Application and Contribution of Hermeneutic and Eidetic Phenomenology to Indigenous Knowledge Research

Application and Contribution of Hermeneutic and Eidetic Phenomenology to Indigenous Knowledge Research

Patrick Ngulube (University of South Africa, South Africa) and Beatrice Ngulube (Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0833-5.ch006


Many scholars on indigenous research advocate research approaches that negate western research traditions. Although phenomenology is part and parcel of the classical western research approaches, it has the potential to offer indigenous researchers an approach of investigating the real world without invalidating indigenous voices and worldviews. Phenomenology with its emphasis on understanding and describing the phenomenon based on the human experience provides an opportunity of informing research practice in the field of indigenous knowledge. The phenomenological attitude helps in understanding the ultimate structure and essence of the life-world as experienced by participants without making any judgements or assumptions about their experiences. The participants take the centre-stage in phenomenological research approaches as they are viewed as co-researchers because of their extensive knowledge of an experience and its interpretation. This chapter demonstrates that phenomenology is a suitable approach for researching indigenous knowledge, which can complement available indigenous research pathways.
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This chapter focuses on phenomenology and its potential as a research approach for investigating indigenous contexts. The chapter outlines the background to research designs. The procedures of hermeneutic and eidetic phenomenology are detailed. The criteria for judging quality in phenomenological studies are presented. Possibilities and limitations of indigenous research are offered. The chapter also contains an explanation of the relevance of phenomenology to indigenous knowledge systems research. The chapter is not an attempt to reinforce the notion that all indigenous ideas should be filtered through the western empirical lenses which have, hitherto, dominated the research and innovation enterprise in many developing countries. We concede that the western research approach may be useful in an indigenous context when the research employs an indigenous frame of reference during the conduct of research. That may assist researchers to come to grips with the influence of Eurocentric epistemology when doing indigenous research using approaches that evolved in the Western context. We are not claiming that phenomenological approaches are superior to indigenous research approaches. We are as acutely aware as Van Manen (1997) that there is no correct or superior mode of inquiry to discover and ascertain the truth or the true meaning of something. There is no single method, just as there is no uncontested truth, Rather, the reason for reflecting on method is to discover the historical approaches and suppositions that may hold promise in rendering human experience interpretable and understandable... (p. 346).

Phenomenology evolved in the West as part and parcel of the interpretative scholarship. Phenomenology mainly focuses on contextualised and subjective lived experience of human beings, and then determines what is intersubjectively and collectively shared. A definition of experience deserves attention. Dewey (1958) characterised experience as including:

what men (read as human beings) do and suffer, what they strive for, love, believe and endure, and also how men act and are acted upon, the ways in which they do and suffer, desire and enjoy, see, believe, imagine – in short processes of experiencing (p. 8).

Besides, the masculinist and sexist undertone, the definition captures the essence of an experience – the focus of phenomenological approaches. According to Van Manen (1990) the live experience that phenomenology is concerned with include: (i) lived space (spatiality); (ii) lived body (corporeality); (iii) lived time (temporality); and (iv) lived human relations (relationality). In that regard, phenomenology can be applied to “nearly any area of social research” (Eberle, 2014, p. 200), and “to research specific socio-cultural life-worlds” (Eberle, 2014, p. 195). Essentially, phenomenology is a powerful way of understanding human lived experience from the participants’ perspective and interpretation. Phenomenology captures the “richness of human experience” from the participant’s point of view “in ways that no other research approach does” (De Chesnay, 2015, p. xxi).

Multiple truths based on individual experiences partly constitute the indigenous worldview (Simpson, 2000). The richness of contextualised human experience is a strong feature of indigenous knowledge research, thus making it a suitable candidate for phenomenological investigation Phenomenology does not seem to be a dominant means in the pursuit of knowledge development in indigenous settings.

As a flexible research approach it may resonate with ways of knowing of those who are on the margins if used appropriately. Phenomenology with its emphasis on the principle of the phenomenological attitude1 to arrive at the essence of human consciousness and understanding, (which is described later), may exhibits some of the traits of critical frameworks that advocate privileging:

...practice, politics, action, consequences, performances, discourses, methodologies of the heart, pedagogies of hope, love, care, forgiveness and healing (Pelias, 2004 cited in Denzin & Giardina, 2015, p. 17).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Natural Attitude: Habitual habits of thinking of things including taking things for granted and having preconceived ideas about phenomenon.

Existential: A phenomenological approach that was propounded by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty focusing on understanding existence.

Epoché: A term used by Husserl in reference to the process by which researchers avoid prejudices and preconceived ideas about the phenomenon they would be researching. That is the essence of bracketing.

Qualitative Research: Investigates a phenomenon in its natural setting in order to identify, describe and interpret it from the perspective of the participants.

Reduction: Involves researchers approaching a phenomenon without presuppositions and pre-judgements.

Hermeneutic Circle: “The manner in which interpretation through understanding is achieved by the circular process of continuous re-examination of propositions” (Rapport and Wainvwight, 2006 AU22: The in-text citation "Rapport and Wainvwight, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Phenomenology: Broadly refers to a philosophical movement and a variety of research approaches including eidetic phenomenology, hermeneutic phenomenology and dialogical phenomenology.

Triangulation: A strategy that validates data through the use of multiple approaches or multiple sources of evidence.

Indigenous Research: It is informed by local conditions to identify and define a research issue and is sensitive to local ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies, but it may be combined with western theories and ways of knowing.

Phenomenological Attitude: Bracketing our habitual habits of thinking by suspending all prejudgments and presuppositions.

Bracketing: Putting preconceptions, presuppositions, prejudgements and prejudices at abeyance so that they do not contaminate the participants’ description of their experiences.

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