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Taking phenomenology beyond the first-person perspective: conceptual grounding in the collection and analysis of observational evidence

Latest Results for Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

2022 01 09


Phenomenology has been adapted for use in qualitative health research, where it’s often used as a method for conducting interviews and analyzing interview data. But how can phenomenologists study subjects who cannot accurately reflect upon or report their own experiences, for instance, because of a psychiatric or neurological disorder? For conditions like these, qualitative researchers may gain more insight by conducting observational studies in lieu of, or in conjunction with, interviews. In this article, we introduce a phenomenological approach to conducting this kind of observational research. The approach relies on conceptual grounding to focus a study on specific aspects of the participants’ experiences. Moreover, the approach maintains the openness to novel discoveries that qualitative research requires while also providing a structured framework for data collection and analysis. To illustrate its practical application, we use examples of hemispatial neglect—a neurologic disorder in which patients characteristically lack awareness of their own illness and bodily capacities. However, the approach that we describe can be applied more broadly to the study of complex illness experiences and other experiential alterations.