Max van Manen was born and raised in Hilversum (1942), the Netherlands, where he completed the State Pedagogical Academy with teaching qualifications for all levels (K-12) and a major in teaching English as a Second Language. After immigrating to Canada in 1967, he taught for several years with Edmonton Public Schools, and went on to complete an MEd (1971) and a PhD (1973) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973.



Max has strong ties with three Canadian universities. From 1973 – 1976 he was at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education as an assistant professor of curriculum and social education. During the 1980s and 1990s, he taught in the summer graduate program of the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria as a Visiting Professor. He joined the University of Alberta in 1976, and until his retirement in 2008 he was a Professor of Secondary Education in research methods, pedagogy and curriculum studies. He is presently professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and adjunct professor at the University of Victoria.

During his early studies at the University of Alberta Max was struck by the deep intellectual chasm that existed between the pedagogical approaches to education in the Netherlands and the strong behaviorism and systems analysis of North American education. In contrast to the emphasis upon teacher performance and observable outcomes of the latter, the pedagogical approaches addressed the personal, relational, motivational, emotional and values-based preconditions of good teaching. In order to make the European approaches more accessible to Canadian graduate students and educators, Max translated classic phenomenological pedagogical texts from German and Dutch into English.



Through research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Max van Manen has been involved in ongoing inquiry in phenomenology and pedagogy. The following paragraphs describe a chronology of inquiry by sequentially focusing on the phenomenological research method, the meaning of the pedagogical relation, pedagogical tact, the pedagogy of self-identity in interpersonal relations, the pedagogy of recognition, and the meaning of writing in qualitative research. Each research phase has been supported by substantial 3 year research grants awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).


Phase 1. The development of the phenomenological research method: The theoretical perspective and methodology of the various research proposals are rooted in a phenomenological model of human science inquiry first described in the 1990/97 book Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy. In the explication of this qualitative methodology a bridge was built between the more pragmatic North American approach to research and the more interpretive West European traditions. What makes the North American approach more pragmatic is that it is methods-driven; in contrast, the continental tradition largely left the methodological procedures implicit.

Ongoing methodological issues continue to be discussed and developed in van Manen (1992, 1995, 1997a, 1997b, 1999a, 2001, 2002b, 2005, 2006). The development of a phenomenological research model and interim publications resulted in the 1988 Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies “Award for Outstanding International Accomplishments in Research in Phenomenology and Pedagogy,” granted at the CSSE Learned Societies Conference, Windsor, Ontario.

In a leter supporting Dean’s letter to the 2002 J Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research it states about this research: “Dr van Manen has had a profound impact on the conduct of research in education. He has developed an area of research that simply did not exist in North American educational studies before his contributions.  His research and writings in what he has termed “human science research” represent a major transformation in our understanding of how educational research is best conducted. For over 25 years, he has focused on human perception and experience as an alternative to “objective” experimental paradigms borrowed from the natural sciences in the study of children and learning, teachers and instruction. In this regard, his research is considered to be original and innovative, and Dr van Manen, himself, to be a pioneer in introducing phenomenological methodology into the field of educational research.”


Phase 2. Elaboration of the meaning of the pedagogical relation and pedagogical tact: The notion of pedagogical “relation” of this proposed research derives from the second phase involving the articulation of a theory of pedagogy. This phase has been developed alongside the later stages of Phase 1. It involves the translation and publication of classical pedagogical works dating from 1950-70, by eminent German and Dutch scholars such as Langeveld,  Bollnow, and Buytendijk. The work of Phase 2 has resulted in various articles, translations, presentations, and books for which van Manen received the University of Alberta McCalla Research Professor Award. Canada Council funding allowed the completion of the (1991) book The Tact of Teaching: The Meaning of Pedagogical Thoughtfulness.

In 1992, the “Human Science in Education” project was supported by a three year SSHRC strategic research grant. The project involved applying the human science model developed in phase 1, and the concept of pedagogical reflections and pedagogical thoughtfulness and pedagogical tact of phase 2, to an integrated research-writing project engaging practitioners at various levels of educational institutions. The research model closely links the practice of research (including data collecting, interpretation of protocols, and textual construction) with the practice of writing. This work resulted in several research papers and a newly edited publication of Researching Lived Experience.


Phase 3. Pedagogical studies of relational intimacy, secrecy, recognition, and identity: The interest in identity and inwardness through the process of writing was initially studied through the phenomena of childhood secrecy and the experience of recognition, for which an SSHRC research grant was received in 1997. Both secrecy and recognition are theoretically and experientially associated with identity and self-consciousness. E.g., positive recognition and acknowledgement shapes our sense of self in directions of personal maturity; negative recognition (non- or misrecognition) may inflict harm on a person’s mode of being, while critical recognition may bring us face to face with undesirable elements of the self.

