I show some problems with recent discussions within qualitative research that centre around the “authenticity” of phenomenological research methods. I argue that attempts to restrict the scope of the term “phenomenology” via reference to the phenomenological philosophy of Husserl are misguided, because the meaning of the term “phenomenology” is only broadly restricted by etymology. My argument has two prongs: first, via a discussion of Husserl, I show that the canonical phenomenological tradition gives rise to many traits of contemporary qualitative phenomenological theory that are purportedly insufficiently genuine (such as characterisations of phenomenology as “what-its-likeness” and presuppositionless description). Second, I argue that it is not adherence to the theories and methods of prior practitioners such as Husserl that justifies the moniker “phenomenology” anyway. Thus, I show that the extent to which qualitative researchers ought to engage with the theory of philosophical phenomenology or adhere to a particular edict of Husserlian methodology ought to be determined by the fit between subject matter and methodology and conclude that qualitative research methods still qualify as phenomenological if they develop their own set of theoretical terms, traditions, and methods instead of importing them from philosophical phenomenology.


phenomenology, qualitative research, philosophical phenomenology, qualitative phenomenological methods, what-its-like, description, presuppositions, bias, phenomenological interview, open or semi-structured interview

Author Bio(s)

Heath Williams graduated with his PhD from the University of Western Australia in 2018 and is currently a research associate at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China. His work is primarily in the area of Husserlian phenomenology, but he examines the interaction between Husserl and contemporary empirical/analytic theories of mind on topics ranging from social cognition to the philosophy of science. Please direct correspondence to heathwilliamsphilosophy@gmail.com.


My thanks to Maria Papantoniou-Fragouli for the helpful review process.

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