Phenomenology: “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated” by Thomas Groenewald

In “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated,” Thomas Groenewald provides a step-by-step guide on how to conduct phenomenological research since he was unable to find “literature that provides guidelines for conducting phenomenological research.” In phenomenological research, there are no “clearly defined steps to avoid the limitation of creativity of the researcher.  He provides a caveat stating that the article is “not authoritative” but does provide some guidelines to save researchers, and graduate students, some “agony.” Unlike some of the articles that we have read on case study, discourse analysis, and grounded theory, Groenewald uses a conversational tone and personal pronouns in the Introduction of his article on phenomenology. (I have also seen this conversational tone in Alex Grant’s autoethnographic short story.) He says, “I want to do research regarding an aspect of teaching and learning practice, namely co-operative education…” 

Having been taught by teachers and professors in the positivist tradition where “Scientist was largely a mechanistic or mechanical affair” (Trochim, 2020); subsequently, the language of science was formal and objective, devoid of tropes and personal pronouns. On the one hand, I found Groenewald’s casual and honest tone quite refreshing. On the other hand, I felt that since Groenewald was not an expert of authority (since he “does not have authority”), he relied heavily on citations with limited commentary that I did not fully grasp the distinctions that he was trying to make. Take, for example, the section on “Bracketing and Phenomenological Reduction,” he stacks two quotations in one sentence without much explanation or commentary.

1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction. The term reduction, coined by Husserl, is regarded by Hycner (1999) as unfortunate because it has nothing to do with the reductionist natural science methodology. It would do a great injustice to human phenomena through over-analysis, removal from the lived contexts of the phenomena and worse possibly reducing phenomena to cause and effect. HOW ARE PHENOMENA REDUCED TO CAUSE AND EFFECT? Phenomenological reduction “to pure subjectivity” (Lauer, 1958, p. 50), instead, is a deliberate and purposeful opening by the researcher to the phenomenon “in its own right with its own meaning” (Fouche, 1993; Hycner, 1999). It further points to a suspension or bracketing out‟ (or epoche), “in a sense that in its regard no position is taken either for or against” (Lauer, 1958, p. 49), the researcher’s own presuppositions and not allowing the researcher‟s meanings and interpretations or theoretical concepts to enter the unique world of the informant/participant (Creswell, 1998, pp. 54 & 113; Moustakas, 1994, p. 90; Sadala & Adorno, 2001). 

I read this paragraph several times and still do not fully grasp the point that Groenwald is trying to make here. I know that he is trying to make a distinction between Husserl’s and Hycner’s point on removing the researcher’s bias during the explication of data. But, what is the distinction between the two terms, and how does epoche (of suspension of judgment) fit in? In terms of explaining the nuances and differences in the philosophical framework of phenomenology, I felt that Groenewald could have co-written this article with a professor versed in Husserl, Heidegger, and Hycner.

Nonetheless, Groenewald provides a much needed, detailed, comprehensive guide to the stages of the phenomenological research method, which I explain at length in my slide presentation. Refer also to the Phenomenology Chart below.) Every novice researcher needs a starting point; therefore, Groenewald advises the novice researcher to decide if phenomenology is the best research method for her research interest. For his research study, Groenewald was looking for an “exploratory qualitative research design” where the focus was on the participants’ “lived experiences” void of preconceptions. An important distinction between autoethnography and phenomenology is that authoethnography focuses on the researcher’s perspective, interpretation, and insight; whereas, in phenomenology, the focus is on the participants’ description of their experiences. 

[Source: University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), 2020)]

Phenomenology

Purpose, goal – to describe experiences as they are lived
 
– Examines the uniqueness of an individual’s lived situations
– Each person has own reality; reality is subjective
Research question development– What does the existence of feeling or experience indicate concerning the phenomenon to be explored
– What are necessary & sufficient constituents of feeling or experience?
– What is the nature of the human being?
Method – No clearly defined steps to avoid limiting creativity of researcher
– Sampling & data collection
– Seek persons who understand study & are willing to express inner feelings & experiences
– Describe experiences of phenomenon
– Write experiences of phenomenon
– Direct observation
– Audio or videotape
Data Analysis – Classify & rank data
– Sense of wholeness
– Examine experiences beyond human awareness/ or cannot be communicated
Outcomes– Findings described from subject’s point-of-view
– Researcher identifies themes
– Structural explanation of findings is developed

