Putting Consumer Experience Back into Consumer Research: The Philosophy and Method of Existential-Phenomenology
CRAIG J. THOMPSON, WILLIAM B. LOCANDER, HOWARD R. POLLIO[i]
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