What is experience? Second Hamburg Symposium on Philosophy and Anthropology

Experience is a key concept in phenomenology. During the past centuries, European scholars have developed a wealth of ideas how to describe the structure of experience, including intentionality, embodiment, and intersubjectivity. Many of these ideas have been mobilized in phenomenological anthropology and have contributed to the growth of a vibrant and productive sub-discipline (Schnegg 2023).

But are these concepts that originate from specific cultural and historical contexts really adequate to describe how people outside the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) or Paris, for instance, experience their relationship to human and nonhuman others? Or, do we reproduce European biases when using this conceptual language to describe what others live through? These are the basic questions we want to address. The question was originally formulated by Desjarlais three decades ago (Desjarlais 1994). With the rising need to decolonize anthropology, it is more salient than before.

The overall aim is thus to put classical and established concepts of experience to an ethnographic and intercultural test and to ask critically whether they are suitable for describing situations outside Europe or whether they need to be amended or replaced.

The workshop continues a discussion between philosophy and anthropology which we began last year while Thiemo Breyer (Professor of Phenomenology and Anthropology, University of Cologne) was a fellow at the HIAS. In bringing discussions we had during last year’s workshop on “Normalized consciousness” in communication with a debate the two organizers had in the context of a recent publication on phenomenological anthropology (Schnegg 2023, Desjarlais), this year’s workshops aims to further the debate between the two disciplines.


Michael Schnegg (Universität Hamburg)
Robert R. Desjarlais (Sarah Lawrence College)


  • Aman, MA (Universität Hamburg)
  • Prof. Dr. Jonas Bens (Universität Hamburg)
  • Prof. Dr. Thiemo Breyer (Universität zu Köln)
  • Prof. Dr. Robert Desjarlais (Sarah Lawrence College)
  • Prof. Dr. Rasmus Dyring (Aarhus University)
  • Prof. Dr. Tine Gammeltoft (University of Copenhagen)
  • Dr. Harmandeep Gill (University of Oxford)
  • Prof. Dr. Cheryl Mattingly (University of Southern California)
  • Prof. Dr. Julia Pauli (Universität Hamburg)
  • Dr. Michael Pröpper (Universität Hamburg)
  • Prof. Dr. Andrés Romero (Rollins College)
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Schnegg (Universität Hamburg)
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Schwarz Wentzer (Aarhus University)
  • Dr. Julian Sommerschuh (Universität Hamburg)
  • Prof. Dr. Jason Throop (UCLA)
  • Prof. Dr. Markus Verne (Universität Mainz)
  • Prof. Dr. Tyler Zoanni (Universität Bremen)


Desjarlais, Robert (1994) Struggling Along: The Possibilities for Experience Among the Homeless Mentally Ill. American Anthropologist 96:886-901.

Schnegg, Michael (2023) Phenomenological Anthropology: Philosophical Concepts for Ethnographic Use. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 148:59–102. https://zfejsca.org/ojs/index.php/jsca/article/view/Schnegg

Desjarlais, Robert (2023) The Question of Experience. Comment to Michael Schnegg’s Article. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 148:103–106. https://zfejsca.org/ojs/index.php/jsca/article/view/1266