An important theme in phenomenology is the emphasis on validity and truthfulness. Groenewald contends, “I bracketed myself consciously in order to understand, in terms of perspectives of the participants interviewed, the phenomenon that I was studying, that is “the focus [was] on an insider perspective.” Groenewald emphasizes the role of an ethical researcher in every stage of phenomenological research. It starts with informed consent and withholding the central research question to the participants so that the “data must emerge from the interviews, essays, and focus groups.” Phenomenologists stress, perhaps more so than the other research methods, that “researchers must bracket themselves personal views and preconceptions.” In addition, phenomenologists also listen to audio recordings of participants over and over again until (the gestalt) to derive meaning. Thus, the researcher is looking at the data holistically to derive some common themes (clustering of units of meaning to form themes), then writes a summary composite of all the common themes. At this point, data emerges, so this process is deductive in nature. 

Gestalt: Is the Whole Greater Than the Sum? (Google Images)

In terms of the final part of the research process, Greonewald provides a synopsis of his research findings and draws the following conclusion: “It is evident that the logical organization coordination of joint ventures, between educational institutions and enterprises, are very important factors in growing talent.” Did he thoroughly address his central research question: “What is the contribution that co-operative education can make in the growing talent of South African people?” He does not provide his expertise or insight, which is frustrating, especially since I wanted a response to the question. So, I am left to draw my own conclusions, leaving me with a sense of incompleteness. 

Will I use phenomenology in my Research Proposal? No, however, I can see the potential of phenomenology since it gave rise to Reader-Response Theory where there is more focus on the reader’s response to the text rather than to the text itself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the benefits and limitations of phenomenology? (Audience)
  2. Would you use phenomenology as a research method for your Research Proposal? Why or why not? (Audience)
  3. What is the difference between phenomenological reduction and bracketing? What about epoche? (Dr. Nelson)
  4. Elaborate on gestalt. (Dr. Nelson)

References

Groenewald, Thomas. (2004). “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated.” Creative Commons. Retrieved from https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

Trochim , W. M. (2020). “Positivism and Post-Positivism”. Knowledge Base. Retrieved from https://socialresearchmethods.net/kb/positivism-and-post-positivism.

A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated

Overview of Article

This article first starts off by giving a brief history of the origin of Phenomenology; originating with German philosophizer, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). In the most simplistic way, phenomenology is defined be the following: “…based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events (“phenomena”) as they are perceived or understood in the human consciousness, and not of anything independent of human consciousness.” The article also goes on to give the essential break down to understand how to approach this research methodology. For more “visual learners”, here is a YouTube that was very helpful to me when understanding this methodology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_poJRQygJtc

Turning Theory into Practice: Applying Phenomenology to Art!

Like many of my post about these different methodologies, I try to make sense of them by applying it to my own research question. In the case of this methodology, I aim to take a different approach; in stead of applying this theory to my own research question, I will apply it to my original love… Art! Since phenomenology is the methodology associated with the phenomenon of how humans experience reality, I believe the studying of my own art goes well wit it! If you have time, please take a glimpse through this article… it is what gave me the idea to use phenomenology in this way. For clarification, this is not a full on research, but more so a test drive of the methodology in a simplistic form. I will be using the format used in the above article I summarized.

The research paradigm of a study undertaken

The selection of topic I will be going with is the following: How does my experience and understanding within me reading different novels showcase through my art? I am pretty sure this question can defined way better, but we will go with this for now. I think this research method is good for my question because like the article said, “Phrenologists, in contrast to positivists, believe that the researcher cannot be detached from his/her own presupposition and the researcher should not pretend otherwise.” In short, I am to put my already prejudged ideas about my own art and how I experience them.

Locating the research participants/informants

In the case of my “research question”, I am my own research participant.

Data-gathering methods

The way the data would be gather for my research question is by collecting and keep track of each painting/art design I do for each book that I read in the span of time that I will do the research.

Data-storing methods

I would keep digitized version of each art piece alongside the books.

Explicitation of the data

Validity and truthfulness

Since this is my sample mini version of the research methodology, I stopped at Explicitaion due to me not completely understanding! With that, it was interesting to put this theory to the text.

Phenomenology in Freewriting

With every new method, there comes my confusion and turning to YouTube for just a basic introduction to the method in question. Please enjoy the following video introducing Phenomenology.

