King, D. (2014). Deep swimming and murky waters: Phenomenological interviewing - reflections from the field. Education Journal, 3(3), 170-178. http://dx.doi.org/10.11648/j.edu.20140303.18
Abstract: A reflection on the merits and caveats of phenomenological interviewing as an educational research tool.
1. Introduction: Phenomenology - issues in educational research1.1. Phenomenology - what it is.
"The difficulties of stating point-blank what phenomenology is are notorious" (Wimpenny & Gass, 2000). There are disagreements about differing approaches to phenomenology and even disagreement over whether it is an approach or a method (Wilkes 1991 - can't find online at the moment). There is a discussion of the primacy of subjective consciousness; awareness that this consciousness bestows meaning and that this meaning can be accounted for through reflexivity. Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001) suggest that the approach is of use when studying a phenomenon that is not well described.
1.2. Why it is valued in educational research
Human experience is revealed through rich descriptions from the people being studied. It preserves the integrity of the situation where it is used (Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007). This leads to insight and awareness of participants' inner worlds. The phenomenological researcher uses their "intuition, imagination and universal structures to obtain a picture" (Cresswell, 1998) of the experience under study. The subjective judgement of the researcher is a key part of the phenomenological approach (Polit & Hungler, 1991).
The author discusses the role of bracketing as vital in Husserlian/transcendental phenomenology. He then discusses Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology where we cannot separate our own 'being in the world' (dasein?). Attempts to bridge the gap between Husserl's and Heidegger's views on bracketing have led to the suggestion that the researcher acknowledges the subjective views that describe individual realities. These views include those of the researcher. The author suggests self reflection as a tool to define the researcher's concerns and explain their world view. Open acknowledgement of the researcher's viewpoint is made explicit to the reader. The philosophical viewpoint of the researcher should be made clear, to provide methodological transparency. Rigour and trustworthiness rest on the researcher clearly demonstrating their preconceptions and contribution to the interview process (Lowes & Prowse, 2001).
The researcher is the primary instrument of research therefore we need to begin by examining, identifying and acknowledging values, experiences and expectations in relation to the research, and why we are interested in the topic. This can be done through a researcher as instrument statement.
2. Framing the research question.Framing the initial research question is the first step in the research process (Wellington, 2011). At the bottom of page 172 - some (possibly) good information on how to come up with a research question, by working through the author's own thought processes.
3. Interviews as research instrumentsThe role of interviewing as a means of data collection is to gather knowledge as generated between humans, often through conversations. Interviews allow subjects to provide their personal views and interpretations of the world. Interviews are multi-sensory, with both verbal and non-verbal communication. There is co-construction of the interview between the interviewer and interviewee (Walford, 2001). "A tacit tension exists between the need for an interviewing framework and the essential naivety required for phenomenological interviewing" (p. 175). The author's suggestion here is that, especially for the beginning researcher, questions do need to be outlined prior to the interview. However, the researcher should have the courage and intuition to follow up areas of interest that relate specifically to the research question, even if they haven't been considered during the planning process.
3.2. Phenomenological interviewing and the interview framework
Seidman (1991) suggests that the researcher needs to have an interest in the stories of others. e need to remain open to emergent experiences. Interview schedules are developed to identify the experience and its meaning for the participants.
4. Sampling and conducting the interviewUse of purposive sampling - selecting appropriate information from sources to explain meanings. We need to make a conscious decision on the site of choice for interviewing as this can affect interviewee response.
5. Ethical considerationsWe have a moral obligation to conduct research ethically and to take all necessary precautions to avoid harm. Must seek approval from the ethics committee. BERA require voluntary informed consent. A participant information sheet and consent form are provided. Clear and accurate records of the research procedures followed. Secure data storage.
6. IPA of interview transcriptsThe author suggests approaching the data with two aims:
1. To try to understand the participants' world and describe 'what it is like';
2. To develop a more overtly interpretative analysis, positioning the initial description in a wider social, cultural and theoretical context (Larkin, Watts & Clifton, 2006 - have already read this - go back to!) The novice is therefore using a proven framework.
6.1. Phenomenological reduction
There should be bracketing of the researcher's personal views and assumptions during analysis. It is an analysis of the experience 'as lived' rather than allowing personal/theoretical concepts to get in the way of the rigour with which the description was being analysed. Need to read the transcripts 'naively' several times to get a sense of the whole (consider the hermeneutic circle here - exploration of the part/the whole and back to the part?)
6.2. First order constructs
Hycner (1985) recommends that the researcher delineates units of general meaning through scrutiny of verbal and non-verbal responses, to distil the meaning of the participant, using rich data from the participants themselves. "Construct" = an abstract or general idea extracted from specific instances by systematically arranging ideas or terms to create a mental framework. First order constructs are units of participant statements kept in their original verbatim form.
6.3. Second order constructs
This is where we interpret meaning from the verbatim text to illuminate the phenomenon in approachable terms (Van Manen, 1990). We look for convergence and divergence by interpreting the narrative and describing and arranging themes into categories - second order constructs.
Taber (1991) describes first order constructs s how the participant conceptualises the phenomenon of interest and second order constructs as how the researcher makes sense of the phenomenon through interpretation.
6.4. Clustering of themes
The second order constructs are grouped into themes. During this phase the researcher moves between the parts and the whole (hermeneutic circle), and clusters the themes into a meaningful relation - structural synthesis of the core elements of the described experience.
7. Discussion of findingsThe direct story of the participant recounted that mentoring was a good, helpful experience. The researcher then positioned the participant's interpretation of 'goodness' and 'helpfulness' within a theoretical framework to gain a full picture of what the mentoring experience meant. The researcher clustered the themes under three key constructs defined in relation to the pupil's interpretation of her mentoring experience: mentor constructs, pupil constructs and impact constructs.
8. Conclusion - reflections on phenomenological interviewingTrustworthiness of the data is an issue the participants may feel they have to provide the 'true' answer. This would depend on any power relationship between interviewer and participant. The researcher found that he needed more detailed responses to answer the research question - see my comments at the beginning. This is something I must try to get right!
Further reading:Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007 Research methods in education (6th ed.).
Cresswell (1998) Qualitative enquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions.
Larkin Watts & Clifton 2006. Giving voice and making sense in IPA
Lowes & Prowse (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data generation.
Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001). Essentials of nursing research: methods, appraisals and utilisation.
Polit & Hungler (1991) Nursing research: principles, methods (3rd ed.).
Taber (1991) Triangulating job attitudes.....
Seidman (1991) Interviewing as qualitative research
Van Manen (1990) Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy
Walford (2001). Doing qualitative educational research: a personal guide to the research process.
Wellington, 2011. Educational research: contemporary issues and practical approaches.
Wilkes (1991). Phenomenology: A window to the nursing world. In G. Gray & R. Pratt, Towards a discipline of nursing (pp. 229-246). Melbourne, Australia: Churchill Livingstone.
Wimpenny & Gass (2000) Interviewing in phenomenology and grounded theory: Is there a difference?