Applebaum phenomenology descriptive and hermeneutic


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This is a revision of my presentation from the August 2013 International Human Science Research Conference in Aalborg, Denmark. My objective was to convey the interrelationship of description and interpretation within phenomenological philosophy and upon Giorgi's descriptive research approach drawing upon Ricoeur's hermeneutic philosophy.

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Applebaum phenomenology descriptive and hermeneutic

  1. 1. Phenomenological Research: Descriptive and Hermeneutic Marc Applebaum, PhD Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco
  2. 2. Guiding question: Can phenomenological psychological research describe intersubjective structures of lived- experiences with a hermeneutic awareness of • The ways that such accounts, regarded as narratives, are self-interpretive? • The ways participants‟ accounts of their lived experiences are situated within historical, sociological, linguistic, gendered, and other contexts? Due to the limits of time, today I will focus on the former question.
  3. 3. (a) A search for decontextualized, atemporal, “Platonic” essences, or (b) An interpretive relativism that rejects the possibility of intersubjectively valid truth claims—rendering psychological science as such impossible A false dichotomy can be posed between-
  4. 4. For Husserl, “being given and being interpreted are descriptions of the same situation from two different levels of discourse. Hermeneutics and phenomenology coexist in his thought…intentional consciousness is meaning bestowing, and therefore interpreting...but at the same time Husserl insisted that we do perceive things that are nevertheless given.” J. N. Mohanty (1984, p. 117) Philosophical starting point
  5. 5. Mohanty (1984) can be understood in terms of noema and noesis vόημα vόησις Husserl, Ideas III § 16-17: A description is a determination of what is intuited.
  6. 6. A problem for researchers Within philosophy the idea that the descriptive and hermeneutic dimensions of phenomenology are complementary is not novel But the methodological implications of this complementarity for psychology have not been carefully worked through by researchers Moreover, qualitative writers often subsume description within interpretation while neglecting to define either term
  7. 7. Difficulties for students Neither “description” nor “interpretation” are univocal terms Students of psychology tend to assume that “interpret” means to produce a novel and causal-explanatory meaning on their own, rather than attending to what‟s already present in data If all knowing is framed as interpretive then the possibility of adopting a descriptive attitude is foreclosed upon and students will assume that only an interpretive attitude is possible
  8. 8. Within research, descriptive and hermeneutic approaches represent different attitudes with respect to our relationship to interview data. “Attitudes are different intentional perspectives that one can have on an individual object and that will in each case render a wholly different „understanding‟ or „interpretation‟ of that object. In this sense, all experiencing is interpreting.” Sebastian Luft (2011, p. 306) Phenomenological argument
  9. 9. Proposition- Husserl‟s “Principal of all Principals” is a valid starting point for psychological inquiry We can describe carefully what‟s given to us in a given context, just as it is present to us, from our chosen research perspective— We can simultaneously acknowledge that every experience is situated, and this “situatedness” itself can be explicated
  10. 10. Describing description To describe is: to put oneself at the service of and seek to articulate a meaning that is already intersubjectively present, from a given standpoint This is a specifiable kind of intentional act: “To translate into disposable significations a meaning first held captive in the thing and in the world itself” (Merleau-Ponty, 1968, p. 36) In Husserlian terms, the researcher has a constitutive, not a constructive relationship to the given
  11. 11. Description in psychological research “The use of language to articulate the intentional contents of consciousness or experiences within the constraints of the presenting evidence.” Amedeo Giorgi (2000, p. 67)
  12. 12. Steps in the descriptive method 1. Bracketing one‟s prior theoretical and personal knowledge about the phenomenon 2. Employing an epoché 3. Explicating what is present in the data, from the chosen research perspective, with respect to the phenomenon that is the focus of the study, using free imaginative variation 4. Seeking a psychological structure that is “the most invariant meaning for a given context.” Giorgi, 2000, p. 69
  13. 13. Interpretation in descriptive research According to Giorgi, the researcher both interprets and describes, but in specifiable ways: The researcher constitutes the research situation with “high-level” interpretive choices—for example, choosing a psychological perspective on the data Having done so, she is free to adopt a descriptive method to analyze data After arriving at eidetic findings, she can then reflect upon them interpretively