I must admit to myself and to others that freewriting may be what I care about most in writing and teaching writing. I learn the most from it. I get my best ideas and writing from it.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Freewriting is something that most teachers should practice with their own students, it helps exercise the creative juices and allows the student to explore creatively by giving them the chance to express themselves in any formal and informal situation. 

At the beginning of the article, Peter Elbow explains how freewriting has helped him overcome serious personal situations that would “help [him] diminish the pain” (43). Like myself, Elbow kept a diary and/or type at the keyboard to get everything and anything out that would be weighing on our shoulders. 

I remember sometimes sitting on the floor-I’m not sure why, but probably as a kind of bodily acting out of my sense of desperation. I could type fast and I learned that I could just let myself flow into words with a kind of intensity. When I felt myself shouting I used all caps. This process seemed to help more than anything else, and in this way I drifted into what I now take as the experiential germ of freewriting.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Elbow didn’t understand at the time he was into his freewriting was any kind of conscious methodology. He continues to explore and express himself within his own freewriting and,

Often finds it easier to freewrite productively when I’m alone or in someone else’s class or workshop and can concentrate on my own work and not worry about people I’m responsible for. When I’m feeling nervous about being in charge, I sometimes cannot enter into my words or even very much into my mind.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Elbow touches on a subject that many can relate too; the idea of liking our own
writing and/or our students’ writing. He expresses how students should do a lot of private writing and share their work with each other. By doing so, they will be opening their creative minds to their own peers and they will be introduced to an idea or thought they never thought possible.

Also, they can receive the praise they need to increase their confidence in their own writing.
Likewise, Elbow points out that if we can like our writing as well, this will benefit us as
educators with our students’ writing.

A Design for A Phenomenological Research Design

Summary: 

In this article, Thomas Groenewald, shares knowledge as a mere form of assistance to other researchers about a type of qualitative methodology that may not be as familiar but is less stressful, and will help him conduct research in an area of personal experience and interest without his own biases interfering. This is called phenomenology. He later explains a brief history of phenomenology as it began with German philosopher, Edmund Husserl. 

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view (43-44). Groenewald conducted this study at an educational institute in Gauteng, South Africa where he interviewed program managers and representatives, who are responsible for educational programs associated with the commerce, industry and/or government (46).

In order to increase the population of interviewees, Groenewald used the snowballing technique, which allows a participant to recommend others to participate in the interviews. It’s basically spreading the word to those that qualify. After the interviews, he gathered and stored the data using recordings (in case of forgetfulness), field notes (4 types) and used explicitation to keep the context of the information whole (Hycner 49).

  1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction. 
  2. Delineating units of meaning. 
  3. Clustering of units of meaning to form themes. 
  4. Summarizing each interview, validating it and where necessary modifying it. 
  5. Extracting general and unique themes from all the interviews and making a composite summary.

Beginning Thoughts:

In order for me to grasp the significance and the study Groenewald conducted, I began to research the history of phenomenology. I didn’t realize how intricate the information would be, nor did I realize how our social world has such an impact.

I read that René Descartes is generally and originally considered the father of modern philosophy. He was the first major figure in the philosophical movement known as rationalism, a method of understanding the world based on the use of reason as the means to attain knowledge. Descartes’ most famous statement is Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I exist.” With this argument, Descartes proposes that the very act of thinking offers a proof of individual human existence. Because thoughts must have a source, there must be an “I” that exists to do the thinking. In arguments that follow from this premise, Descartes points out that although he can be sure of nothing else about his existence—he can’t prove beyond a doubt that he has hands or hair or a body—he is certain that he has thoughts and the ability to use reason. Descartes asserts that these facts come to him as “clear and distinct perceptions.”

Next, in 1889 Franz Brentano followed and used the term phenomenology to characterize what he called “descriptive psychology”. For Brentano, physical phenomena exist “intentionally” in acts of consciousness. This view revives a Medieval notion Brentano called “intentional in-existence”, but the ontology remains undeveloped (what is it to exist in the mind, and do physical objects exist only in the mind). I think that statement is somewhat bizarre. Brentano distinguished descriptive psychology from genetic psychology. Where genetic psychology seeks the causes of various types of mental phenomena, descriptive psychology defines and classifies the various types of mental phenomena, including perception, judgment, emotion. According to Brentano, every mental phenomenon, or act of consciousness, is directed toward some object, and only mental phenomena are so directed. This became the hallmark of Brentano’s descriptive psychology. His term paved the way for Husserl’s new science of consciousness, and the rest is history.