This research involved hundreds of written recollections of the experience of early childhood secrecy and recognition. It resulted in several research papers on the themes of identity in the experience of secrecy and recognition. A book was completed for Teachers College Press: Childhood’s Secrets: Intimacy, Privacy, and Self Reconsidered (in collaboration with B. Levering). In recent years this book has been translated and published in Spanish, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish (SA), and Chinese languages.


Phase 4. The phenomenology of writing: From the beginning of van Manen’s work in developing phenomenology as a qualitative research method, he stressed the importance and the challenge of “writing” as an inherent dimension of interpretive inquiry. This focus on the writing dimension of research is further described in the 2002 book Writing in the Dark: Phenomenological Studies in Interpretive Inquiry. The 14 research papers exemplify the writing practice of qualitative inquiry.

Van Manen became again convinced of the importance of experiential and interpretive writing as a method for gaining pedagogical knowledge and understanding during the research of his most recent SSHRC project on the pedagogical task of teaching. He had the opportunity to experiment with writing while working with some professional groups in education, psychology, and the health sciences. For example, the SSHRC project of reflecting through writing on the teachers’ pedagogical tasks was tested during three visits (in 2000, 2001, and 2002) to the Unified Professional Development Project (UPDP) at Hong Kong University. Three groups of about 25 teachers were led to reflect through writing workshop activities on pedagogical dimensions of teaching such as examination pressure, recognizing students, scarce space for homework in Hong Kong high rise apartments. (For example, see “Understanding Student Experiences through Processes of Writing” in the 2002 UPDP Research Newsletter, University of Hong Kong. This work was partially shared by means of web board and list serve participation. Thus Max van Manen became increasingly interested in the problem of communicating by writing online with students learning in seminar contexts.

This research of Phase 4 has resulted in various kinds of recognition for which Max received the University of Alberta J Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research (March 5, 2002). It is the most prestigious research award granted at the University of Alberta.


Phase 5. Pedagogy and online writing: As Max was involved in my phenomenology of writing research, he became increasingly aware that research on qualitative writing has special significance in online environments. So this phase 5 research examined the phenomenon of online writing, not necessarily to advance the cause of online writing but ultimately to better understand the experience of writing itself. Aided by doctoral students who have expertise in online technologies we conducted experimental online international seminars, with participating graduate students and university professors from a dozen countries all over the world. We were especially interested in the question how ordinary face-to-face seminars differ experientially from seminars that are conducted in cyber-space. A crucial question concerned the very nature of writing itself: “Where are we when we write?” Graduate students were actively involved: eg, a paper “The Phenomenology of Space in Writing Online” was co-authored and presented in Geneva at the European Educational Research Association by Cathy Adams, a doctoral research assistant in this project. The project also resulted in a recent doctoral dissertation The Pedagogical Significance of the Computer-Student Relation by Norm Friesen.

In part, the work of Phase 5 has resulted in being awarded with the 2005-06 Killam Annual Professorship  at the University of Alberta.

Phase 6. The pedagogy of online relation: The next research proposal focused on the emergence of relation in seminar settings through writing-online. It follows directly from the previous SSHRC supported project, where Max van Manen explored the phenomenology of online writing. The unsuspected power of written words, in virtual space, to create complex and meaningful interpersonal relations became a compelling phenomenon.

The pedagogical relation lies at the heart of teaching-learning at all levels of education. So how can relationality develop and exist through mere words on a screen? The theoretical literature on communities in cyberspace, virtual cultures and relations, computer mediated interactions and educational technology, largely leaves the meaning of lived relation untouched. And herein lies the important pedagogical question—educators want to understand precisely what is so taken for granted: How is it possible for an online teacher-student relation or student-student relation to grow through the mere writing and reading of words on a screen. When we enter deeply into a relation with another person or with a subject that fascinates us, we want to ask, “how does intimacy grow?” The etymology of intimacy pertains to the relationality of “inmost thoughts or feelings” and “affecting one’s inmost self” (OED). How does intimacy grow through words on a screen? Or, what is the phenomenology of online relationality: how may reading and writing in online seminar settings nurture closeness to someone other (whom we do not know). And there is the parallel pedagogical question: how may online reading and writing cultivate a relation of closeness to a subject matter that interests us?

