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In class on Thursday I was getting caught up on the word “Identity” and I’d like to use this post to discuss different meanings of identity.

Jeff wrote “Difference vs Identity” on the board refering to structuralism and phenomenology* where difference stood for the idea that nothing has meaning in itself but rather only has meaning when it is in a network and creates oppositions where was Identity was the idea that someone or something had inherent properties, it has an essence, and this was not dependent on context.

So how does this idea of Identity as essentialism relate back to the idea of ones personal identity? For me, the two are very interrelated. Identity in the essentialism way states that I have some sort of Katie-ness which is intact even when my context changes. However, I think that my Katie-ness is constructed based on my past experiences. It is what we experience in life that shapes our lifeworld. If my lifeworld changes do I still have the same essences as Katie? How do these two relate to each other?

In class, Jeff seemed to have a fairly strong stand on this, although we didn’t really get into his thoughts on it. I’m curious what others in the class thought about this. Can we separate who we are from our lifeworld and experiences? How do they related to each other? Do they relate to each other? What exactly is the difference between Identity and Identity?

* Can Phenomenology and Hermeneutics be used interchangeably? I’ve been using them interchangeably but I’m not sure if there is some subtle difference between the two that I missed…


So I decided to look at a bit of machinima made from WoW clips set to the song “Here Without You” by 3 Doors Down. It has been an interesting journey. It is incredible to think that some clips from World of Warcraft set to a cheesy late 90’s love-rock song could make me misty-eyed. I dare you to watch this video multiple times and not be moved at least a little bit.

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So I started reading this week’s reading and found it to be “glerb”! After a few hours of crash course is sociology (I love you wikipedia), I think I understand the reading better now. I thought I should share this with the rest of you. So here we go!


  • Field of sociology divided into 3:
    – Micro-sociology: How individual forms identity and how s/he interacts with others. Study of individual.
    – Macro-sociology: Society is not just a bunch of people. It has something else. What is that “something else”? Study of society.
    – Meso-socilogy: Studying society and individual based on one particular criteria. Say for example, race or gender or income.
  • Sociologists were kicking and pulling each others hair before. Now they have realized that these three schools of theories are complimentary and inseparable. So they are well behaved now.
  • For our class reading, we will now focus on microsociology. It is heavily derived from phenomenology. Basic premise is how does an individual make sense of his surrounding world. Serves something as a bridge between psychology and sociology.
  • Symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology are two key micro-theories amongst others.

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The other four letter word – LOVE!

Björk is one of my all time favorites. For this analysis I have chosen the video of her song “All is full of love”. The video and the technique used to produce it are obviously genius and the awards and attention it has recieved confirm it. This is what happens when two geniuses, Chris Cunnigham and Björk, meet! Enough with the extolments!! Here is the video!!!

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I was watching “Elf” and noticed something I have never noticed before.  (Thanks Jeff for making me deconstruct everything.)  So here’s a shot at a teeny piece of analysis:

The main father character (Walter, played by James Caan) is supposed to elicit a feeling of growth.

There are 2 scenes in Elf that work in parallel: the board room scenes.  In the first scene, Walter is trying to convince 4’5″ Miles Finch, who is alone, to work for him.  While this is happening, his elf son Buddy (Will Ferrell) comes in and aggravates Finch.  The scene goes out of control and Walter banishes Buddy from his life.

In the second board room scene, Walter is talking to his boss Fulton (played by a heafty 5’7″ Michael Lerner) and Fulton’s entourage and trying to pitch a story to him.  During this scene, Walter’s second son Michael comes in saying Buddy has run away.  This time, Walter does the right thing and goes to find Buddy, even though he is getting fired.

First, we see a contrast in the size of Walter’s adversary, first a little person (Finch), then a large man (Fulton).  Finch is someone Walter is trying to hire where as Fulton is Walter’s boss.  In this, Walter starts off not being able to stand up for his new son against someone small, but then grows to stand up agaisnt someone large in stature and in position.  Second, we see that Walter goes from not being able to stand up for one of his sons to being able to stand up for both of his sons.

In these two things we get a sense of growth and an overcoming of bigger challenges.

Yesterday, I attended James O’Donnell’s talk at Lilly Library, the first talk in the History of the Book Seminars.  Right after I got out of the seminar room, I talked to myself, “Oh my God, I feel like I have been to the new world.” Professor O’Donnell introduced us a very short history of the book from the book in old days (14c ?) to The book in old days is just a piece of art. The meaning of the book in old days seems quite different from the meaning of the book in nowadays. I felt shameful that I thought that eBook is a simple physical “device” to read. Also, I felt like I miss something.

SO, I decided to try to identify diverse questions from diverse perspectives not to miss something that might be so important and to get diverse insights for the design of eBooks:

What kinds of experience do readers go through cognitively and emotionally while they are reading? What kinds of joy or sufferings do they experience?

