Thursday, 31 December 2015

Standing outside the interview process?

This is a really pertinent piece of work. It helps clearly explain the differences between Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology. I had pretty much grasped them, it seems. It also seems that I had by chance made the right decision about the process of bracketing, or rather not. I find it difficult to understand how a researcher can 'bracket' out prior experiences and knowledge if undertaking phenomenological research, and so the Heideggerian process of co-creation of the interview between the interviewer and the participant seems to naturally make more sense to me. I'm rather surprised to find myself writing this, with my positivist background in science!

One interesting thought from this paper is that they suggest that confusion and not clearly nailing your phenomenological colours to the mast is relatively common, at least in nursing research. I have to admit that I find this rather surprising - even a cursory glance at the literature clearly indicates that these two concepts of phenomenology are different and so need to be approached in different ways. Anyway - on to the paper. I think it's one I'll come back to time and again.

Lowes, L. & Prowse, M. (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data collection. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38, 471-480.

1. Introduction

Phenomenological interviewing as data collection is defied by a philosophical position. However, these are rarely stated within articles - perhaps due to word count restrictions. The authors suggest that there is lack of methodological clarity if the philosophical position of the author is not clearly identified. This can, in turn, affect rigour and trustworthiness of the work.

2. Phenomenology as a philosophy and a research approach

There are different interpretations of phenomenology. The omission of a clear statement about the philosophical underpinnings of the phenomenological research method used results in confusion which can affect the overall quality and rigour of the research. Researchers claiming affiliation to either Husserl or Heidegger need to substantiate their claim in their methodological account.

3. Husserl's philosophy

Husserl believed that, in order to ensure the validity or objectivity of research, the researcher needed to examine any preconceptions or beliefs, acknowledge them, and then bracket them - 'reduction'. In order to come to an understanding of an experience that is uncontaminated by our preconceptions, we must try to remove as many layers of experience as we can. Husserl's phenomenology is known as 'transcendental' as he believed that the researcher must transcend their natural attitudes and stand outside the research process, to ensure the objectivity of the research.

4. The pursuit of objectivity through bracketing

The process of bracketing is questioned by philosophers and researchers. Merleau-Ponty (1964) suggests that complete reduction is impossible as the researcher's consciousness is engaged 'in the world' and so cannot be transcended. Crotty (1996) points out that bracketing does not just refer to the researcher but also the participant. Considering the difficulty that researchers have with bracketing, suggesting that participants should have the skills to do so, to consider the work rigorous, seems somewhat troublesome. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Husserlian phenomenology was based on efforts to ensure objectivity and therefore links to positivism, rather than the subjectivity sought through interpretivism (Harper & Hartman, 1997)

There is a question over how researchers do lay aside their biases in practice. There has been a move toward a more pragmatic view of bracketing, but this hardly holds close to the Husserlian ideal.

5. Heidegger's philosophy

Heidegger emphasises the importance of 'being in the world' - both the participant and the researcher are in the world and both view human experience through language, history and cultural perspectives. The hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger sees a shift from the aims of objectivity with Husserlian phenomenology. We cannot bracket our 'being in the world' but can only interpret experiences through our own beliefs, prior experiences and preconceptions. The defining characteristic of Heideggerian phenomenology is the incorporation of the researcher's preconceptions in the generation of data.

6. Heideggerian phenomenological interviews

The products of Heideggerian phenomenological interviews are a co-creation by interviewer and respondent. This means that the researcher's experiences, as well as those of the respondent, are captured within the data.

7. The influence of preconceptions on the interview process

Husserlian phenomenology requires the bracketing out of all of the researcher's preconceptions. This is difficult to achieve - researchers choose their studies because they are of importance to them in some way. In Heideggerian phenomenological research, the researcher's background, preconceptions and interest in the study topic influence their responses to participants, data generation and analysis (Rodgers & Cowles, 1993). Credibility therefore relies on the researcher demonstrating self-awareness throughout the research process. Heideggerian phenomenologists acknowledge and document their preconceptions and the possible effects on the interview structure and participants' responses. Reflective journals can be used to make this process visible. At each stage of the study position statements can be produced to explicate preconceptions. It must be considered that preconceptions are open to reinterpretation throughout the interview and analysis process - this should also be documented.

8. Interviewer as co-participant in the research

Interviewers and participants co-create data through interaction where each affects the responses of the other. This enhances the richness of data collection. However, we need to consider the issue of interviewer bias, particularly where there is a perception of power of the interviewer over the respondent, as could occur in education and healthcare. Explicit consideration of this issue will augment trustworthiness.

Nevertheless, it is important o ensure that questions do not guide the respondent to answer in a particular way which merely confirms the preconceptions of the researcher. The researcher must maintain some level of objectivity within the interview, to ensure that they maintain a critical distance and can see alternative viewpoints.

9. The literature review

Opinions differ as to when the phenomenological researcher should review the data. ethically, some research must be performed before the interview, to ensure that the respondent's time is not wasted with questions which do not uncover new thoughts or ideas. Some researchers suggest that in Husserlian phenomenology, a review of the literature should only be completed after interviews, to reduce the preconceptions that must be bracketed. within Heideggerian phenomenology, the researcher's preconceptions are a part of the research process, and so the idea of a literature review producing bias is irrelevant.

However, the researcher must be mindful of not trying to fit their study findings into a conscious or unconscious framework developed from previous studies. The consideration of theoretical constructs from the literature can be documented in a research journal.

10. Quality indicators

A defining quality indicator in Heideggerian research is a detailed explication of the interviewer's preconceptions and reference to these throughout the research process (Paley 1997). In contrast, a quality indicator in Husserlian phenomenology is an account of how the interviewer's preconceptions have been treated so as not to influence the research in any way.

11. Conclusions

Researchers cannot stand outside the interview process but must consider fully their preconceptions.

Further reading

Crotty (1996) Phenomenology and nursing research

Harper & Hartman (1997) research paradigms. In P. Smith (Ed.). Research mindedness for practice.

Merleau-Ponty (1964) Primacy of perception and other essays

Rodgers & Cowles (1993) The qualitative research audit trail: a complex collection of documentation.

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