Post-Phenomenology: An exploration

This is an excerpt from my research proposal, shared here as a way to build understanding for myself and others who may read this blog post. Adding annotations with may extend our collective understanding of this conception and research methodology.

Phenomenology & ‘Post’ Phenomenology

Phenomenology is both philosophy and methodology for this proposed research. I aim to reveal and describe lived experiences in order to gain understanding of the meaning of phenomena (Cilesiz, 2011), thus researchers focus on “richly describing the experiential essence of human experiences” (Tracy, 2020, p. 65). Two central concepts in phenomenology are the notions of lifeworlds and intentionality. Lifeworlds are the immediate experiences of what already exists, the “world as experienced in the ‘natural, primordial attitude” (Adams & van Manan, 2008 quoted in Tracy, 2020, p. 65). Intentionality is the meaning and “connections that emerge in relations, contexts, and across time” (Valentine et al., 2018, p. 463). Phenomenological researchers are aware of how “words, language, concepts, and theories distort, mediate, and shape raw experience” (Tracy, 2020, p. 65).  Criticality and self-reflection are imperative in phenomenological research (Tracy, 2020).

In order to fully understand the post-phenomenological paradigm within which this proposed research is framed, I will need to first explore the differences between the historical perspective of transcendental phenomenology and the hermeneutic, existential phenomenological research paradigms, since it is often one of these two paradigms that are applied to phenomenological research. I will then uncover this third type of phenomenological paradigm and explain why post-intentional phenomenology (post-phenomenology) (Valentine et al., 2018) provides the best fit for this proposed research.

Transcendental, or descriptive phenomenology, as inspired by Husserl’s philosophy of consciousness (Tracy, 2020; Valentine, 2018). How the research participant knows, or is consciously aware of some object, real or imagined, thus a ‘consciousness of something’ is foundational for describing the “essence of a phenomenon or experience” (Valentine et al., 2018, p. 464). While conducting the research and data analysis, the researcher must set aside their biases or habits of seeing, through a process of bracketing or transcending previously conceived theory, experiences, and understandings. This removes the researcher’s influence from the interpretation of the phenomenon (Valentine et al., 2018; Tracy, 2020). The focus is on accurate and rich descriptions of the phenomenon as it is understood or known by the research participants. For this proposed research, the phenomenon under scrutiny is OEPr. This research will shift away from transcendental phenomenology since I will not ‘bracket’ or suspend my “habits of seeing” (Tracy, 2020, p. 65). It is not just the knowing or understanding of the phenomenon of OEPr, as seen through a teacher educator’s experiences with MDL that interest me. It is the phenomenon of OEPr and how MDL shapes micro-practices in becoming open educational practitioners that is the focus of this proposed research.

Interpretive or hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on embodiment and being in the lifeworlds and intentions relating to a phenomenon, which is grounded in the philosophies of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Gadamer (Valentine et al., 2018). This shift in phenomenology from knowing to being resulted from Heidegger’s ontological interest in how people give subjective meaning to phenomena. Interpretive phenomenology is thus not just concerned with consciousness, but in how lifeworlds constitute intelligible structures (Thomas, 2006) and how these meanings are revealed through language and discourse, thus emphasizing the intentionalities within people’s stories as a form of sense-making (Tracy, 2020). Within the interpretive phenomenological tradition, bracketing is replaced by reflective and reflexive practices that ‘bridle’ or restrain the researcher’s positionality and perspectives on the phenomenon (Valentine et al., 2018). In this way, the researcher is not removed from the research, but openly acknowledges their assumptions and positionality while sharing their reflexive understandings of the phenomenon (Valentine et al., 2018). While a fuller presentation of interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) as outlined by Smith (2004) is beyond the purposes of this proposed research, it is important to reveal three characteristic features of phenomenology – idiography, inductivity, and interrogation –that influence post-phenomenological research. IPA follows an idiographic research sequence, collecting one case or participant’s story at a time, bringing it to a degree of closure, before moving on to subsequent cases or to the cross-case analysis of themes for convergence or divergence (Smith, 2004). Since my intention is to conduct interviews and storying events simultaneously and interwoven in time and space, this excludes IPA as a research method. Researchers following an IPA strategy will inductively analyze data while being open to unanticipated and emergent themes or topics while continuing to interrogate and illuminate extant literature (Smith, 2004). These characteristics will be evident in the proposed research, since the fields of teacher education, OEPr, and MDL will continually shift as I conduct this research, and may influence the analysis of the data collected.

