Friday, 3 October 2014


Phenomenology is a project of sober reflection on the lived experience of human existence– sober, in the sense that reflecting on experience must be thoughtful, and as much as possible, free from theoretical, prejudicial and suppositional intoxications. But, phenomenology is also a project that is driven by fascination: being swept up in a spell of wonder, a fascination with meaning. The reward phenomenology offers are the moments of seeing-meaning or "in-seeing" into "the heart of things" as Rilke so felicitously put it. Not unlike the poet, the phenomenologist directs the gaze toward the regions where meaning originates, wells up, percolates through the porous membranes of past sedimentations—and then infuses us, permeates us, infects us, touches us, stirs us, exercises a formative affect.

A.    Definition of Phenomenology
A phenomenological study according to Patton is one that focused on descriptions of what people experience and how it is that they experience what they experience. One can employ a general phenomenological perspective to elucidate the importance of using methods that capture people's experience of the world without conducting a phenomenological study that focuses on the essence of shared experience.
Meanwhile Creswell revealed that a phenomenology is a researchers search for essentials, invariant structure (or essence) or the central underlying meaning of the experience and emphasize the intentionality of consciousness where experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward consciousness based on memory, image and meaning.
Rossman and Rallis says that phenomenology is a tradition in German philosophy with a focus on the essence of lived experience. Those engaged in phenomenological research focus in-depth on the meaning of a particular aspect of experience, assuming that through dialogue and reflection the quintessential meaning of the experience will be reviewed. Language is viewed as the primary symbol system through which meaning is both constructed and conveyed. The purposes of phenomenological inquiry are description, interpretation, and critical self-reflection into the "world as world”. Central are the notions of intentionality and caring: the researcher inquires about the essence of lived experience.
The phenomenological inquiry is particularly appropriate to address meanings and perspectives of research participants. The major concern of phenomenological analysis is to understand "how the everyday, inter-subjective world is constituted" from the participants' perspective. The basic philosophical assumption underlying this inquiry has most often been illustrated by Husserl's statements - "we can only know what we experience." Thus, any inquiry cannot engage in 'sciences of facts' because there are not absolutely facts; we only can establish 'knowledge of essences'. The essence is the central underlying meaning of the experience shared within the different lived experiences.

B.     The Procedures of Phenomenological Inquiry
Creswell proposed the following process:
1.      The researcher needs to understand the philosophical perspectives behind the approach, especially the concept of studying how people experience a phenomenon
  1. The investigator writes research questions that explore the meaning of that experience for individuals and asks individuals to describe their everyday lived experience.
  2. The investigator collects data from individuals who have experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Typically, this information is collected through long interviews.
  3. The phenomenological data analysis: the protocols are divided into statements or horizonalization, the units are transformed into clusters of meaning, tie the transformation together to make a general description of the experience, including textural description, what is experienced and structural description, i.e how it is experienced.
  4. The phenomenological report ends with the reader underlying better the essential, invariant structure of the experience.

C.    Research Method
The goal of qualitative phenomenological research is to describe a "lived experience" of a phenomenon. As this is a qualitative analysis of narrative data, methods to analyze its data must be quite different from more traditional or quantitative methods of research.

D.    Data collection
Any way the participant can describe their lived phenomenal experience can be used to gather data in a phenomenological study. You can use an interview to gather the participants' descriptions of their experience, or the participants' written or oral self-report, or even their aesthetic expressions (e.g. art, narratives, or poetry).
Try to be as non-directive as possible in your instructions. Unlike a survey or questionnaire, in a phenomenological study you would ask participants to describe their experience of, for example, "riding on a BC Ferry", without directing or suggesting their description in any way. However, do encourage your participant to give a full description of their experience, including their thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, memories - their stream of consciousness - along with a description of the situation in which the experience occurred. You may need to ask for clarification of details on the self-report or interview. If so, your follow up questions should again ask for further description of the detail, without suggesting what you are looking for.

