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Jenny Salmon discusses how the three themed papers in this issue can help make sense of phenomenological methodology
Many nurse researchers, especially novices, encounter challenges and obstacles in their search for the method of inquiry that can best answer their research question. Since most nurses wish to gain an understanding of the human 'lived experience' of particular individuals through first-person narrative, they elect to work with a phenomenological research methodology.
Phenomenological designs and methodologies are qualitative models that guide human science research (Moustakas 1994). They attempt to establish what a certain phenomenon means and how it is experienced. Qualitative researchers, and by extension phenomenological researchers, have a different world view, paradigm and research tradition from their natural science quantitative colleagues (Creswell 2007). A phenomenological approach, which seeks to unveil the description, meaning and essence of the experience, is the opposite to a quantitative, scientific (positivist) research perspective, which uses statistical analysis.
Choosing a phenomenological approach can seem daunting to some individuals because of the associated methodological strengths, limitations, underlying philosophical assumptions and the dedication required by researchers to work out how to apply specific methods and processes to make sure that their study is valid.
To overcome some of these issues, the themed papers address the use of Heideggerian hermeneutics, Moustaskas's heurism and methodological rigour in research. Each author seeks to involve the reader in what phenomenology, as a research methodology, is and is not. The papers focus on holism, culture, behaviour and the uniqueness and understanding of the humanistic, subjective, everyday lived experiences of others. They view experience and behaviour as an integrated and inseparable relationship of subject and object and of parts and whole, and note the importance of formulating questions and problems that reflect the researcher's interest, involvement and commitment. Two authors agree that phenomenology is neither particular nor universal in advancing nursing knowledge and practice.
The three authors, who are all nurses, have engaged widely with the relevant research literature as demonstrated by generally appropriate referencing, processes and debate. This has important implications. First, if the methodologies, methods, design and philosophical assumptions appropriate to the given approach are detailed correctly, they provide valuable learning material for others, especially novice researchers whom two of the papers target. Second, by addressing methodological and experiential issues (plausibility of findings), a reciprocal relationship is formed, adding rigour to a study. Validity of a study is judged by rigorous and accurate findings.
Pratt (2012) debates the utility of human sciences in nursing on the basis that nursing research is still influenced by the scientific perspective and that use of a qualitative perspective is considered to be inferior by quantitative research proponents. This idea is contestable since phenomenology has, over the past decade, become increasingly popular as a research methodology. The author then offers Heideggerian hermeneutics as a methodology to develop and advance nursing knowledge through human 'lived' experience.
Targeting nurse researchers, Pratt (2012) also draws on the strengths and limitations associated with phenomenology, stating that such methodology does not aim to solve the problem of the research question posed. The author may mean that phenomenology seeks to unveil the lived experience of the individual under study, for example, the one who has experienced the phenomenon of interest.
Pratt (2012) views the phenomenological perspective as being of great value in nursing research and practice because it enables researchers to understand the life experiences of others in relation to health and quality of life. This is a correct assumption, as is Pratt's (2012) statement that to understand the philosophical and methodological underpinnings of a research approach takes time, effort, commitment and total immersion on the part of the researcher.
Pratt (2012) further describes Heidegger (1962) as 'spurring' the evolution of the interpretive perspective in that the research findings are co-created by the researcher and the participants. This issue is important in that the intersubjective reality and the autobiographical accounts keep the phenomenon alive and illuminating, enabling the researcher to present a description of the phenomenon in accurate and vivid terms. The description is based on understanding the context of the participant's existing world.
Kenny (2012) identifies two core processes that underlie Moustakas's heuristic, self-dialogue, self-discovery, approach - tacit knowledge and intuition. The author briefly discusses the approach's methodological structure of six phases, its relationship to the research process and post modern challenges in its usage.
Two other core processes - focusing and indwelling - are stated to facilitate rigour in a study. The remaining two core processes (such as identifying with the focus of the inquiry through self-dialogue and an internal frame of reference) are also introduced. Kenny debates the contribution that this approach can make to nursing knowledge and inquiry. Indeed, the use of tacit knowledge and intuition is evidenced in health and social care practice and these are important issues for further consideration by nurses in their practice.
Credibly, Kenny has undertaken an extensive literature review, but the paper's scope is too broad. Kenny's (2012) description and application of this methodology's processes and phases are somewhat confused. However, the author, acknowledging that heuristics is not widely used by nurse researchers, demonstrates passion for Moustakas's heurism, seeking to support its 'timeless' execution. He attempts to achieve this by acknowledging the researcher's sensitive movement between his or her modern and post-modern internal and external world by the use of an eclectic range of sources.
The author further states, correctly, that the attention is less on interpretation of the literature and more towards the researcher becoming sensitive to how it can be used to create movement and illuminate pattern. Kenny implies that the heuristic approach acknowledges the involvement of the researcher (that it is autobiographic) to the extent that the researcher's lived experience becomes the main focus of the research. So the explicit focus of the approach is the transformative effect of the inquiry on the researcher's own experience. It draws on researchers' personal qualities, and their tacit knowing and intuition as guides in aiding a deeper understanding of the personal experience being investigated.
Rigour - a novice researcher's reflections
Pereira (2012) acknowledges the increasing interest in qualitative approaches by nurse researchers. The author, drawing on her experience as a novice researcher, reflects on conflicts and doubts relating to rigour in phenomenology. It is a journey that encompasses quality in qualitative research and, in particular, quality in phenomenological research.
The author encounters different influencing notions and issues with validity, trustworthiness and goodness; criteria, standards and guidelines; evaluation and/or appraisal, describing them as arousing doubt in relation to the debate about rigour in qualitative research. Pereira (2012) highlights the important debate between quantitative and qualitative research for assessing rigour, followed by ensuring validity (or 'trustworthiness') of the study. Perhaps it would have been useful to have addressed member checking, peer-debriefing and the audit trail, which ensures accountability of the research and its findings.
Identifying the difficulties experienced in articulating the philosophical and methodological underlying assumptions and principles of qualitative methodologies, Pereira (2012) gives a good account of phenomenological research criteria and validity. She notes that rigour should be used in an integrative way, taking a congruent approach that balances methodological and experiential concerns.
Nurse Researcher | April 2012 | Volume 19 | Number 3
Creswell JW (2007) Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Second edition. Sage, Thousand Oaks CA.
Heidegger M (1962) Being and Time. Harper and Row, New York NY.
Kenny G (2012) An introduction to Moustakas's heuristic method. Nurse Researcher. 19, 3, 6-11.
Moustakas C (1994) Phenomenological Research Methods. Sage, Thousand Oaks CA.
Pereira H (2012) Rigor in phenomenological research: reflections of a novice nurse researcher. Nurse Researcher. 19, 3, 16-19.
Pratt M (2012) The utility of human sciences in nursing inquiry. Nurse Researcher. 19, 3, 12-15.
Jenny Salmon is a post-doctoral research fellow at Manitoba Institute of Child Health, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.
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