This research is original because we actually possess very little systematic knowledge about how it is that people can experience, for example, paradoxical “closeness” merely through the exchange of written words on a screen. These feelings and experiences of affectivity are in contradiction to the intuition of those who tend to believe that computer mediated interaction must be a disembodied and alienating activity. Only by executing a carefully prepared empirical qualitative study whereby participants are led through relational and scholarly activities, can these experiences be carefully and empirically examined and reflected upon by the researcher, the research assistants, and the participants of the proposed research project. This research thus far resulted in several research presentations and publications (see van Manen 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010).

For example, the abstract of the paper “The Pedagogy of Momus Technologies: Facebook, Privacy, and Online Intimacy” is as follows: Through cable and wireless connections at home and at work, through Wi-Fi networks and wireless spots in hotels, coffee shops, and town squares, we are indeed connected to each other. But what is the phenomenology of this connection? Technologies of expression such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other social networking technologies increasingly become like Momus windows of Greek mythology, revealing one’s innermost thoughts for all to see. They give access to what used to be personal, secret, and hidden in the lives of its users, especially the young. In this article I explore the pedagogy of Momus effects of social networking technologies in the way they may alter young people’s experience of privacy, secrecy, solitude, and intimacy. In addition, I examine the forms of contact afforded by instant messaging and texting on wireless mobile technologies such as the cell phone (and its wireless hybrids) for the way young people are and stay in touch with each other, and how intimacies and inner lives are attended to. This paper was first presented as “On the Pedagogy of Secrecy, the Hidden, and Momus Technologies,” at the Einstein Forum: The Hidden, Cultural and Political Implications of Secrecy. Potsdam, Germany, June 12-14, 2008



In addition to the six major research grants, Max van Manen has received various minor research grants that supported things such as


  • The initiating and running of the journal Phenomenology + Pedagogy (1981-1991).
  • Developing the phenomenology online website: <> This is a website that makes extensive and integrated use of a wide variety of desktop and server-based software and programming environments. The site offers an intricate navigational inquiry map (about 80 links) as well as an interactive Public Forum, full text online Resources (over 100 articles), and Databases for collections of terms, Biographies and Web links, and a Phenomenology Index of practical scholarly texts. In 2011 the website is undergoing a major redevelopment in design and content.
  • Editor of the SSHRC-funded Textorium, a web publication of graduate student research papers See <>.
  • Since 1991, Max van Manen has been the initiator and coordinator of the Curriculum and Pedagogy Institute (CPIn) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. In a supporting Dean’s letter to the 2002 J Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research it states: “As Coordinator of the Curriculum and Pedagogy Institute and Senior Fellow (Phenomenology) of the International Institute for Qualitative Research Methodology, Dr van Manen has created a world-class research climate that attracts many graduate students as well as internationally acclaimed researchers to the University of Alberta to work with him.”


Max van Manen has been actively involved in the organizing of several international human science (phenomenology) research and pedagogy conferences in various countries including Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, and China.

He has presented numerous keynotes, public lectures, and workshops at universities and in countries all over the world (see vitae).

Van Manen has supervised dozens of Canadian and international doctoral students from various Faculties and universities (sse vitae).


Awards received include the following:

2008:  Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa) of Education from the Hong Kong Institute of Education. (HKIE University)

2005-2006: “Killam Annual Professor.” The University of Alberta.

2002-2003: “J Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research.” The University of Alberta, March 5, 2002.

2000: “Lifetime Achievement Award,” conferred by the Curriculum Division B of the American Educational Research Association at the AERA Annual Meeting. New Orleans, April, 2000.

2000: Award for Contributions to Human Understanding.  International Institute of Human Understanding. Miami, Florida, March 6, 2000.

1991-1992: “McCalla Research Professorship.” Awarded by the University of Alberta.

1988: “Award for Outstanding International Accomplishments in Research in Pedagogy.” Presented at the CSSE Learned Societies by the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, Windsor, Ontario, May, 1988.



At present Max van Manen is involved is a post-retirement teaching program at the University of Alberta where he has been teaching the doctoral research seminar “Phenomenological Research and Writing.”

In addition Max van Manen is working of several books on phenomenological methodology and pedagogy as an ethical practice.



Max is married to Judith van Manen (since 1973) a teacher of English. Judith has won the Province of Alberta Award for Excellence in Teaching and obtained an MEd and a PhD in language education at the University of Alberta. She is now retired from teaching. Max and Judith have two sons: Mark completed a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and subsequently a degree in law; he is currently appointed as a Crown Attorney for the Provincial Government of Alberta.  Michael obtained a medical degree in pediatrics and specialization in neonatology; besides doing his clinical work, Michael is currently completing a PhD in medicine with a focus on bioethics.