On Baking a Cake: The Phenomenological Method in Positive Psychology

DOI: 10.1080/20797222.2017.1299280
Author(s): Graham A. du PlessisSenior Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, South Africa, Carolina du PlessisCarolina du Plessis Lecturer, Department of Psychology, South Africa


The field of positive psychology has burgeoned since its formal inception with Martin Seligman’s 1998 APA presidential address. Aimed at better baking the positive half of the psychology “cake”, the gains in research and practice over the past decade and a half have been substantial. Among the chief reasons for the rapid growth and development in this field is the express emphasis on a positivistic scientific methodology. While this methodology has undoubtedly contributed much to the evolution and growth of the field, the empirical emphasis has arguably resulted in the concomitant neglect of the more qualitative complexities of optimal human functioning. The present paper contributes to the discussion regarding the role of method in the field of positive psychology and, using as case studies two papers from the field of phenomenology, argues specifically for the utility of phenomenological psychological methods in the baking of the metaphorical psychology cake. The case studies effectively serve to illustrate the manner in which phenomenological methods, through their focus on rich description and resistance to an interpretative framework, are condusive to contributing to methodological pluralism within positive psychology and thereby providing additional means whereby not only to continue the baking of the positive psychology cake, but, more particularly, to ensure that it is baked thoroughly by adjusting the oven’s heat to the optimal level.

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