (Koffka 1935; Kohler 1947; Wertheimer 1945) and clinical  practice  (May and Yalom  1984; Van den Berg 1970). For example, existential-phenomenological methods have been employed in research concerning the experiences of anxiety (Fischer 1978), learning (Colaizzi 1973; Giorgi 1971), time (Dapkus 1985), and special possessions (Myers 1985).

As Kuhn (1970) noted, understanding a paradigm different from one’s own is a difficult task because it requires seeing the world from a new perspective. As a means of making this task easier, an analysis of metaphors describing assumptions of the “traditional” view and those of existential-phenomenology will be employed.  A benefit of this approach is that it provides a means of describing  a given paradigm’s core assumptions, assumptions that are not put to empiri­cal test but are treated as unquestionable givens (Lakatos 1970). Metaphors have been used to highlight assumptions implicit  in many different  programs  of philosophy, cognitive science, and natural science (Gerhart  and  Russell  1984; Johnson 1987;  Kohler 1969; Lakoff 1987; Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Morgan  1980; Pepper  1942).  Metaphoric analyses also have been used to examine research issues in marketing science (Arndt 1985; Rosenberg  1984).

In this article, we will focus on basic tenets of existential-phenomenology and  will describe a research methodology  based on them.  The discussion  will be organized into four sections. First, the core assumptions of traditional approaches to consumer  behavior will be delineated to highlight areas where existential­ phenomenology differs from them.  Second,  core assumptions of existential-phenomenology will be out­lined  and  their  implications for consumer research discussed. Third,  a specific research  method  will be described. And, fourth, a discussion  of epistemological criteria for this methodology will be given.


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Article  in Journal of Consumer Research · February 1989    DOI: 10.1086/209203 · Source: RePEc    Access originally through ResearchGate