Framing a phenomenological interview: what, why and how

Abstract

Research in phenomenology has benefitted from using exceptional cases from pathology and expertise. But exactly how are we to generate and apply knowledge from such cases to the phenomenological domain? As researchers of cerebral palsy and musical absorption, we together answer the how question by pointing to the resource of the qualitative interview. Using the qualitative interview is a direct response to Varela’s call for better pragmatics in the methodology of phenomenology and cognitive science and Gallagher’s suggestion for phenomenology to develop its methodology and outsource its tasks. We agree with their proposals, but want to develop them further by discussing and proposing a general framework that can integrate research paradigms of the well-established disciplines of phenomenological philosophy and qualitative science. We give this the working title, a “phenomenological interview”. First we describe the what of the interview, that is the nature of the interview in which one encounters another subject and generates knowledge of a given experience together with this other subject. In the second part, we qualify why it is worthwhile making the time-consuming effort to engage in a phenomenological interview. In the third and fourth parts, we in general terms discuss how to conduct the interview and the subsequent phenomenological analysis, by discussing the pragmatics of Vermersch’s and Petitmengin’s “Explicitation Interview”.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The study of musical absorption is related to expertise as it is usually musical experts who most consistently experience such absorption.

  2. 2.

    For a more detailed account of what we mean by encountering, see Legrand 2013a, 33–4; 2013b.

  3. 3.

    The constitutive role of body language, facial expression and emotional expression in consciousness has a long tradition in phenomenology, especially in Scheler. For a more modern treatment see Krueger 2012.

  4. 4.

    “Interaction” in this context should not be identified with the philosophical position of “interactionism” as coined by De Jaegher and Di Paolo (2007). For a good discussion of interactionism and the notion of “engagement” see Satne and Roepstorff 2015.

  5. 5.

    See Krueger 2014 and Krueger and Overgaard 2012.

  6. 6.

    Petitmengin and Bitbol (2009, 391) write about “performative consistency”. We will return to differences and similarities with Petitmengin’s account later.

  7. 7.

    In the qualitative literature, these two kinds of consistency are known as “petit” vs. “grand” generalizations (see Ravn and Christensen 2014, 6). Thanks to Susanne Ravn for bringing this point to our attention. We chose, nevertheless, to stay with “phenomenological consistency,” because this term lends itself better to our general methodological discussion.

  8. 8.

    This conception of a factual variation has an epistemic status similar to Flyvbjerg’s “case study” (2011). Briefly put, this concerns the power of the case study to add to or find flaws within an established theory.

  9. 9.

    Tatossian makes the same objection to Merleau-Ponty’s methodology and argues that we should “engage directly with the madman” (Tatossian 2002, 12). See also Zahavi 2010.

  10. 10.

    In this paper, we use the claims of Vermersch and Petitmengin interchangeably.

  11. 11.

    We have met with Petitmengin and experienced a brief tutorial. Our understanding of EI is thus formed from this encounter as well as from all the publications on EI.

  12. 12.

    Milton Erickson was an American psychotherapist specializing in hypnosis. Ericksonian language is language that is empty of content, namely language that refers to the subject’s experiences without introducing and naming the content of the experience beforehand (see Petitmengin 1999, 47).

  13. 13.

    This reduction is supposed to refer to the classical phenomenological reduction. We would like to see this claim elaborated, as the phenomenological reduction can be several things and is furthermore easily confused with the epoche, namely the bracketing of pre-suppositions that they also use (Petitmengin and Bitbol 2009, 384–5). See Luft 2012 for a clarification of this aspect of Husserlian methodology.

  14. 14.

    On par with other recent approaches, EI seems to be a melting pot of introspection, phenomenology, Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques, and in some contexts even therapy, education and knowledge management (Depraz et al. 2003. See also Varela et al. 1991; Varela and Shear 1999; Thompson 2014; Colombetti 2014).

  15. 15.

    Deep absorption is interestingly paradoxical when it comes to memory. On the one hand, musicians cannot remember what was going on during a deeply absorbed performance but, on the other hand, they clearly remember that they had an unusual experience and can often tell the exact time and place of its occurrence.

  16. 16.

    This article is to a large extent based on tutoring from, and extended conversations with Dorothée Legrand and Susanne Ravn. We are indebted to them for their support, inspiration and critical conversations throughout the process of writing the article. We also wish to thank Claire Petitmengin for an extended discussion and demonstration of some elements of the fascinating EI technique, Dan Zahavi, Shaun Gallagher and John Sutton for comments on earlier drafts as well as the Center for Subjectivity Research, the Section of Philosophy, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen, and the MacNap workshop at the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University for critical discussions during presentations of earlier drafts of the present paper. Finally, thanks to one anonymous reviewer for helpful points and to Adele Jourdan for proofreading the article.

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Correspondence to Simon Høffding.

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The article is co-authored. Simon Høffding and Kristian Martiny are first-author.

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Høffding, S., Martiny, K. Framing a phenomenological interview: what, why and how. Phenom Cogn Sci 15, 539–564 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-015-9433-z

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Keywords

  • Phenomenology
  • Qualitative interview
  • Co-generated knowledge
  • Reciprocal interaction
  • Factual (Eidetic) variation
  • Explicitation interview