intersubjectivity 2401

far better than many of its alternatives, such as
intuition, tradition, common sense, or gues
sing. Specialists trained in a certain field of
science thus are and should be treated as autho
rities on how to evaluate knowledge claims in the
field they dedicate their lives to studying. The
knowledge that is generated through this rigor
ous process will be better and more reliable than
knowledge produced through less systematic


In a quite different vein, phenomenologists
(e.g., Schutz 1967) and ethnomethodologists
(e.g., Garfinkel 1967) have used the term inter
subjectivity to refer to the understandings peo
ple come to share in their everyday lives. Once
again, the term presupposes that objectivity is
not possible in human understanding. Here an
emphasis is placed on the malleability of mean
ing, especially social meaning, and it is stressed
that differences of subjective views are ubiqui
tous. Intersubjectivity in this context refers to
the shared perspectives people sometimes actu
ally achieve, and often assume they have
achieved. People take for granted that reality is
in fact obdurate. They may realize at times that
there is no way objectively to know what is
real. But for day to day activity, this is trea
ted as unimportant. People operate as if reality is
knowable, as if people similar to themselves see
things the same way, and that if reasonable
people discuss matters, they will probably come
to the same conclusions.
This assumption of intersubjectivity can
become problematic when the reality of differ
ences between peoples expectations and inter
pretations becomes apparent. Garfinkel (1967)
has pointed out that intersubjectivity is most
visible, and its importance is highlighted, when
it is violated. When taken for granted beha
viors do not occur, or unexpected behaviors
do occur, they call into question assumptions
about reality. The resulting breakdown in
intersubjectivity can be most unsettling. This
line of work has led to an often repeated phrase
among social constructionists that reality is

Feminist scholars (see Lengermann & Niebrugge
1995) have pointed out that there are important
aspects of power that are involved with intersub
jectivity in interaction. Low power actors are
often required to share the perspectives of high
power actors, coming to an intersubjective agree
ment on what you want, what you think, what
you do. High power actors are often afforded
the right to concern themselves with what
I want, think, and need.
One kind of relation of power that qualitative
researchers engage in is the interview setting. If
researchers are more interested in what they
want to know from their interviewees, they may
miss the opportunity to learn what the intervie
wees want them to know. As a value statement,
some qualitative researchers who wish to study
human behavior from a feminist perspective
claim that they should attempt to achieve an
intersubjective view with their interviewees.


Mitchell (2000) identifies four levels or modes
of interaction which can be studied in a ther
apeutic situation: behavioral, in which relatively
smooth interactions are facilitated by patterned,
habitual repertoires of activities; primitive emo
tional, in which peoples affect states transfer
from one person to another one persons anger
invokes anothers fear, one persons sadness
makes another sad; self oriented, in which the
other person is thought of as a characteristic
other in relation to the self (how does this person
see me, what kind of person is this, and what is
my role in this situation); and finally at the most
useful and highest functioning level, intersub
jectivity, in which two people are reacting in a
genuine fashion to each others conscious, will
ful, meaningful interactions. These modes of
interaction hold much promise for the future
study of interpersonal behavior in many other

SEE ALSO: Ethnomethodology; Everyday
Life; Interaction; Phenomenology; Schutz,
Alfred; Structure and Agency