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