E.     Data Analysis
Creswell stated that phenomenological data analysis proceeds through the methodology of reduction, the analysis of specific statements and themes, and a search for all possible meanings. The researcher needs to set aside all prejudgments, bracketing his or her experiences.
The focus of a phenomenological study according to Patton  lies in the "descriptions of what people experience and how it is that they experience." The goal is to identify essence of the shared experience that underlies all the variations in this particular learning experience. Essence is viewed as commonalties in the human experiences. According to Patton , the steps include:
  1. Epoche: a phase in which the researcher eliminate, or clarify about preconception. Researchers need to be aware of "prejudices, viewpoints or assumptions regarding the phenomenon under investigation".
  2. Phenomenological reduction: the researcher brackets out the world and presuppositions to identify the data in pure form, uncontaminated by extraneous intrusions.
  3. Bracketing involves the following steps:
    • Locate within the personal experience or self-story, key phrases and statements that speak directly to the phenomenon in question.
    • Interpret the meanings of these phrases, as an informed reader
    • Obtain the subject's interpretations of these phrases, if possible.
    • Inspect these meanings for what they reveal about the essential recurring features of the phenomenon being studies
    • Offer a tentative statement, or definition, of the phenomenon in terms of the essential recurring features identified.
  4. Textural portrayal of each theme: a description of an experience
  5. Development of structural synthesis: containing the bones of the experience: the true meanings of the experience of deeper meanings for the individual.
The entire analysis process aims to examine the lived experience from the ones who produced the experience rather than imposition of other people's interpretations. It should be the interpretations of the participants in the phenomenon under study that define the commonalties of the lived experience in the phenomenon. It is not the researcher's own thinking of the phenomenon, the other researchers' experience of the phenomenon, or the theoretical descriptions of the phenomenon that are under analysis.
One analysis principle was suggested in the field book: "phenomenological analysis requires that the researcher approach the texts with an open mind, seeking what meaning and structures emerge." In their suggestions, they encourage the analysts to choose what they will like to focus on. Is that the way? It seems to contradict the concept of " Epochè" and "bracketing", in which the researcher has to recognize personal bias, and take a fresh look at the stated experience. How does a research resolve the dilemma between" subjectivity" and "objectivity"? Interpretations are always subjective. Phenomenological studies pursue "essences", which could be created in the moments of the analysis (although the creation seems to be grounded in the data, the interpretations of the data can be beyond the data themselves.) Essences are abstract, but the phenomenon is not. What is closer to the truth? Ideas of the objects, or objects themselves?
Heuristic process of phenomenological analysis described by Moustakas inlcudes:
  • Immersion: the researcher is involved in the world of the experience
  • Incubation: a space for awareness, intuitive or tacit insights, and understanding
  • Illumination: active knowing process to expand the understanding of the experience
  • Explication: reflective actions
  • Creative synthesis: bring together to show the patterns and relationships.
Creswell described the general structure of phenomenological study as follows:
  1. Introduction: problem and questions
  2. Research procedures: phenomenological and philosophical assumptions, data collection, analysis, outcomes
  3. Significant statements
  4. Meanings of statements
  5. Themes of meanings
  6. Exhaustive descriptions of phenomenon

F.     Descriptive Phenomenology
The steps consistently outlined as essential in the descriptive phenomenology method of inquiry include:
(a) bracketing,
(b) analyzing,
(c) intuiting, and
(d) describing
Although these steps are considered distinct components of descriptive phenomenology, each moment of the investigation entails a blend of bracketing, analyzing, intuiting, and describing to produce a true understanding of the phenomenon under study.

G.    Hermeneutic (Interpretive) Phenomenology
Based on the Heideggerian beliefs, Diekelmann, Allen, and Tanner (1989) devised a step-by-step process of analyzing narrative text. The analysis is typically done by an interpretive team and involves seven steps:
a)      reading the interviews to obtain an overall understanding;
b)      writing interpretive summaries and coding for emerging themes;
c)      analyzing selected transcripts as a group to identify themes;
d)     returning to the text or to the participants to clarify disagreements in interpretation and writing a composite analysis for each text;
e)      comparing and contrasting texts to identify and describe shared practices and common meanings;  
f)       identifying patterns that link the themes; and
g)      eliciting responses and suggestions on a final draft from the interpretive team and from others who are familiar with the content or the methods of study.

Descriptive and interpretive phenomenological methods may be used to illuminate knowledge relevant to holistic nursing practice. Previous scholarly works and the authors’ experiences with conducting phenomenological inquiry suggest that descriptive phenomenology is most helpful to guide studies that aim to describe the universal structures of phenomenon and when the researcher’s ultimate goal is to develop clinical interventions.
Alternatively, interpretive phenomenology is most useful when the goal is to interpret contextualized human experiences. Such interpretations are a blend of meanings and understandings articulated by the researcher and the participants. Interpretive phenomenology is particularly useful for understanding how context influences, structures, and
sustains experiences.
It is important to bear in mind that phenomenological analysis is a cognitive process, and each researcher has a different thinking style. One investigator’s way of thinking and making sense of the world may seem clear to some individuals with similar ways of thinking,
yet somewhat confusing to others. In other words, those who tend to see similarities in human experiences and look for patterns and universal features of phenomenon, and who aim at moving their program of research toward designing therapeutic interventions, may be more suited to a descriptive mind-set.


Danuta M. Wojnar and Kristen M. Swason. 2007. Journal of Holistic Nursing Volume 25 Number 3 Phenomenology: An Exploration. Seattle University and University of Washington.
Max van Manen, University of Alberta. Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 1 (2007), No. 1, pp. 11 – 30.


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