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Social Phenomenology

Building upon the work of Alfred Schutz, sociologists have emphasized the social and intersubjective nature of our experience of others. Here the focus is on understanding how shared meanings, social contexts, and social interaction enable the construction of intersubjective experience. Schutz argued that people depend upon language and the stock of knowledge they have acquired to enable social interaction. All social interaction requires that individuals typify others and their world, and the stock of knowledge assists them in this task. The particularity of the shared understandings achieved through social interaction will vary depending upon the social distance between the actors involved. The closer the position of others in the lifeworld, the more particular, rich, and full will be the understandings of the meaning of other's actions. If the lifeworld of the other person is more distant, then the understanding or typification of their actions will be narrower, more invariant, and more inflexible.

In a classic application of social phenomenology, Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner (1964) examined the social construction of a marital reality. According to their analysis, marriage brought together two individuals from different lifeworlds and thrust them into such close proximity to one another that the lifeworld of each would be brought into dialogue with the other. Out of these two divergent realities would emerge a convergent marital reality that would become the primary social context from which the individual would engage in other social interactions and function in society. This construction of a new social reality (i.e., the marriage) was achieved largely through conversation between the couples in private, but it was also strengthened significantly through the couple's interaction with others outside the marriage in ways that took for granted the social reality of the marriage. Over time a new marital reality would emerge that would be of such consequence for each of the spouses that it would contribute to the formation of new social worlds within which each spouse would function.

Other approaches to family that exemplify a social phenomenological approach include Raymond McLain and Andrew Weigert's (1979) analysis of the basic features of the experience of family and Louise Levesque-Lopman's (1988) interpretation of women's experience, particularly pregnancy and childbirth.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesPhenomenology - Mundane Phenomenology (everyday Life), Existential Phenomenology, Ethical Phenomenology, Social Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology And Family Discourse