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