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Existentialist-Informed Hermeneutic Phenomenology

Willig, C. & Billin, A. (2011). Existentialist-Informed Hermeneutic Phenomenology. In: Qualitative Research Methods in Mental Health and Psychotherapy: A Guide for Students and Practitioners. (pp. 117-130). Wiley-Blackwell.


This chapter introduces a version of the phenomenological method that is particularly suitable for the exploration of embodied human experience. Like Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which was introduced in the preceding chapter, hermeneutic phenomenology belongs to the interpretative strand of phenomenology. This means that as a method of qualitative data analysis it seeks to capture and portray the quality and texture of research participants’ experience and to explore its meanings and significance. In order to do this, hermeneutic phenomenology, like IPA, acknowledges the importance of the frames of reference which the researcher brings to the data during the process of analysis. Indeed, all forms of interpretative phenomenology take the view that interpretation is both desirable and inevitable; desirable because it serves to amplify the meanings contained in accounts of experience, and inevitable because understanding of an account cannot take place without us making some preliminary assumptions about its meaning. From this point of view, understanding involves a movement from pre-supposition to interpretation and back again, whereby the researcher’s pre-suppositions (e.g., about the meaning of a word or the significance of an expression) are tested in the light of the evolving meaning of the account he or she is trying to understand and make sense of. This process has been referred to as the hermeneutic circle (for a helpful introduction to hermeneutics see Schmidt, 2006). It follows that in hermeneutic phenomenology the researcher both works with and continually challenges their own background knowledge, assumptions and pre-suppositions.

Publication Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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