Researching the subjective

Phenomenological Psychology

November 23, 2007

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the "German Shakespeare", is not a name that springs readily to mind when thinking of contributors to the theory and practice of phenomenology as a method of science (nor indeed is he mentioned by Darren Langridge). But he has been hailed as an influential exponent. Henri Bortoft, writing in his Goethe's Way of Science , concludes that Goethe's great contribution was in advocating a science of wholeness - holistic, not analytic. Arguably, for we cannot know for certain, I would not now be writing this on my laptop and enjoying many other advantages of technology had the scientific world listened to Goethe.

On the other hand, Langridge would not have needed to write this book. It is a detailed plea for a return to a way of science that the founding fathers of psychology, building on a Zeitgeist of research methods that drew from contemporary philosophy, first turned to in their bid to establish a systematic knowledge base.

The book opens with a discussion of phenomenology as a worthy member of the qualitative "alternatives" to a positivist approach and goes on to look at key exponents (Husserl, Heidegger) and links to Sartre and other existentialist philosophers - largely familiar ground if you are steeped in that tradition (and highly pertinent to counselling psychologists and psychotherapists). The book then moves, however, into more recent, and less well-known, developments in hermeneutics, particularly the work of Hans-George Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.

The book now changes direction from outlining conceptual underpinnings to exploring how psychologists might apply the methods in research. The remainder of the book looks in detail at three relatively new research methodologies: the increasingly popular interpretative phenomenological analysis, descriptive phenomenological analysis - which builds on the work of Giorgi - and a method the author has developed from Ricoeur's work, critical narrative analysis.

The relatively mundane research issues of sampling, ethics, reflexivity, the merits of various approaches to data collection (such as interviews and textual sources) and broader professional issues are also discussed. The final chapters include detailed accounts of the methods in use, including worked examples of data analysis.

Who is it for? This is a book for all psychologists interested in lived experience, whether they are undergraduates looking for the heart of psychology they hoped to find, counselling psychology students wishing to develop research skills sympathetic to their practice or more seasoned researchers and practitioners in any applied specialty. Readers familiar with the work of Howard Pollio and colleagues (see, for example, his 1997 book The Phenomenology of Everyday Life ) may perhaps see in Langridge's work a similar crusade, but will nevertheless welcome this as a more recent, and UK-focused, survey of the area.

Presentation: Additional features of the book (although I find my eye just skips over them) are text boxes. There are lots of different kinds of these graphic designer features: biography boxes, method boxes, study boxes, data boxes, analysis boxes and (unboxed) end-of-chapter summaries.

Would you recommend it? The book marries philosophical perspectives to psychological method and will guide qualitative researchers, whether final-year undergraduate or postgraduate.

John R. Hegarty is senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University.

Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method. First Edition

Author - Darren Langridge
Publisher - Pearson Education
Pages - 200
Price - £28.99
ISBN - 9780131965232

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