Doing phenomenological inquiry in education: Possibilities, provocations and affordances

Year: 2018

Author: Creely, Edwin, Lyons, Damien, Carabott, Kelly, Grant, Stuart, Jane, Southcott

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper takes a critical look at the possibilities in and richness of phenomenological inquiry, as well as the limitations and issues that researchers may encounter. We explore what phenomenology can offer educational research and what tensions emerge from doing this type of research work.
Much current educational research tends to explore schools, learning and educational systems from points of view external to the experience of the learner and the learning context. This type of educational research aims to sponsor broad findings across contexts. However, we know that education is a complex people business with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the learner, the teachers, the policy makers, the leaders and the parents. A core goal of educational research must surely be to understand and value the first hand and lived experiences that makes up this intricate educational landscape. Phenomenological examination of such experiences helps to understand the constitution of meaningful and rich learning, and to consider the practices and discourses that influence the enactments of teaching and learning in situ.
Phenomenological inquiry offers a rich vein of diverse ideas that can be used to inform qualitative research in education, and provide different epistemological and ontological lenses, alongside and supportive of other qualitative approaches. Moreover, nuanced and diverse phenomenological approaches open dimensions of inquiry that can ignite curiosity, provoke new perspectives and incite wonder about the learner, the educator and the leader, and point to the possibilities of generating deeper understandings of the epistemological and ontological foundations of learning, teaching and educational leadership.
In employing these promising phenomenological approaches, researchers must also acknowledge that meaning ebbs and flows, is emergent and temporal, is in a constant state of flux, and is dependent on context and culture as it operates for the individuals who are part of educational systems.
Rather than narrowing the range of possibilities for doing phenomenological inquiry in educational research and rather than developing rigid or linear systems of coding and interpretation, we argue that this qualitative approach to research should remain open to provocations and questions, and be flexible, playful and embrace diverse perspectives. It should also be sensitive to the situatedness of all teaching and learning that involves the individuals that live and operate in educational systems.