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Applebaum: Hermeneutics in descriptive phenomenology


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My presentation at this year's International Human Science Research Conference in Montreal. My aim was to support discussion among hermeneutic and descriptive researchers and clinicians, and also to convey a sense of the descriptive phenomenological method, developed by Giorgi, which I teach at Saybrook Graduate School.

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Applebaum: Hermeneutics in descriptive phenomenology

  1. 1. Marc Applebaum, PhDInternational Human Science Research ConferenceUniversité du Québec à MontréalJune 27, 2012
  2. 2. Phenomenology and hermeneuticsFor Husserl, “being given and being interpreted aredescriptions of the same situation from twodifferent levels of discourse. Hermeneutics andphenomenology coexist in his thought.”“Intentional consciousness is meaning bestowing,and therefore interpreting...but at the same timeHusserl insisted that we do perceive things that arenevertheless given.” (Mohanty, 1984, p. 117)
  3. 3. Implied complementarityThe implication of J. N. Mohanty’s observation isthat description and interpretation coexist withinHusserl’s phenomenological philosophy.The challenge is how to work out what this meansfor psychological research praxis? Moving fromphilosophy to psychology requires an adaptation,since their praxes are different.
  4. 4. ProblemNumerous qualitative researchers assert thatdescription and interpretation can becomplementary…But this complementarity and its implications have notbeen carefully worked through by psychologists
  5. 5. Why is this a problem for us?If all knowing is framed as interpretive in anoverly reductive way, then a descriptive attitudeis nullifiedIf the issue is not clarified, the epistemologicalfoundation of our research will be incompleteIf description and interpretation representdifferent attitudes, and we do not clarify thedifference, we risk muddying the waters for ourstudents
  6. 6. “Interpretation” and “description” are not univocal termsNext I will specify what I mean by description andinterpretation in the context of this talk
  7. 7. Two modes of interpreting (Giorgi)A. Adopting a chosen perspective from which to regard the givenB. Introducing non-given theoretical or quasi-theoretical ideas into one’s reflection upon the data in order to develop the meaning beyond what’s given in the data
  8. 8. Description can be defined as…Using language to articulate the intentionalcontents of consciousness (Mohanty, Giorgi)By bracketing prior knowledge about thephenomenon and then articulating thepsychological meanings that are present for us inthe participants’ words, within the limits withwhich these meanings are present (Giorgi, basedon Husserl)
  9. 9. Implicit meanings are also presentExample: the American idiom, “theelephant in the room”Descriptive researchers claim to be able torecognize and explicate not only explicitpsychological meanings, but implicit ones aswell
  10. 10. ArgumentIn descriptive phenomenological research thereare both interpretive and descriptive moments: Descriptive researchers constitute the research situation with “high-level” interpretive choices (Giorgi) Having done so, they are free to adopt a descriptive method And having arrived at findings, we can expand upon them interpretively
  11. 11. Adopting a psychological attitudeAsking a specific research question, focused ona particular phenomenonFormulating one’s question within anidentifiable hermeneutic community: forexample, the community of qualitativeresearchersSimilarly, in a descriptive study, one’s questionis offered to a describable intersubjectivecommunity as well
  12. 12. Putting one’s prior theoretical and personalknowledge about the phenomenon out of play(bracketing)Employing the epochéExplicating what is present in the data, fromthis chosen research perspective, with respectto the phenomenon that is the focus of ourstudy, using free imaginative variation.Seeking a least variant psychological structurefor the given context (Giorgi, 2009)
  13. 13. Eidetic intuition is a discovery process and not amechanical oneNo method can guarantee one’s success indiscovering a structure and expressing itadequately
  14. 14. To describe means, in a certain way, puttingoneself at the service of what’s present andseeking to act as a vehicle for the expression ofwhat’s present by engaging with it, but notadding to it“To translate into disposable significations ameaning first held captive in the thing and in theworld itself” (Merleau-Ponty, 1968, p. 36).
  15. 15. Often seems to be heard and is perhapsintended as a prompt to students to adopt aconstructive attitude toward data as a text,viewed in a way as the raw material from whichthe interpreter is meant to create somethingnovel…Using both meanings of interpretation (A) and(B) referred to earlier…To “move the meaning forward”
  16. 16. But they imply different attitudes, and this mattersfor our research
  17. 17. Giorgi, A. (2009). The descriptive phenomenological method in psychology: A modified Husserlian approach. Pittsburgh: Duquesne 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.