Phenomenology evolved with Edmund Husserl in 20 century Germany. Husserl suggested that only by suspending or bracketing away the “natural attitude” could philosophy become its own distinctive and rigorous science, and he insisted that phenomenology is a science of consciousness rather than of empirical things. Indeed, in Husserl’s hands phenomenology began as a critique of both psychologism and naturalism.  Husserl argued that the study of consciousness must actually be very different from the study of nature. For him, phenomenology does not proceed from the collection of large amounts of data and to a general theory beyond the data itself, as in the scientific method of induction.

 

After rereading this article, I understand his methods; however, I was confused with some of the explanations by the multiple researchers. I realize Groenewald’s methods and techniques are based on the research derived from Bailey, Hycner and etc.  I appreciate the way he broke down the four types of field notes he made.

  • Observational notes -ON
  • Theoretical notes -TN
  • Methodological notes- MN
  • Analytical notes- AN

 

I can easily consider using these types when documenting data for my autoethnography research. This study reminds me of the movie Transcendence with Johnny Depp. I know it isn’t exactly the same as phenomenology but it reminds me of the great lengths Johnny’s character went to understand the mind and compare it to technology. Though there is a lot more to this story, the methods of conducting the research are quite similar.

I’m sure phenomenology is a good research but I cannot imagine myself needing it, possibly because I’m still trying to grasp the purpose.

Phenomenological Research

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Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that focuses on the commonality of a lived experience within a particular group. The fundamental goal of the approach is to arrive at a description of the nature of the particular phenomenon. Typically, interviews are conducted with a group of individuals who have first-hand knowledge of an event, situation or experience. The interviews attempts to answer two broad questions: What have you experienced in terms of the phenomenon? What contexts or situation have typically influenced your experiences of the phenomenon? Other forms of data such as documents, observations and art may also be used. The data is then read and reread and culled for like phrases and themes that are then grouped to form clusters of meaning. Through this process the researcher may construct the universal meaning of the event, situation or experience and arrive at a more profound understanding of the phenomenon. With roots in philosophy, psychology and education, phenomenology attempts to extract the most pure, untainted data and in some interpretations of the approach. In its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions. Although phenomenology seeks to be scientific, it does not attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead, it seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures of experience. There are several assumptions behind phenomenology that help explain its foundations:

  1. Phenomenologists reject the concept of objective research. They prefer grouping assumptions through a process called phenomenological epoche.
  2. They believe that analyzing daily human behavior can provide one with a greater understanding of nature.
  3. They assert that persons should be explored. This is because persons can be understood through the unique ways they reflect the society they live in.
  4. Phenomenologists prefer to gather “capta”, or conscious experience, rather than traditional data.
  5. They consider phenomenology to be oriented toward discovery, and therefore they research using methods that are far less restrictive than in other sciences.

Edmund Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. He sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge. Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl’s thought profoundly influenced the landscape of the 20th-century, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond. In  Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations), Husserl made some key conceptual elaborations which led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed. Husserl’s thought is revolutionary in several ways, most notably in the distinction between “natural” and “phenomenological” modes of understanding. In the former, sense-perception in correspondence with the material realm constitutes the known reality, and understanding is premised on the accuracy of the perception and the objective know-ability of what is called the “real world.” Whoa deep stuff! I’m trying my best to absorb it all. Slow but steady, I think I’m grasping some of the main concepts and ideas.

See the source image

Okay so now on to the article. The introduction gives us a brief background of WWI and the aftermath. It was a turbulent time and there was carnage left in the wake of the war. In response to the chaos and upheaval German philosopher Edmund Husserl: “sought to develop a new philosophical method which would lend absolute certainty to a disintegrating
civilization.” Husserl rejected the belief that objects in the external world exist independently and that the information about objects is reliable. He argued that people can be certain about how things appear in, or present
themselves to, their consciousness. To arrive at certainty, anything
outside immediate experience must be ignored, and in this way the external world is reduced to the contents of personal consciousness. I must admit this is a complex topic and even when defined and broken down significantly I’m not 100% sure I’m grasping this particular method. But I will continue to read on and try my best to dissect and analyze more about it until I fully grasp the concept. I guess I’ve never been the existential type of gal, I see things in a more objective way. So for me these ideologies and the people who believe in them sometimes fall under the category of “flighty.” That’s just my personal opinion. Continuing on with the article the author breaks it down in categories: The research paradigm/study, locating research participants/informants, data-gathering methods, data-storing methods, explication of the data, validity/truthfulness and lastly synopsis. In the opening the author goes on to say:

“Following seven years of study of research methodology (including periods of formal study, as well as the attendance of short courses and self study) I came to the conclusion that one needs a grasp of a vast range of research methodologies in order to select the most appropriate design, or combination of designs, most suitable for a particular study. One further needs to make a thorough study of the methodology(ies) chosen, to execute good research practice.”

