• 1. What is a vignette?

    Researchers record in experiential protocols what astonishes, irritates, affects them or catches their attention. These protocols are then concisely condensed into an experiential narrative, a vignette. The narrative describes the experience in statu nascendi and in medias res, in the midst of things and as closely as possible to the lived experience. It is the craft of the researcher that is required to make the experience (re)experienceable for the reader. The content of the vignettes are thus moments and situations that are rich in experience and which capture the researcher’s attention in the field (e.g. school, hospital, public places). In crafting the vignettes, researchers avoid interpretations as much as possible, and instead place special emphasis on description (of the situation, the interactions, and the verbal expressions such as facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice). In crafting vignettes, we also school our perception of the situations in which we find ourselves.

  • 2. What is an anecdote?

    Anecdotes as research tools in the understanding of the phenomenological Vignette and Anecdote Research are something like peculiar stories, that are worth-remembering. Narrated and remembered incidents, issues or events are formed into pointed, short narrations. Similar to vignettes, the research stance of co-experience determines the conversations, in that researchers respond to the narration of their dialogue partners – in medias res, in the midst of the events. They also attempt to initiate the recollection of decisive moments of experience and situations. Facial expressions, gestures, the halting or speeding up of speech as well as other bodily articulations are noted and included in the anecdote. The most important difference to vignettes is that in writing anecdotes the audio recordings and transcripts of recalled moments in conversations form the data basis, whereas vignettes arise from experiential protocols of perceived situations in the here and now.

  • 3. What – in a phenomenological understanding – is the nature of experience?

    Phenomenology is the philosophy of experience and explores what it means to experience something as well as how our experience comes into being. According to the German phenomenologist Bernhard Waldenfels, experiences stem from a basic structure of pathos-response events, i.e. every experience implies a foreign claim to which it responds. Thus, such claims are characterized by a core element of inescapability. Since experience, action and thinking do not begin with the subject but origin from somewhere else, they always carry traits of a foreign inspiration and so we are caught by the events we encounter rather than we could fully plan them. The experience happens to someone, or rather, it happens to them. The incident of the experience often eludes the subject, who, in responding, merely seizing the claims evoked, accomplishes what happens to it. Thus, experiences are distinguished by their relapse character; in addition, they shatter human expectations. In phenomenological conceptions this disturbing, inescapable, painful, but fruitful character of experiences is emphasized, in that habits of thinking, acting and perceiving are put at stake. Such shattered expectations and suspended habits imply fruitful conditions for learning processes.

  • 4. What do corpo-real, temporal, spatial and relational dimensions of experience mean regarding vignettes and anecdotes?

    The experience of the Other is not an original experience, but we see the Other’s experience in external articulations. We can co-experience pain in articulations of pain – a distorted face, moaning, a tortured posture – but we do not feel the pain of the Other. Body, space, time and relation are basic dimensions of human being; experiences therefore always articulate themselves bodily, in a felt time, spatially and relationally. As bodily beings, we cannot say anything without our mouth, feel anything without our skin, observe anything without our eye, touch or grasp anything without our hand, hear anything without our ear. At the same time, speaking, breathing or kissing are never physical alone, but transcends the purely physical into what is meant by corpo-reality. Experience expresses itself bodily in our perception – in gestures, facial expressions, voice or tonality – it happens in certain time relations, whereby the present, the past and the future intertwine. Experience takes place in certain spaces, actual as well as imagined, and in the relations of all participants the experienced intertwines and a third, something new emerges.

  • 5. What is a phenomenon?

    A phenomenon in the basic meaning of the word is something that can be observed or perceived, a remarkable appearance. Occurrences often represent mysterious phenomena for us. In philosophy, the term describes that which shows itself to the senses and presents itself as new knowledge or as new consciousness. In Greek the term on the one hand denotes the obvious, that which is revealed and shows itself, on the other hand that which emerges. What is can show itself in very different ways, depending on how we access it. Phenomenology as the philosophy of experience in this sense attempts to perceive and describe the appearance of things, contexts, and situations in all their multiplicity and ambiguity. Edmund Husserl founded this philosophical tradition in the 20th century and his call – Back to the things themselves! – has become famous to date. In its essence it turns against both excessive rationalism as well as strict forms of empiricism and naturalism. It calls for approaching the things in the way they show themselves to us, if we refer to them in thinking, fantasizing, analysing or desiring – we do not find an immediate or direct access to the true being of things. How an object appears to us, is determined by the way we refer to it, by the angle we take, by proximity or distance, or by any other modality. This turn initiates a new, concrete engagement with the phenomena of our life-world as we experience them, and refrains from dwelling on distanced debates about the being of things.

