Phenomenological Methods Research

Numerically Aided Phenomenology

Given my goals in research on dreaming and expressive reading, it has been important to find procedures that enable identification and description of the subtleties of dream experience and aesthetic experience. To this end, we have developed a form of empirical phenomenology that is rigorous and yet faithful to the complexity of peoples’ open-ended descriptions of their experience (cf. Kuiken, Schopflocher, & Wild, 1989; Kuiken, Wild, & Schopflocher, 1992; Kuiken & Miall, 2001). These procedures are phenomenological in that they: (a) presume that experience as immediately ‘given’ to the experiencing individual is a proper subject matter for psychological studies; (b) acknowledge that experience is as richly complex as the language required to express it, and (c) provide descriptions of experience rather than causal explanations, i.e., they enable articulation of the distinctive (defining) features of experiences of a certain kind. Unlike other ‘qualitative’ research that shares these assumptions and objectives, our procedures take advantage of numerical classificatory methods, specifically cluster analysis. This integration of ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ procedures balances rigor with sensitivity and remains faithful to the conception of empirical phenomenological methods set out set out by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.

Numerically aided phenomenology has been used in studies of dreaming (Kuiken & Sikora, 1993), responses to visual art (Wild & Kuiken, 1991), responses to literature (cf. Kuiken & Miall, 2001; Kuiken, Miall, & Sikora, 2004), and forgiveness (Wohl, Kuiken, & Noels, 2006). In our studies of dreaming, these procedures have been instrumental in identifying the features of existential dreams (Kuiken & Sikora, 1993), a type of impactful dream that has previously been confused with nightmares. In our studies of expressive reading, these numerically aided procedures have helped to articulate expressive enactment (Kuiken, Miall, & Sikora, 2004), a form of literary reading that we are currently contrasting with inference-centered integrative comprehension.