What Is Systemic Phenomenology?


Vincent White

Systemic phenomenology is an approach to understanding the world that combines two distinct philosophical traditions: phenomenology and systems theory. At its core, systemic phenomenology is concerned with exploring how individuals experience and perceive the world around them, and how those experiences are shaped by larger social, cultural, and historical systems.

Phenomenology is a philosophical approach that emphasizes the study of subjective experience. Essentially, it seeks to understand the way in which individuals experience the world around them. This involves examining both the conscious and unconscious processes that contribute to our perceptions of the world.

Systems theory, on the other hand, is a framework for studying complex systems as a whole. It focuses on understanding how various parts of a system interact with one another, and how those interactions give rise to emergent properties that cannot be explained by simply examining each individual component in isolation.

In combining these two approaches, systemic phenomenology seeks to explore how our individual experiences are shaped by larger social systems. At its core, it recognizes that our experiences are not simply the result of our individual perceptions; rather they are influenced by a wide range of factors including social norms, cultural values, historical events, and more.

The Key Tenets of Systemic Phenomenology

There are several key tenets that underpin systemic phenomenology:

  • Subjectivity: Systemic phenomenologists believe that subjective experience is at the heart of understanding human existence.
  • Sociality: Our experiences are shaped by larger social structures and institutions.
  • Historicity: Our experiences are also shaped by historical events and cultural practices.
  • Emergence: Emergent properties arise from complex interactions between different parts of a system.
  • Intentionality: Our perceptions and experiences are directed towards objects and other individuals.

The Role of the Researcher in Systemic Phenomenology

One of the key principles of systemic phenomenology is that the researcher must be reflexive. This means that they must be aware of their own positionality within the system they are studying, and how their own experiences and biases may influence their research.

In addition, systemic phenomenologists often use a participatory approach to research. This involves working closely with individuals and communities to understand their experiences and perspectives, rather than simply observing them from a distance.

Applications of Systemic Phenomenology

Systemic phenomenology has been applied in a wide range of fields, including sociology, psychology, anthropology, and more. It has been used to study topics such as identity formation, social inequality, mental health, and more.

One example of its application is in understanding the experiences of marginalized communities. By examining how larger social systems contribute to experiences of discrimination or exclusion, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of how these systems operate and develop strategies for promoting greater equity and inclusion.


In summary, systemic phenomenology is an approach to understanding the world that combines elements from both phenomenology and systems theory. It emphasizes the importance of subjective experience while recognizing that our experiences are shaped by larger social structures. By using a reflexive and participatory approach to research, systemic phenomenologists aim to gain a deeper understanding of how various systems operate, with the goal of promoting greater equity and inclusion for all.