Presuppose Nothing! the Suspension of Assumptions in Phenomenological Psychological Methodology
Historically, the suspension of presuppositions (the epoché, or bracketing) arose as part of the philosophical procedure of the transcendental reduction which, Husserl taught, led to the distinct realm of phenomenological research: pure consciousness. With such an origin, it may seem surprising that bracketing remains a methodological concept of modern phenomenological psychology, in which the focus is on the life-world. Such a focus of investigation is, on the face of it, incompatible with transcendental idealism. The gap was bridged largely by Merleau-Ponty, who found it possible to interpret Husserl's later work in an existentialist way, and thus enabled the process of bracketing to refer, not to a turning away from the world and a concentration on detached consciousness, but to the resolve to set aside theories, research presuppositions, ready-made interpretations, etc., in order to reveal engaged, lived experience. This paper outlines the history of the suspension of presuppositions and discusses the scope and limitations of bracketing in its new sense within existential phenomenology. The emphasis is on research practice and on the phenomenological quest for entry into the life-world of the research participant. It is argued that the bracketing of presuppositions throughout the process of research should be a cardinal feature of phenomenological psychology. Of equal importance is the investigator's sensitive awareness that the investigation of the life-world and the phenomena which appear within it is a thoroughly interpersonal process, necessarily entailing the taken-for-granted assumptions implicit in all social interaction. These presuppositions are not open to bracketing.