Choosing Phenomenological Research

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Phenomenology is not an easy research methodology to grasp. It’s philosophical foundations make it formidable to approach and it’s various traditions can be confusing. Indeed, even the terminology, such bracketing and intentionality, demand phenomenological researchers embrace new meanings for common words.

Reflection lays at the heart of the methodology. Similarly, critical reflective practices are ingrained in educators throughout their academic careers and are often employed in an effort to transform teaching practices (see Brookfield, 2017). Brookfield discusses the four lenses of critical reflective practice, which are “students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, theory, and personal experiences” (p. vii). Embedded in personal experiences are personal interests, which is where I see my connection to phenomenology.

Whilst preparing my dissertation proposal, I began reading copious amounts of studies, and I noted which methodologies I felt an affinity to. Porter’s (2013) dissertation employed phenomenology, which I had not covered in any research courses I’d take at a masters or doctoral level. Specifically, the phrase “lived experiences” captured my attention and imagination because I’m an avid biography reader. I love diving into a well-written biography that takes readers on journey to gain insights into a person’s character, their chosen profession, and the choices they made. Why is Cagney an actor (McCabe, 1997), why would a rock drummer go on a motorcycle trip (Peart, 2002), and how does a Canadian become a space shuttle commander (Hadfield, 2013)?

I continued scouring the literature, but “lived experiences” captured my imagination and other methodologies seemed to pale in comparison. I originally intended to create a mixed methods study of professors OER use, but as I began reading about phenomenological methodologies I realized I needed to change my exceptions.

I was intimidated by its philosophical underpinning and more than once I considered abandoning my readings and continue searching. However, it is impossible to escape Heidegger’s contribution to technology philosophy and, also as a phenomenological philosopher, many of the readings returned to his work.

Several important pieces of writing convinced me to continue with phenomenology. The first was Patel’s (2015) diagram that clearly illustrates the relationship between ontology, epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, methods, and sources. I knew parts of my research paradigm were vacant. I hold a constructivist ontology, which considerably narrowed my options. I agreed with his alignment of constructivist ontology with epistemology. Amongst the theoretical perspective choices was phenomenology. Phenomenology was also included in his methodology list. Finally, the data collection methods made sense to me.

A few times a year I visit my favourite used book store in my never ending quest for research textbooks. It was an extremely successful day when I pulled Creswell’s (1998) book from the shelf. I was of course familiar with his work in research education, but now I held a book in my hands that succinctly described five qualitative traditions, including phenomenology.

After devouring Creswell’s book I purchased two phenomenology books. Vagle’s (2014) work touched on the various phenomenological research traditions, particularly van Manan’s hermeneutic approach. Vagle also introduced me to Dalhberg et al.’s (2008) reflective lifeworld research. I quickly gravitate to Dalhberg et al.’s approach and found their perspective refreshingly easy to understand, particularly their view of bridling a researcher’s preconceptions as opposed to bracketing preconceptions and biases.

These books, particularly Vegle and Dahlber et al’s work, remain the foundation of my phenomenology practices even though I went on to read seminal work by Moustakes (1994) and Giorgi (2009). All these books continue to be instrumental in my understanding of phenomenological research. Even though I do not follow all of the traditions, each has contributed to my deep understanding of phenomenology and the nuances of attempting to explicate the essence of a phenomenon.


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming and critically reflective teacher (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Dahlberg, K., Dahlberm H., & Nystrӧm, M. (2008). Reflective lifeworld research (2nd ed.). Studentlittertur.

Giorgi, A. (2009). The descriptive phenomenological method in psychology: A modified Husserlian approach. Duquesne University Press.

Hadfield, C. A. (2013). An astronaut’s guide of life on Earth: What going to space taught me about ingenuity, determination, and begin prepared for anything. Little, Brown and Company.

McCabe, J. (1997). Cagney. Carroll & Graf.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Sage.

Patal, S. (2015, July 15). The research paradigm – methodology, epistemology and ontology – explained in simple language.

Peart, N. (2002). Ghost rider. ECW Press.

Porter, D. A. (2013). Exploring the practices of educators using open educational resources (OER) in the British Columbia higher education system (Doctoral dissertation, Simon Fraser University). Simon Fraser University digital archive.

Vagle, M. D. (2014). Crafting phenomenological research. Routledge.

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