7.6.2 Phenomenology and secondary analysis Phenomenology is an approach that is primarily concerned with looking at the way people interpret the world. It concentrates on the meanings that people have rather than on any attempt to construct causal theories about the world. Thus phenomenologists argue that statistics do not represent the world but represent the way that the people who construct the statistics see the world.
For example, statistics generated from administrative records, such as official statistics on deviance, while bearing some relationship to actual rates of deviance, are, more accurately, indicators of the official processes that differentiate between individuals as being deviant or non-deviant (Kitsuse and Cicourel, 1963). Categories of crime are constructions of meaning placed on certain individuals and actions that are seen to be of a certain kind.
In short, the phenomenological critique raises a fundamental epistemological issue that goes far beyond the adequacy of government statistics. Phenomenologists question the possibility of measuring social phenomena at all because they deny the notion of social facts.
Thus, for example, researchers who treat official statistics on crime as facts and then explain their causes may simply reveal the assumptions of police and probation officers to categorise what they see as crime. Thus the appropriate question for phenomenologists is ‘how do some actions become categorised as criminal?’
Similarly, statistics on some topics reflect fashion and current thinking rather than any underlying phenomena. For example, the number of reported tonsils operations reveals more about fashions in treatment and good practice than they do about childhood illness (Radical Statistics Health Group, 1980).
Compare the positivist and phenomenological view of Durkheim’s study of suicide. To what extent does Durkheim consider the reliability and validity of national suicide statistics? Does Durkheim consider how deaths come to be classified as suicides? Time approx 90 minutes