The analysis of phenomena was traditionally in the focus of attention of many philosophers since they attempted to understand various phenomena from the first person perspective in order to understand the surrounding world and reveal the ways in which humans perceive it. On the basis of such efforts the concept of phenomenology was developed, which is still relevant. Moreover, many researchers (Copeland, 1994) attempt to reveal the full potential of phenomenology applying this approach to different fields when they need to understand how people perceive phenomena and the surrounding reality at large. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Van Manen theoretical developments, which are focused on the process of perception of various phenomena. At the same time, researcher paid a particularly significant attention to the possible application of his approach in the educational field. In such a way, he developed a theoretical approach which is based on different levels of reflectivity through which the perception of events and phenomena occurs.
In fact, Van Manen developed a theoretical approach, a scheme which represents different levels of reflectivity. The researcher believed that the understanding of different levels of reflectivity could be crucial in the process of analysis of the past events and development of effective strategies and models of behavior in the future. He attempted to focus his attention on the field of education, where the analysis of past events and past experience was particularly important. Van Manen stood on the ground that in such a way he could aid a practitioner in reflecting on past teaching events to enhance future interactions within the classroom.
At the same time, it should be said that this theoretical framework could be applied not only to the field of education but also to other fields where the study of the past experience of an individual or professional matters. In actuality, on the basis of the method developed by Van Manen it is possible to reveal different stages which the perception of a phenomenon passes through. Hence, when the perception and reflectivity is separated on several stages an individual can be able to adequately perceive phenomena, regardless of possible internal or external influences, which may prevent an individual from making proper conclusion or judgments of the perceived event or past experience. Consequently, as some specialists (Kottkamp, 1990) point out, categories developed by Van Manen serve as a benchmark for monitoring progression and growth as an individual’s level of self-efficacy. In such a way, it is possible to enhance reflective practices of professionals working in different fields and, what is more important, while applying the method developed by Van Manen, professionals can grow more confident in their own abilities and professional skills, while the growing confidence contributes to the professional development and growth.
Obviously, the theoretical framework developed by Van Manen can be very helpful, but, at the same time, it is necessary to understand the fact that it is not only the professional field where this method can work effectively. In fact, on analyzing different levels of reflectivity an individual can improve his psychological state and change the personal self-esteem (Colton & Sparks-Langer, 1994). It proves beyond a doubt that the understanding of an individual’s past experience is very important for the normal psychological development of an individual. Otherwise, there is risk of the emergence of an internal conflict when an individual perception of his past experience and events is in a mess. In such a situation, an individual cannot shape an adequate perception of the surrounding world and, what is more important, an individual cannot adequately understand his own needs and his achievements that increases the risk of having psychological problems, growing anxiety and dissatisfaction (Ross, 1990).
On analyzing Van Manen’s method, it should be said that he distinguishes three levels of reflectivity, which are crucial for understanding of how human perceives their past experience and events they witness. The three levels are as follows: technical rationality, practical action, and critical reflection (Maturana, 1987). All of these levels are equally important in the process of perception and neither level can be omitted.
The first level of reflectivity defined by Van Manen is the level of technical rationality. The researcher stands on the ground that an educator considers only the technical application of educational knowledge and basic curriculum principles for the purposes of attaining a given end (Van Manen, 1990). In such a way, the perception and reflection on an individual’s experience commence. Van Manen calls this level as the analytical-empirical paradigm and it is the lowest level of reflection and human perception.
The next level is the level of practical action. At this level, the teacher becomes concerned with clarifying assumptions and predispositions underlying competing pedagogical goals while assessing the educational consequences toward which a teaching action leads (Zeichner and Liston, 1987). Van Manen defines this level as hermeneutic-phenomenological paradigm. He argues that the teacher analyzes teacher and students behavior to see whether goals are met and how they are actually met. This is a very important level because it contributes to the growing consciousness of teacher of his behavior and its effects. In addition, the basis for the further actions that can be undertaken by the teacher is created.
Finally, the third level is the level of critical reflection. As a rule, at this level, educators are concerned with worth of knowledge and the social circumstances useful to students without distortions of personal bias (Ziechner & Liston, 1987). In other words, Van Manen implies that at this level educators are supposed to free themselves of their biases and be able to think objectively and evaluate their professional work and its effects. Critical reflection is viewed by Van Manen as a non-defensive stance in remaining open-minded to moral and ethical considerations to aid the teacher at this stage of critical self analysis (Pultorak, 1993). In such a way, at this final level an individual can critically evaluate his past experience and make definite conclusions and assessments concerning past phenomena.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Van Manen has managed to develop a very effective method which can contribute to the adequate perception of the surrounding world, events and past experience of an individual. In fact, the analysis of human perception at different levels opens large opportunities to self understanding and adequate self evaluation.