  • 6. What is phenomenology?

    Similar to the core principles of the Vignette and Anecdote Research phenomenology as the philosophy of experience – can be called – a school of perception, which constantly requires new cycles of seeing, listening and feeling, intending to continuously explore new aspects and ways of the appearance of something. In this, phenomenological research withdraws from the claim of mainstream sciences to define and measure reality as precisely as possible; quite on the contrary, it calls for engaging in a perception of ambiguity, versatility, blurring and adhering to the so called surplus of things; we always know more than we can put in words. This implies that situations and concrete people are always more and different than they seem to us. Such a research stance, then, not only examines the colour red, for instance, in terms of its chemical mixtures, but rather adheres to its many meanings it has for our lives, from the symbolic colour for love to that for danger, from the romanticized rose to the colour of an Italian racing car.

  • 7. What do we mean by co-experience as the binding research stance of the Vignette and Anecdote Research?

    We cannot perceive the true sense of being, a thing, or situations; instead, phenomenological approaches focus on the multitude of how something appears to us, provided that we are fully open for the variety of appearances. In order to do this, we attempt to follow Edmund Husserl’s call for expoché, the temporary suspensions of our pre-conceptions, existing expectations or previous knowledge about the things we deal with. We cannot directly access the experiences of others, but by sharing a situation and letting ourselves affect by what is going on, we can co-experience the experiences of others. By attending with our senses and by being open to co-experience experiences, a sensitivity to the other and foreign emerges. Co-experiencing experiences in educational contexts requires a bodily attention that involves all the senses. As we see, hear or feel our way into what is going on around us when being in the field as researchers, the emerging appears then as something we can then talk about or remember. It is crucial that in this we consider how and in which form something appears to us, for instance, as irritating, delighting, unsettling, concise, meaningless, or arousing curiosity.



  • 8. How do we craft a vignette?

    Experiential protocols created by researchers when they are fully present with all their senses in the field are the starting point for vignettes. When writing vignettes as narrative texts researchers start immediately into the centre of the scenic event offering only the roughest contextual information necessary to grasp the situation depicted in the vignette. We strive only to describe what is directly perceivable while on the same time being aware of the fact that a lot deludes us when trying to take down all that is going on in a lesson, for instance. Direct speech, a punch line, or an open ending are among the stylistic devices of vignette writing that provide room for different interpretations and multi-perspective reflections of the described action. Vignette writers are faced with the challenge of translating the language of the body into words, as well as temporal, spatial, and relational articulations of experience. Gestures and gesticulations, facial expressions or voice volume are bodily articulations of experience that are only recorded and described; we avoid to analyse, abstract, operationalise or interpret them too hastily. Carefully chosen verbs, adjectives, adverbs or nouns provide linguistic means for this. It is important in what tone of voice something is said, with what words something is uttered, what actions it follows, and by what gestures it is accompanied. Wir haben einen Körper und sind Leib. This German expression distinctly denotes the interconnectedness of body, mind, and soul and can hardly be translated into any other language. It emphasizes that the corpo-real character of exceeds the mere physical: e.g. a gesture is more than a physical movement and can express a certain stance to the world, claims, specific action or sentiment. Syntactic abbreviations, alliteration, repetition, metaphor or comparison are further linguistic devices to concisely condense the perceived, co-experienced. The first drafts of such protocols are still called raw vignettes and undergo several review steps and a condensing fine-tuning. In processes similar to communicative validation in conversations with research partners or a selected discourse community, we read the vignettes to others and comment on them and ask questions about certain formulations or descriptions, which are taken into account for the final version if convincing to the researcher. Both research teams and recursive writing processes are fruitful for the process of condensing.

  • 9. How do we craft an anecdote?

