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Eidetic Reduction

The eidetic reduction: eidos

Method: Bracket all incidental meaning and ask: what are some of the possible invariate aspects of this experience?

The research process involves reflective inquiry into “concealed” meaning while reconciling universality and particularity by holding them in tension. The researcher asks: What makes this experience uniquely different from other related experiences? In the eidetic reduction one needs to see past or through the particularity of lived experience toward the iconic universal, essence or eidos that lies on the other side of the concreteness of lived meaning. The idea of phenomenological essence or eidos does not refer to some immutable universal or generalization about human nature of human life. This would be committing the fallacy of essentialism.

Instead, phenomenological inquiry is only concerned with “possible” human experiences-not with experiences that are presumed to be universal or shared by all humans irrespective of time, culture, gender, or other circumstance. Also, it is important to remember that the phenomenological determination of meaning is itself always indeterminate, always tentative, always incomplete, always inclined to question assumptions by returning again and again to lived experience itself, the beginnings of phenomenological inquiry.

To begin the eidetic reduction, the phenomenon in question can be compared with other, related but different phenomena. This process of comparison is known as the eidetic technique of “variation in imagination.” For example, in exploring the phenomenology of secrecy one could ask how the experience of secrecy differs from the experience of privacy or the experience of lying? Are there different kinds of secrecy? What are concrete examples of this experience? and so forth (for example, see Van Manen and Levering 1997 on the phenomenology of secrecy).

Through the eidetic reduction, patterns of meaning or themes belonging to a particular phenomenon can begin to emerge. However, these themes are not theoretical or conceptual abstractions. They do not belong to existing theories, taxonomies, genres, paradigms, philosophies, or conceptual frameworks. Instead, phenomenological themes are the working material for phenomenological writing.

The eidetic reduction differs from concept analysis in that the reduction does not claim to clarify linguistically the boundaries of a phenomenon or how a concept is being used in different contexts. Rather, the reduction attempts to offer iconic images of the phenomenon –intimations of meaningfulness. The eidetic reduction asks: Does this piece of text bring the experience into view? Does this phrase resonate with our prereflective sensibilities? Are these portrayals of lived meaning recognizable? Do they evoke something unique about this human experience?

So the eidetic reduction is not a simplification, fixation, or contraction of the world into a system of fully resolved concepts –rather it is the exact opposite: the eidetic reduction makes the world appear as it precedes every cognitive construction: in its full ambiguity, irreducibility, contingency, mystery, and ultimate indeterminacy.