I quoted this because it resonates with me. In particular after reading about phenomenology and the other methods I know now more then ever that I need to make sure I thoroughly understand the concepts and how they will work, or not work for my research. So if I gained anything from this article it was definitely that I need to hone in on my research skills and see what works for me going forward and let go of what doesn’t work. I found the breakdown of this particular research study very beneficial. The author was very concise in conveying for the reader how she conducted her research and was very detailed in the steps she undertook. I also found her topic interesting. To learn about both the educational and vocational systems that some students participate in simultaneously while in school and how it effects them was a worthwhile research topic in my opinion. It can benefit studies in education and also in the work force and see what impact it has on students and their future goals and successes. This explication process which includes five steps or phases was interesting to learn about. Also to see how it was used in her research was beneficial to us future researchers. The five steps included:

  1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction.
  2. Delineating units of meaning.
  3. Clustering of units of meaning to form themes.
  4. Summarising each interview, validating it and where necessary modifying it.
    International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2004, 3(1)
    50
  5. Extracting general and unique themes from all the interviews and making a composite summary.

It was fascinating to read each detailed step she took within her research. I found it very thorough and detailed, it gave me a stronger grasp on the methodology especially seeing how it was directly implemented within her own research process. Do I think I will use this method for my research? Probably not but I have a new found appreciation and respect for it. I might re think my “flighty” opinion of all the existentialists out there in the world. Because now thanks to this article I can see the benefits of this type of research and how people can apply it successfully to their own personal research endeavors. I hope to explore this topic more in depth during our online class, and I’m excited to see Dylan and Linda’s interpretations of both articles. I’m sure any of my confusion and unanswered questions will be cleared up in class. I embedded the video below to hopefully help you all break down this tough methodology! I found it very useful and helpful! Oh and a final quote to wrap up my blog post which I thought was funny, by the genius himself: Woody Allen! Enjoy! See ya’ll in class! Xo.

Image result for existential quotes

Phenomenology

Oh god, the more research method I learn, the more confused I become about how to conduct mine. 

Phenomenology is a qualitative research method that describes how human beings experience a particular phenomenon. Typically, interviews are conducted with a group of individuals who have first-hand knowledge of an event, situation, or experience.

Two types:

  1. Transcendental phenomenology: peoples meaning of a lived experience
  2. Hermeneutic phenomenology: research interprets texts to explore lived experiences

I know I mentioned how much I like it, and let me explain why. The break down of the research method for me is much easier to understand than the previous research methods we have learned. The breakdown goes something like this:

  1. First, does the question fit the research method?
  2. Second, bracketing, the research has to put aside all biases and look at the study solely from the participant’s viewpoint.
  3. Third, pick participants who have lived through the phenomenon, about five, and narrow down questions to one or two.  
  4. Fouth is data analysis, which is taking significant statements from the participants, then clustering them into themes to write a textual description of what it was like to live through the phenomenon and a structural report to tell how they lived through the event. 

For my research, taking a phenomenology approach, say I can study how children of middle school and high school experience the learning of specific writing, in particular the five-paragraph essay in comparison to first-year college writing. Would that work? 

In the article “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated” by Tomas Groenewald, states that Phenomenology should ignore the external world to arrive at a pure “phenomena.” Hence what was said earlier about the researcher putting aside biases and concentrating solely on the participant’s experience. For another researcher, Giorgi, phenomenological research is to “describe” as precisely as possible the phenomenon, based on the facts of people involved in the study.

Groenewald used purposive sampling in his study, which is non-probability sampling, to find participants who have experience in cooperative learning. He searched in various places, such as companies and the internet, to find candidates who meet his requirements. Then he used the snowball technique, which is asking participants if they know anyone else who would be fit for this study. I really like this technique of finding participants; it sounds reliable. 

