Ross Woods, 2018
This brief study is based mainly on Michael Crotty, Phenomenology and Nursing Research (Melbourne, Churchill Livingstone, 1996).
What is phenomenology? Crotty argues that two different views have emerged:
- Analysis of personal experience or perception, which embodies phenomena. This view is common in modern American phenomenological research.
- The study of phenomena through analysis of personal experience or perception. Crotty contends that this second view is correct and that the phenomenon should be the subject of research. For example:
- If marital violence is the phenomenon, people's personal experience of it is something separate.
- One would study the phenomenon of lower back pain, which is not the same thing people's personal experience of back pain.
The elements of a phenomenological study can be laid out as follows:
A B C D E F G Context Event or series of events The phenomenon that is being researched Persons’ direct experience of the phenomenon Persons’ reports The researcher’s perception of A, B, C, D, and E The researcher’s construct
- The context, which is presumably significant in defining events or incidents
- Event, incident, or series of events
- The phenomenon that is being researched
- The subject’s personal experience of the phenomenon
- The subject’s report of the experience, which is the raw data of phenomenology. It is filtered through their philosophical constructs, culture and language.
- The researcher’s perception of A, B, C, D, and E.
- The researcher’s report, which is usually linear (e.g. a written report that has a beginning, middle, and end) and expressed in language appropriate for a particular audience.
Clearly columns C, D, and E are always closely related and can be easily confused. In fact, all columns are closely related and any lack of correlation between them reveals an error in research method.
Crotty uses the term "bracketing" to mean that researchers should put aside their own presuppositions so that they can attend to the informant's view. Opinions vary as to the extent that this is possible (pp. 19, 20). I'd suggest that researchers can never be entirely without assumptions, but that researchers must rigorously explore and examine them in order to eliminate researcher bias.
In analysis, the raw data is authentic so it can speak for itself. (This predates and closely resembles the postmodern idea of deconstruction.)
A common way to collect data is the use of interviews with minimal structure and comprising open ended questions. The point seems to be to let informants share their experiences, without a predetermined structure that would direct how they respond. In fact, the way informants structure their information is a kind of data in itself (pp. 20,21).
Crotty suggests that most researchers use methods adapted from Colaizzi, Giorgi, and van Kaam, which are all quite similar (pp. 22,23). In summary, the procedure is as follows:
- Gather descriptions of the phenomenon
- Refect on them and get a sense of the whole
- Identify exerpts ("meaning units") in descriptions that represent major themes
- Identify meanings across all cases and identify themes
- Create a hypothetical representation of the phenomenon. This implies eidetic reduction (see below).
- Check whether the hypothetical representation is a good match for all known cases of the phenomenon.
- Validate the representation. This may be by examining it with participants and colleagues.
Researchers obviously have abundant opportunity to read their own interpretations into the data. Consequently, methodologists in phenomenology justifiably put considerable effort into letting the data speak and preventing such eisogesis. For example, Giorgi’s method includes the creation of an "exemplary narrative." It can be a good idea to create something concrete and identifiable, but it could easily cross over into becoming a stereotype.
The question of eidetics
I would insert a step of eidetic reduction into the methods above. It is easy to presume incorrectly that a phenomenon exists or has a particular nature. Consequently a researcher should establish that it actually exists and knows what it is. This includes the creation of a workable definition of the phenomenon. In fact, a substantial part of the research, or perhaps nearly all, is given to identifying the nature and features of the phenomenon.
What are the phenomenon’s defining characteristics? Put another way, what is the set of characteristics that must be present to say that it is the phenomenon? Is it one thing, one thing with variations, or a range of similar or related things that are actually separate? Eidetic reduction is a technique for identifying the basic components of phenomena. The researcher draws out the absolutely necessary and invariable components that make the phenomenon what it is. Gert H. Mueller. Analytical Sociology: An Outline, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eidetic_reduction. Cf. also Crotty’s discussion, p. 32.
- Some of Crotty's philosophy is a little fuzzy and it seems to take on some existentialist assumptions.
- The relationship between ontology and epistemology is unclear. For example, what do we mean if we say that a phenomenon exists but it exists in the mind? Historically, ontology and epistemology have competed for territory.
- The relationship between subject and object is unclear or at least inconclusive.
- Crotty’s discussion is similar to several other methods, although he does not mention them:
- Some kinds of critical incident analysis
- Some kinds of historical analysis
- Grounded theory, which has done better at relating ontology and epistemology.