Instructional Science

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 177–200 | Cite as

Phenomenography — Describing conceptions of the world around us

  • Ference Marton


Arguments are put forward in this paper in favour of research which has as its aim the finding and systematizing of forms of thought in terms of which people interpret significant aspects of reality. The kind of research argued for is complementary to other kinds of research; it aims at description, analysis and understanding of experiences. The relatively distinct field of inquiry indicated by such an orientation is labelled phenomenography.

A fundamental distinction is made between two perspectives. From the first-order perspective we aim at describing various aspects of the world and from the second-order perspective (for which a case is made in this paper) we aim at describing people's experience of various aspects of the world.

Research in a variety of disciplines, sub-disciplines and “schools of thought” has provided us with experiential descriptions, that is, content-oriented and interpretative descriptions of the qualitatively different ways in which people perceive and understand their reality. It has, however, seldom been recognized that these various research efforts share a common perspective in their view of phenomena and a unifying scientific identity has in consequence not been attained. The focussing on the apprehended (experienced, conceptualized,) content as a point of departure for carrying out research and as a basis for integrating the findings is seen as the most distinctive feature of the domain indicated.

Conceptions and ways of understanding are not seen as individual qualities. Conceptions of reality are considered rather as categories of description to be used in facilitating the grasp of concrete cases of human functioning. Since the same categories of description appear in different situations, the set of categories is thus stable and generalizable between the situations even if individuals move from one category to another on different occasions. The totality of such categories of description denotes a kind of collective intellect, an evolutionary tool in continual development.


Research Effort Distinctive Feature Human Functioning Individual Quality Evolutionary Tool 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ference Marton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EdueationUniversity of GöteborgSweden

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