What kinds of tasks do readers conduct while they are reading? What is each task mean (signify)? For example, readers are flipping a page back and forth. What does this flipping activity mean (signify)?

Are there any common features that need to be considered to support readers as human beings? For example, are font sizes large enough for normal human beings to read?

What does a book mean to each individual? Is it a simple device to read (just one of commodities)? Is it one of private belongings, such as iPod?

Any comments ? Any corrections ?

…hopefully this unsticks me…

Trying to do this assignment in pre-writing a phenomenological paper has driven me up a tree.  I’ve been banging my head against a wall trying to come up with an idea that isn’t deeply baked in structuralism and have been having no end of trouble.  But I think I know why I’m having a problem.  I am, by very intrinsic nature, a Structuralist.  When I look at a new encounter, particularly a technical one, I start decomposing it immediately.  The values I first gain come not from the experience necessarily, but by an analysis of the feature list.  The features, in essence, are the experience.

To get to a place where the experience is more dominant, I must understand features so deeply that they finally go away.  And in this, I have had trouble writing this paper.  I chose a device that I didn’t know the features well enough to get to the experience.  Thus, as I have had experiences (a year’s worth, in fact) with the device, I still had trouble looking past the features to find the experiences to guide me.

Hopefully I can find relief as I pick an artifact more carefully understood to me in order to discuss the experiences that will bringme to conclusions.

These three words have different meanings. But they are all describing the beautiful and smart things that appear in our daily life. Some of them are delicate, some of them are useful. However, in the language of phenomenology and structuralism, how do we define and separate these three words?

Art is an expression, is the reflection of people’s lives, is created from human senses and received by audience’s senses. Art creation doesn’t need a clear purpose. It’s like the screaming when a person is under pressure, and it is like the tears when a person feels sad. No matter how people review the arts created by the artists, the reason of creating arts is not for accepting other people’s opinion, but is the self expression. Therefore, art is phenomenology. 

However, design itself couldn’t be just an expression. Design always has purpose. And design contains much more than just “art”. I used to talk to Alex about the difference between the rational design from user research and the design without research. That’s a different topic but actually both of them couldn’t escape the connotation of design itself – purposes. No matter which of them it still needs user testing. And they are designing for people to use. And they contain the business value. Therefore, design is more like structuralism. 

How about invention? Why I separate the invention and design is because invention in most time comes from sparkle ideas. And it is creating something that doesn’t exist in the world before, when design is more like combining ideas. So invention comes from ideas, in this stage, it is phenomenology. Then the invention needs to be implemented. In this stage the invention requires analysis, knowledge, research and mechanism. And that is structuralism. Therefore, we can say the invention is the combination of phenomenology and structuralism. 

Of cause we cannot say firmly that design doesn’t have phenomenology or art doesn’t have structuralism. But in general, that’s my idea of how we can tell differences between these ambiguous words.

Users are not right all the time. Then, is a “user-centered” approach WRONG? (I just used an extreme word, “WRONG”, on purpose to make my thought clearer.)

While I was articulating my research question on eBooks for my presentation, I again realized how tricky (challenging) the meaning of “user-centered” is. The survey shows that people do not read any more, but they skim while they read from computer screen. As an eBook researcher, how can I approach this design problem? The first approach I might try will be to find design solutions that support users’ skimming reading behavior. However, wait a minute! What if technology forced people to skim? In this case, my first approach might not RIGHT in solving this design problem. The best solution might be to fix the problem of technology.

Is a “user-centered” approach problematic? Or Is it a matter of how well we define and interpret a “user-centered” approach? I know some people start talking about human-centered, rather than user-centered. Will a “human-centered” approach be a next step for us to go?

I raised this question again, even though I brought this up in class, because I got another question, “Do we need to analyze intention, belief, and the like, from a human-as-a-user perspective*, when we examine interactive artifacts from a phenomenology approach? How about a human-as-a-human perspective**?

*a human-as-a-user perspective (the relationship between users who use artifacts and artifacts): Why and how do people “use” artifact?
**a human-as-a-human perspective (the relationship between human-being and artifacts) : Why do people “like” or “value” artifacts?

Nowadays I am in the habit of trying to figure out whether the author is taking a phenomenology or structuralist approach while I do my readings. I was feeling confident that now I had a better grasp and understood the difference between phenomenological and structuralist approach …….up until…I came across this:

In one of the readings, Smith refers to Blumer and says that “Blumer insists that people relate to each other and to objects on the basis of shared meanings.” My instinct on reading this sentence was …”of course Blumer takes a structuralist approach, as he says that we make sense of the objects around us based on their meanings..”. As soon as this thought crossed my head, a counter thought just popped up…”Hang on, is this not a phenomenological approach as it is basically inter-subjectivity that Blumer is talking about”

Actually, I am confused right now….

Is Blumer taking a purely phenemonolical approach and his use of the word “shared meaning” basically means “shared understanding” and he is indeed refering to intersubjectivity? Or is he probably trying to mix and match the structuralist and phenemonological approach together?