Now what I feel would be toughest is collecting the actual data. You are working entirely with people, and besides the fact that it takes a lot of your time, these extended interviews would also take a lot of the participant’s time. I would have to find participants who are willing to give that much time. They would have to explain as much as they can about their experience for a wholesome analysis. Also, another disadvantage I feel of this study is that it heavily relies on interpretation; something could easily be misinterpreted. 

Ah, atlas, my favorite of all time, Peter Elbow. Elbow, in his article “Phenomenology of Freewriting,” talks about how freewriting is a beneficial and favorite tool of his. Before I began the discussion, Elbow presented, can I say as a student myself and teacher, freewriting furnishes good writing! It builds character and confidence and courage to just write without feeling judged; I allow my students to free-write every Friday, I call it free-write Friday, creative, I know. The things I read that my students write, sometimes I am left in awe, sometimes stunned; nonetheless, I know they enjoy letting their feelings out. 

Elbow talks about a time in his life where he wrote, just to write, all private. In a sense, it helped him, perhaps understand his feelings? Have we not all been there? Maybe some of us. There have been dark times in my own life, where I found my self scribbling on paper, words that I had not known I felt. It allows you as a writer to feel at ease, without direction, without judgment to let your natural voice flow. Now that I think about it, why didn’t I choose freewriting as a research topic and use phenomenology as a method? Can I change my topic now, is it too late? 

Freewriting for unfocused exploring is interesting. Many a time, we are required to write, like the method paper I am still working on for you, Dr. Nelson, because I am just stuck. This type of freewriting allows us to think about the topic without submitting to a specific form of writing. 

Public freewriting, I encourage all teachers to incorporate freewriting if they can. On free-write Fridays, I encourage my students to share, many love to share their feelings. But this is something that has to be taught, no one in my entire life did to for me, perhaps why so many of us don’t share our most personal moments. I love it when Peter says freewriting helps him “break free from what feels like heavy mud,” oh man, I couldn’t have said it better. 

I could go on and on about Peter’s peice, I love it so much!!!!

Works Cited

Groenewald, T. (2004) A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated.International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 42–55.

Elbow, P. (1989) Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting. Journal of Basic Writing, Vol. 8, No. 2

Phenomenology

Oh god, the more research method I learn, the more confused I become about how to conduct mine. 

Phenomenology is a qualitative research method that describes how human beings experience a particular phenomenon. Typically, interviews are conducted with a group of individuals who have first-hand knowledge of an event, situation, or experience.

Two types:

  1. Transcendental phenomenology: peoples meaning of a lived experience
  2. Hermeneutic phenomenology: research interprets texts to explore lived experiences

I know I mentioned how much I like it, and let me explain why. The break down of the research method for me is much easier to understand than the previous research methods we have learned. The breakdown goes something like this:

  1. First, does the question fit the research method?
  2. Second, bracketing, the research has to put aside all biases and look at the study solely from the participant’s viewpoint.
  3. Third, pick participants who have lived through the phenomenon, about five, and narrow down questions to one or two.  
  4. Fouth is data analysis, which is taking significant statements from the participants, then clustering them into themes to write a textual description of what it was like to live through the phenomenon and a structural report to tell how they lived through the event. 

For my research, taking a phenomenology approach, say I can study how children of middle school and high school experience the learning of specific writing, in particular the five-paragraph essay in comparison to first-year college writing. Would that work? 

In the article “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated” by Tomas Groenewald, states that Phenomenology should ignore the external world to arrive at a pure “phenomena.” Hence what was said earlier about the researcher putting aside biases and concentrating solely on the participant’s experience. For another researcher, Giorgi, phenomenological research is to “describe” as precisely as possible the phenomenon, based on the facts of people involved in the study.

Groenewald used purposive sampling in his study, which is non-probability sampling, to find participants who have experience in cooperative learning. He searched in various places, such as companies and the internet, to find candidates who meet his requirements. Then he used the snowball technique, which is asking participants if they know anyone else who would be fit for this study. I really like this technique of finding participants; it sounds reliable. 

Now what I feel would be toughest is collecting the actual data. You are working entirely with people, and besides the fact that it takes a lot of your time, these extended interviews would also take a lot of the participant’s time. I would have to find participants who are willing to give that much time. They would have to explain as much as they can about their experience for a wholesome analysis. Also, another disadvantage I feel of this study is that it heavily relies on interpretation; something could easily be misinterpreted. 