    Research conversations, both interviews and transcripts impromptu conversations, form the (data) basis for anecdotes. The conversations are conducted in a co-experiential mode and transcribed as closely as possible to what is said. Likewise, bodily expressions of the interlocutors are recorded. In the processing of the interviews, the researchers let themselves be affected by recalled experiences and condense particularly memorable moments of conversation into a concise narrative. As a rule, they take care to write the narrative text along the following key points that are characteristic of anecdotes: one experience, one topic, one focus, one punch line. Sometimes, due to the conversational situation, anecdotes may begin with a question that triggers recollection and narration. As with the vignette, bodily, temporal, spatial, and relational articulations are considered. The linguistic procedures and stylistic devices are similar to those of the vignette: not only what is said is important, but also how it is said; we pay particular attention to facial expressions, gestures and manners of speaking, and attempt to describe them as closely as possible to what we co-experienced by struggling to find suitable verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Similar to vignettes, the further processing of the (raw) anecdote is carried out in research teams and by the means of recursive writing processes, by checking, further condensing, working out the punch line or open ends. The narration is condensed to those events by which the researchers were affected and which have impregnated themselves as peculiar, pleasing, disturbing, or rousing curiosity.



  • 10. How do we point to the suffused and condensed experience in vignettes and anecdotes when reading them?

    Reading vignettes and anecdotes requires engaging with the articulations of experience that they reveal. In small groups, for example, vignettes are first read aloud in order to give space for immediate sensory resonance as well as for feedback, questions and hints. Moments of surprise, irritation, and peculiarity bring about a resonance in intuitive comprehension that opens up new insights. Through the reception of experiences condensed from the diversity of perception (Husserl), layers of meaning are revealed in the reading that point to something new, something different or foreign. Through the reading, the authors of the vignettes or anecdotes also gain access to new levels of meaning that were not yet accessible during the writing or previous readings. The co-experienced reality can be viewed in a new way. In the pedagogical context, entrenched ideas of children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly can be opened up to new points of view that invite new perspectives for action. For reading in groups – or alone – the following guiding questions are recommended: What is expressed in the experiential situation? What is embodied in it? What imposes itself on me as a reader? What is left out in the scene described? Where do I know this from? What irritates me, and what can this irritation have to do with my previous experiences, with my previous knowledge? In any case, theoretical presuppositions are made explicit in the reading, in order to reveal their thematic location. Another level of reading vignettes is their transformation into scenic readings: micro-moments of the action can be re-enacted, according to simplified methods of forum theatre, in order to bodily comprehend the different possibilities of meaning of one and the same action and subsequently to try out extended options of action. In the anecdote, for example, this is attempted to be grasped in order to understand connections in recalled experiences and described incidents that point beyond the individual event, or the individual experience. Therefore, Anecdotal Research is particularly suitable for reflecting on (learning) biographical experiences and/or educational trajectories and for reflecting on life-world, school, structural, social, relational influences on life and educational paths.



  • 11. How can the insights gained by the reading of vignettes and anecdotes be generalised?

    Whereas representative surveys require standardized comparative values and certain, randomly selected number of people in order to obtain generalizable statements, vignettes and anecdotes visualize unique moments of experience in their comprehensible ambiguity, liveliness and thoroughness. They rely on the exemplary, the example. Already according to Aristotle, the general can be seen in the exemplary individual event. As examples – as exemplary descriptions of what is perceived – both vignettes and anecdotes claim to illuminate a general meaning in the particular and concrete situation, so that something can be learned from vignettes or anecdotes for other situations of experience. Thus, a small (inconspicuous) event can have a large meaning for humans. Their comprehensibility lies in the conciseness of the representation and creates an impressive insight that has an effect beyond the individual experience. Phenomena that show themselves bodily as experience often (co-)respond with other experiences and show themselves as such in other people as well. Vignettes and anecdotes are powerful research instruments to help the so to speak still silent experience to express itself (Husserl). In this way, they develop a basis of experiential data that comes closer to the manifold formations of human experience. In the abundance and richness of the exemplary experiences described in vignettes and anecdotes lies a wealth, a surplus of meaning, which makes possible a variety of approaches to reading. In the sense of an answer register (Antwortregister, see Waldenfels) they allow almost inexhaustible phenomenon-specific and pluri-perspective accesses and in their diversity point to further developments.

  • 12. What are core questions for research projects in the paradigm of VignA?
    1. What kind of experience is it to teach, learn, assess, ascribe …?
    2. How do such experiences articulate them corpo-really, spatially, time-wise, relationally?
    3. What happens there to the people involved?
    4. Which claims emerge do to this and how do the people involved respond to them?


Images: © Tobias Loemke »Schimmerndes Gitter« (2016), »Leuchtendes Etwas« (2016), »Angedeuteter Bogen« (2016), »Verblautes« (2018)