Post-phenomenology (Idhe, 1993; Vagle, 2014) shifts the focus from being to becoming – by “identifying invariant structures … toward exploring the various ways that phenomena are socially produced in context” (Valentine et al., 2018). This frames my understanding that knowledge is fluid, always becoming, since knowing is “changed to the extent that reality also moves and changes” (Horton & Freire, 1990, p. 101). Since researchers recognize that phenomena are not rigid, but are temporal and partial, the focus is on examining the essential features of the phenomenon “at a given point in time, for a given group of participants, contexts, or cultures” (Valentine et al., 2020, p. 466). Thus, post-phenomenologists take into account the “multi-dimensionality, multi-stability, and the multiple ‘voices’ of things” (Ihde, 2003, p. 25) and variant ways participants’ lifeworlds emerge. Thus, post-phenomenology is the best fit for this proposed research since I posit that the OEPr of teacher-educators, as shaped by MDL, is a fluid, liminal, boundary crossing, and dynamic praxis that is continually shifting toward an ideal of becoming open, becoming literate, becoming teacher-educator.

Research within a post-phenomenological paradigm shifts away from a notion of ‘giveness’ or that there is a “brute reality out there – present and fixed – with an essence that can be both immediately perceived … and brought to light and expressed in language” (St. Pierre, 2013, p. 651). It shifts toward Derrida’s conception of différence whereby phenomena are transcendental illusions, contaminated by past, present, and future (St. Pierre, 2013). It is shaped by Foucault’s focus on the ‘materiality of linguistic and discursive practice” (St. Pierre, 2013, p. 652) where language and reality exist together. It follows an experimental Deleuzian ontology with lines of flight as a central concept, while rejecting binary logic in favor of a logic of connection, ‘and’, and ‘becoming’ (St. Pierre, 2013). It is through the Deleuzian conceptions of assemblage and rhizomatics that the notion of ‘becoming’ an open educational practitioner as a teacher educator can be revealed as “entangled, connected, indefinite, impersonal, shifting into different multiplicities” (St. Pierre, 2013, p. 653).

In post-phenomenology researchers must “examine practices rather than going deep, looking for origins and hidden meanings that exist outside of being” (St. Pierre, 2013, p. 649). It is through intentionality, or the “directional shape of experiences” (Ihde, 2012, p. 24) as evident through productions and provocations, that the temporal, partial, and contextual features of highly ambiguous, emergent, and variant phenomena (Valentine et al., 2018) are revealed. Post-phenomenological research relies on gathering rich data from a variety of sources and from lived-experiences, “meant to stand as testimony, bearing witness” (hooks, 1994, p. 11). These proxies for teacher-educator’s OEPr are revealed in writing, interviews, observations, media productions, discourses, and histories. In this way, the phenomena of becoming an open educational practitioner in Canadian FoE can be understood as a “relation of possible meanings being shaped, produced, and provoked” (Valentine et al., 2018, p. 467) and as a “movement against and beyond boundaries” (hooks, 1994, p. 12).

For post-phenomenological researchers, reflexivity requires a “dogged questioning of one’s own knowledge as opposed to a suspension of this knowledge” (Vagle, 2014 p. 74). This involves continual attention to moments where connection/disconnection are evident, where normality is assumed, where bottom lines are discovered, and where shock or insights emerge (Valentine, 2018). Research data is iteratively analyzed through wholistic, selective and detailed readings (van Manen, 2014) that crystallize the facets found within parts, meanings, particularities, and unique assemblages.


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