Ah, atlas, my favorite of all time, Peter Elbow. Elbow, in his article “Phenomenology of Freewriting,” talks about how freewriting is a beneficial and favorite tool of his. Before I began the discussion, Elbow presented, can I say as a student myself and teacher, freewriting furnishes good writing! It builds character and confidence and courage to just write without feeling judged; I allow my students to free-write every Friday, I call it free-write Friday, creative, I know. The things I read that my students write, sometimes I am left in awe, sometimes stunned; nonetheless, I know they enjoy letting their feelings out. 

Elbow talks about a time in his life where he wrote, just to write, all private. In a sense, it helped him, perhaps understand his feelings? Have we not all been there? Maybe some of us. There have been dark times in my own life, where I found my self scribbling on paper, words that I had not known I felt. It allows you as a writer to feel at ease, without direction, without judgment to let your natural voice flow. Now that I think about it, why didn’t I choose freewriting as a research topic and use phenomenology as a method? Can I change my topic now, is it too late? 

Freewriting for unfocused exploring is interesting. Many a time, we are required to write, like the method paper I am still working on for you, Dr. Nelson, because I am just stuck. This type of freewriting allows us to think about the topic without submitting to a specific form of writing. 

Public freewriting, I encourage all teachers to incorporate freewriting if they can. On free-write Fridays, I encourage my students to share, many love to share their feelings. But this is something that has to be taught, no one in my entire life did to for me, perhaps why so many of us don’t share our most personal moments. I love it when Peter says freewriting helps him “break free from what feels like heavy mud,” oh man, I couldn’t have said it better. 

I could go on and on about Peter’s peice, I love it so much!!!!

Works Cited

Groenewald, T. (2004) A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated.International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 42–55.

Elbow, P. (1989) Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting. Journal of Basic Writing, Vol. 8, No. 2

Autoethnography

The knowing self is always connected to the known.”

Grant & Zeeman

Autoethnography is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore their own personal experiences which sometimes reseults in an autobiographical story that will eventually have a deeper meaning and understandings. Autoethnography can also be used across various disciplines within the humanities.

The video below will give you an example of a young girls Autoethnography, The Words.

I found these articles very eye opening. I’m someone who enjoys bringing my own experiences into my work in hopes to help someone who might be experiencing the same situation I went through.

Also, when writers conduct reserach for their work, they tend on reserach everything or anything besides their own self. I found that this is a wonderful method in writing to dig deeper within yourself to find who you are as a person, writer, etc.

Write about their refluxive biographical engagment with culture, since they are, by defintion, experts by experience.”

Grant & Zeeman

A Commentary on Autoethnography

Here the reading I’ll be focusing in on is Ellis et. al’s Autoethnography: An Overview. I’ve felt a good vector has been run along in this class with the course of readings we’ve done, and more specifically with the ordering of these methodologies. It feels like every week the knowledge picked up from the previous weeks’ classes have given context into this field and allow for some modicum of an opinion on the standings of these methodologies relative to each other (of course with the understanding that one week’s worth of reading into them is practically negligible in the grand scheme of the field of research).

In any case, it has become something of a staple of my blogs in this class to allow for some part of my writing to be dedicated to where I believed the method would fit in at a glance when beginning the reading, and where it may fit in after the reading. We’ve dealt largely with qualitative methods, some of which I’ve felt more inclined towards than others, but it has given me this insight: I should not pass judgment on a method before giving its (introductory) research its fair dues, as well as carry out a conversation in class about it. That being said, autoethnography is one which I was very lukewarm on going into this week. It felt to me that this method in particular is one of the most singular research experiences that we have encountered thus far which, though it serves its own purpose, it did seem somewhat exclusive. This was only really because of the conflation of ethnography and autobiography, as the reading states. But let’s now see about the reading.

Ellis lays out the method as being “an approach to research and writing” (my own emphasis). I’ll return to this “and writing” point later but it speaks to an angle of autoethnography which I ended up feeling allowed for its personal nature. Beyond this, the definition continues with the method being describing and analyzing personal experience to better understand a different culture’s experience. Ellis concludes with it being “both process and product” – not unlike grounded theory, which is later mentioned. The specific term “grounded theory” is mentioned later, but the thread of this similarity continues for the paragraph as Ellis clarifies that autoethnography is a method which recognizes and integrates the “innumerable ways personal experience influences the research process,” as well as the subjective state of the researcher. And while this is true, there is still a demand for an analytic bend towards the research for, as Ellis quotes Mitch Allen in saying, “Otherwise [you’re] telling [your] story—and that’s nice—but people do that on Oprah.”

