Phenomenology as Research Method
Victoria University of Technology
Outline of the paper
This paper is an account, the interweaving, of the narrative of the writing of my own thesis using a phenomenological approach, with my developing interest in phenomenology as research method. My study of personal transformation provides the context for these reflections on phenomenology as research method. I have spoken in other forums about the content of the research; in this paper I want to do something different. The focus for this paper is on the possibilities and dilemmas for higher degree studies encountered as I learnt to use a phenomenological approach. Firstly I will give a brief account of the study and then explore some of the issues that arose for me in the process of the study and which I am pursuing in my subsequent reading on research in general and phenomenology more specifically. This paper will give some history and background of phenomenology as research method, to show its origins and what it offers researchers as a way of exploring research questions. I will also outline how the research I carried out was informed by principles of cooperative research, as well as to address some of the tensions of working within a phenomenological framework and although cooperative in intention the constraints which prevented it from being a truly cooperative project. To a degree this paper is a critique of the development and subsequent writing of my own M.Ed. thesis and the questions about the phenomenological approach which have formulated for me since writing it. Phenomenon of personal transformation
What I have called the phenomenon of personal transformation was the focus for my study. Different experience in and reflections on three different examples of personal transformation within the adult education context were the basis for further exploration of the research question. The three examples were the experience of change within the context of adult literacy education as recounted by one adult literacy student supported by one of his tutors, my own observations of some students experience in a post-graduate course I taught in a university of a profound sense of turmoil and subsequent change, and lastly my own reflections of change precipitated by involvement in a higher degree course. Finally, through a process of clarification and refinement, the research question became focussed on the experience of personal transformation for one person in the context of adult literacy. As with any research project the question of the appropriate methodology evolved simultaneously as I defined and redefined the research question. The course I did on research methodology made the broad distinction between quantitative and qualitative research methods. This distinction is no longer adequate to define the many different research approaches which do not categorise easily within this split. I will address this issue in more detail later in the paper. Choosing a research methodology
I needed a method of data collection and an approach which would allow me to research the question. A re-constructed narrative based on three interviews provided the data for analysis, and at the same time, after reading Giorgi (1989) and van Manen (1984, 1990) I decided to carry out a phenomenological study. My reading of Reasons (1988) Human Inquiry in Action added a further dimension to the framework I was developing; the need for the investigation to be guided by principles of cooperative inquiry and for the study to be mutually benefitting to all participants. The study used a combination of Giorgis interpretation of meaningful transformation units and van Manens immersion in the data. As well I developed an understanding of metaphor ( Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. 1980) and applied it in three ways in the thesis; the first provided a theoretical framework for the literature review which resulted in the identification of seven...
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