  14. 14. Excluded modes of interpretation In employing the descriptive phenomenological method, two specific modes of interpreting are not engaged in during data transformation: Theoretical explanation: The researcher does not utilize a pre-existing theory or theoretical concepts in explicating psychological meanings in the data. For example, psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, or transpersonal concepts are not invoked. Quasi-theoretical explanation: The researcher does not rely upon a personal, quasi-theoretical understanding or “pet theory” to explicate the data.
  15. 15. From description to hermeneutics “Experience is not only surrounded by a pre- thematic historical horizon as the background for concrete experience; the background also determines the way I conceive of myself in the present and from there the past.” “Explicating what it means to be in a situation transforms it into a hermeneutic situation…” Sebastian Luft (2011, p. 316)
  16. 16. Next: self-interpretation I want to give an example of the varied ways in which self-interpretation occurs in spontaneous narratives Ricoeur‟s (2002) idea of “narrative identity”: narrating an experience is an intrinsically interpretive act that both shapes and is shaped by a subject‟s sense of themselves as the protagonist of their life-story However, “interpretation” occurs in psychologically varied ways…
  17. 17. In descriptive data, self-interpretation comes in varied forms: a) Narratives given in a “natural attitude”—self- interpretation is present, but it is almost entirely spontaneous and implicit b) Narratives demonstrating a reflective attitude that is not self-consciously theoretical c) Narratives that demonstrate a quasi-theoretical attitude
  18. 18. Natural attitude description: From a description of deciding to leave a job: “Before this, I had never worked with so many bright people who were open to listening to my ideas and trusting me to make them happen.”
  19. 19. Reflective but not consciously theoretical: From a description of deciding to leave a job: “In the weeks after quitting my job, when I came down with the worst cold I have ever had, it was those comments from my team members and tears from the head of HR that helped me realize I made the right, albeit difficult, decision.”
  20. 20. Consciously quasi-theoretical: From a description of dreams influencing one‟s artistic work: “I compare my experience of the phenomenology of the creative process to, something like what Campbell calls „the involuntary call‟? Heroes have either „voluntary‟ or „involuntary callings.‟”
  21. 21. Self-interpretive modes a) In a natural attitude self-interpretation doesn‟t thematize itself—one is simply “telling what happened” to the other b) In a reflective attitude there is an awareness of trying to convey the sense of one‟s experience to the other—but the sense-making interpretation is lived in a mostly spontaneous way, in contact with the lived-meaning of the experience itself c) In a quasi-theoretical attitude, there is an effort to actively “come up with” the meaning of one‟s experience for the other—the sense of the experience as it was lived is largely
  22. 22. Self-interpretive attitudes None of these attitudes are exclusive—they often occur side-by-side in data They are all relational modes, expressing the way the participant is relating to the interviewer and their task in relation to him or her
  23. 23. Alternate paths A descriptive approach privileges the lived psychological meanings present in the natural attitude, and explicates them Self-consciously interpretive approaches privilege the conscious construction of new meanings by encouraging participants and researchers to come up with novel interpretations One might explicate the lived-meaning of a given phenomenon in participants‟ narratives, then reflect hermeneutically upon the already- existing self-interpretations in the data—this is particularly useful in clinical or consulting work
  24. 24. References Giorgi, A. (2000). Psychology as a human science revisited, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 40 (3) 56-73. Giorgi, A. (2009). The descriptive phenomenological method in psychology: A modified Husserlian approach. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Luft, S. (2011). Subjectivity and lifeworld in transcendental phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible (A. Lingis, Trans.). Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Mohanty, J. N. (1984). Transcendental philosophy and the hermeneutic critique of consciousness. In G. Shapiro & A. Sica (Eds.), Hermeneutics: Questions and prospects (pp. 96-120). Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press. Mohanty, J. N. (1987). Philosophical description and descriptive philosophy. In Phenomenology: Descriptive or hermeneutic? (pp. 40-61). The First Annual Symposium of the Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. Ricoeur, P. (2002). Life in quest of narrative. In J. Wood (Ed.).