The writing team then breaks down autoethnography into its roots autobiography and ethnography. One of the interesting parts of this article was when Ellis likened the autobiographical process to a collection of “epiphanies.” I mention this mostly as an aside, because I rarely, if ever, read autobiographies, and though I suppose if I were probed for a definition of a style of the genre I may describe this, its being put this way assisted me in understanding autoethnographies. Ethnographies, Ellis then says, are research done to assist insiders as well as outsiders better understand a culture’s practices and experiences.

The next section focused on the “how” of autoethnography and is broken down into “showing and telling.” The showing aspect of autoethnography often involves dialogue to give insight into emotions and experiences. The telling, then, is when the researcher takes a step away from the narrative and informs the reader on particulars as well as to allow the reader some space for more “abstract” considerations of the research. One very interesting bit which Ellis included in this section was the consideration for second-person narrative in autoethnographies. As I mentioned in my annotation around this point, second-person is something I so rarely encounter that this method of research, for the sake of apparently including it sometimes, became immediately more appealing to me for the literature of it all. As a quick aside I will say that this is when things began to click more with this method. It had been described in the article previously which I did not specifically cover here, but certainly when discussing the uses of second-person to carry out the findings of a method of research it became obvious that autoethnography is a research-writing hybrid. It made the very personal emphasis of the research more understandable and easier to reconcile, and I dare say a bit more interesting as well.

The fourth section, headed as “potentials, issues, and criticisms,” begins with a lengthy breakdown of subcategories of autoethnography. Nine of them to be specific. Without quadrupling the length of my blog, I’ll suffice to quote Ellis on the advent of these multiple forms of the method as well as give a few thoughts on a few specific ones. Ellis says, “The forms of autoethnography differ in how much emphasis is placed on the study of others, the researcher’s self and interaction with others, traditional analysis, and the interview context, as well as on power relationships.” Now of my specific notes… Of Layered Accounts we see mention, as I alluded to earlier, of grounded theory. It is a sub-method which “emphasizes the procedural nature” of autoethnography. Sounds like grounded theory to me. It comprises a search for questions and comparisons rather than truth, as Ellis states. But its dissimilarity as I understand it from this section, is that its focus is broader than grounded theory; more communal, while then showing “emergent experiences” of said communities and cultures.

At this point in the reading, the writing group was discussing some of the cautionary tales associated with autoethnography, one of which is “relational ethics/concerns.” This is one of those points which, in a way seems somewhat obvious, but its “goes-without-saying” nature does create an atmosphere to be potentially overlooked. What I mean by this is that within this method, because it is based heavily on real-life accounts, there are necessarily implications. As Ellis describes, if you include someone in an account of something, and that event is negative, or that person’s participation negative in some way, that person is then held negatively in the minds of the readers. There is a responsibility then to protect the people involved in the research, but not to abstract the research in the process. If, as Ellis describes, you conceal or abstract people or even specific events for pseudonyms and “like-events,” you risk making relative your research.

Lastly for this section, I must comment on the usage of one of my favorite words: verisimilitude. Great word, but also a good point on the method: that the validity of the research is in its verisimilitude to the life experiences of the people reading about it. Since these are accounts as documented vis-à-vis the experience of the researcher, they need some likeness to other communities or groups of people. This put a lot of the method into place for me.

So now I feel between two points with how I feel about autoethnography. I can appreciate, as Ellis cautioned, that too often this method is dissented on by those in both the autobiographical and ethnographical fields as being a bit too unkempt for them, but I am still uncertain what research potential there is for the method. If anything, I do appreciate that writing, in one of the ways in which it best serves people, is employed here – that being to empower. There was an earlier section in the article about how writing gives a voice to those who have difficulties expressing themselves otherwise, and that there is often a personal evolution for the researchers in this method. But it also attempts to bridge the gap between art and science, which Ellis phrases as being “erroneous.” More subtly though, and perhaps most interestingly, it is not only the gap between art and science which this method seeks to bridge, but that of process and product (again not unlike grounded theory) which are merely “…’difference(s) to be lived with.'”