Recently as I was investigating various approaches to phenomenological analysis, I started sensing a bubbling question to emerge: how deep should we go when we are constructing our methodology, and why? This question rose from several springs, which I open up below.
In an interview from 2012, one of the founding fathers of using phenomenology in psychology, Amedeo Giorgi, threw the following challenge (my apologies for the long citation, but I wanted it to be unaltered and un-focused by me):
“Australian psychologist named Joel Michell who measurement in psychology, he’s a quantitative psychology, and his point is that the idea that psychological variables can be measured is an assumption and its never been proven. He’d like to be the one to prove it, but he hasn’t done so yet and he admits that. He goes back to S. S. Stevens who wrote –when I was a grad student in the 1950’s this handbook of experimental psychology came out edited by S. S. Stephens, and he wrote on measurement where there’s the ordinal scale and he [Michell] says Stevens got it wrong, he didn’t ground quantification properly, and yet fifty years of research is based on what Stevens said. And you know what’s happening to him? He’s being ignored as well. I mean, I know where his articles are, but mainstream people are going ahead doing quantitative research, they’re not responding to the critique, so if qualitative research is vulnerable, it’s kind of new, quantitative research is in no better place, he knows philosophy of math and it’s not right, its an assumption, so everyone who feels like “I’m really being scientific it has never been proven that psychological variables are accessible to quantitative procedures.” (Giorgi, 2012)
Similarly in an invited presentation to discuss how Husserl’s Epoche might benefit Science, physicist Piet Hut (2001) expressed the following :
“Scientists, no matter how flexible and ingenious in exploring new approaches within specific areas of science, are rarely willing to apply the very same method they have been using all their life to science itself. Sure, scientists are willing to question the foundations of science, because they know from experience that what are called foundations actually have more of ornamental function. The foundations of each discipline have repeatedly been replaced, while work on the higher floors of the discipline went on without a glitch — try doing that with a real building!” (Huit, 2001)
If one wants to believe these texts, and not just try to refute them, one can see there is something fundamentally wrong in the contemporary (or is it perpetual?) way of doing research. We are often aiming at “practical outcomes”, but what does this actually mean? Has practical already defined in a way, that ignores revealing basic philosophical assumptions but also logic? Where do we end up if our instruments are based on constructs that many think are practical, but might be false instead?
Now, as I realize this might sound as one of those regular attacks that has been going on between quantitatively and qualitatively oriented people, I want to bring to the discussion another finding I consider rather important (that or I have really misunderstood something). I have been going through phenomenology from the perspective how can I research with it. For this, I have tried to find procedures and methods that would actually help me in doing it. At the same time I want to calm down those those who believe phenomenology with it’s epoche or bracketing one’s natural attitude is first of all a phenomenological attitude of doing research. I also think that just pure attitude will not a study make. You always have to do something, which means actions that are to be taken in time. There is always some sort of a procedure that you will then need to describe to others. If you cannot describe it, perhaps it is something else such as artistic inspiration of some very subliminal kind which isn’t generally considered as valid research (debating it or contrasting it to some aspects of phenomenology such as Imaginative Variation (e.g. Moustakas, 1994) is beyond the scope of this post). As Giorgi (2012) mentions in his interview, and I agree with him, is that not everything should be counted as qualitative research.
“Now you might do some little variation [on the method you’re using] but you’ve got to justify it. If you modify a method, you’ve got to justify it—its got to be logically consistent with all the other steps of the method.” (Giorgi, 2012)
But back to my actual finding or puzzle. While searching for various more methodological descriptions of doing phenomenology, I found a book chapter from a certain widely cited author. Many seem to use his approach, from journal articles to PhD theses. Now, I could’ve stopped there, and be happy about my finding. After all, a) many people have cited him, b) his book chapter is in a respectful and perhaps in even a classic book from the 1970’s, c) an authority in research design has also cited him, and d) his approach sounds very much valid and doable. Shouldn’t I be very happy now? I have found a possible way of conducting my study.
Still I have a problem, and the problem is “wanting to know more”. More about the method, more about the philosophical underpinnings (because it doesn’t matter if you like philosophy or not, your philosophical attitude always undermines your doings), more about the person who wrote this. And in this, I hit a wall. It is as if this person disappeared from the face of the Earth after the 1970’s. He only seems to live in the studies of others. Even his “forthcoming book”, mentioned in his book chapter, is nowhere to be found.
In my eyes, this is a mystery. It is a mystery why nothing else came out from this prominent writer, and it is a mystery how this author became an authority by just a couple of publications, but never developed his method forward (as some such as Amedeo Giorgi have done to this date).
So the question still stays unresolved, inviting many more questions: how deep should we dive, how should we interpret and use what we find, and how many other similar hidden secrets lies there in the vast ocean of (any kind of) research that often goes unnoticed from the both the novice and more experienced explorer?