Phenomenology and Place

I wrote the below as an email to a small* group of writers/philosophers/academics I’ve found really helpful in my own thinking on phenomenology and place.
I won’t write their names (indeed, I have not even given them any time to respond yet) but I thought I would share my [redacted] email to them in case a reader here

  1. Totally disagrees with my premises and can help me improve them and/or..
  2. Believes they would have something worthy and useful to write in a potential book chapter on the topic.

Dear [insert your favorite live phenomenologist name here]…

For many years I have tried to understand place in virtual environments, how to understand how people experience it, and how to discover and communicate if there are elements of place missing from virtual environments and how to address that through criticism and through design.
My personal interest is in history and heritage (and cultural presence for archaeology simulations) but the problem is wider, and deeper than just virtual places.

I still feel that a possible help and a major problem comes from discussions of phenomenology, namely these:

  1. The role of phenomenology in philosophy is avoided by many philosophers (at least it was a problematic term when I wanted to study it in a philosophy department).
  2. Many outside philosophy use the word without clarifying or helping to clarify where and how it is best used and understood and its limitations (if any).
  3. Many of these papers lack critical analytical reflection and especially are not amenable to extrapolation beyond either the self or calls to authority (authority here usually means dead phenomenologists who are invoked for areas they never actually wrote about directly or perhaps for new discoveries that did not even exist in their time).
  4. In the Presence research area of virtual environment evaluation this is particularly evident yet the laboratory control conditions for Presence evaluations and their extremely generic yet vague questionnaires. Here phenomenology or some related ethnographic method could and should have an important role to play but because of its stigma (not helped by papers which haven’t always been the best examples of phenomenology) virtual environments (virtual reality environments, games, architectural simulations, virtual worlds) lack many of the rich interesting and engaging aspects and potential of place.

Sorry for the longish intro. My suggestion in brief, is probably an edited book: that compiles, describes and especially clarifies major techniques, conditions and limitations of phenomenology and how they could be used or adapted or critiqued for place design (and by extension, for virtual environments). The audience: I’d hope more for an audience of place interested designers and academics than philosophers per se.

*There were more people I had in mind to write to, but will extend the circle if I get a good response from the initial correspondents.

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