Using Hermeneutics as a Qualitative Research Approach in Professional Practice

Article excerpt

This paper is targeted primarily at doctoral students and others considering hermeneutics as a research strategy. Research using hermeneutics was carried out with occupational therapy educators and clinicians in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK. A total of 53 participants engaged in focus groups and individual interviews over a one-year. The paper explores hermeneutics as a credible, rigorous and creative strategy to address aspects of professional practice that similarly need to be flexible, adaptable to particular needs, and justifiable in the contexts of evidence-based as well as client-centred practice. The hermeneutic study produced A Model of Professional Practice Judgment Artistry (Paterson, 2003) which is briefly described and the connections. Key Words: Hermeneutic Approach, Health Sciences, Occupational Therapy Research, Judgment, and Artistry in Professional Practice

Introduction

This paper explores the value of hermeneutics as a credible, rigorous, and creative strategy to address aspects of professional practice that similarly need to be flexible, adaptable to particular needs, and justifiable in the contexts of evidence-based as well as client-centred practice. Often in research reports the findings and product of the research take centre stage. Here we focus on the methodology and briefly present the product of a hermeneutic study that produced a Model of Professional Practice Judgment Artistry (PPJA) (Paterson, 2003) to enable readers to understand the connection between product and process of the research and to view the credibility of the hermeneutic approach in the context of the research findings. In this way, the research process and product serve as the context for the exploration of the research approach, hermeneutics in action. The paper is targeted primarily at doctoral students and others considering hermeneutics as a research strategy. To meet this goal we have addressed aspects of using hermeneutics as a research strategy at various levels: the paradigmatic framework, the nature of hermeneutics and its rationale, the way this research project has fashioned and implemented a particular hermeneutic approach, and the harmonic relationship between the research topic and approach.

The three-part model arising from the research is presented in detail elsewhere (Paterson, 2003) and is the subject of other current writing. To explore the hermeneutic approach we adopted, we will firstly set the scene for the research, and then introduce the hermeneutic strategy and metaphors we utilized, employing them as the vehicles for writing the paper.

Setting the Scene

To set the scene or context for the exploration of the hermeneutic strategy this section introduces the research players, the key question, and the phenomenon investigated as well as briefly presenting the major research product of the PPJA model.

Introducing the players

In this research journey of exploration of judgment artistry, Margo, a doctoral candidate and occupational therapist, set out with a passion for understanding deep relationships between the practice of occupational therapy and its reasoning strategies. Joy, her principal supervisor, acted as a research collaborator in relation to making key research content and method decisions especially the hermeneutical approach. Joy was a mentor by providing support, critical appraisal and feedback, and a facilitator by broadening the context of the study to consider the relationship between reasoning and professional artistry, as well as focusing the research topic on judgment as a vital and often overlooked aspect of professional reasoning and decision making. Another key player was Susan Wilcox who was the Canadian associate supervisor, since Margo was living in Canada and studying as a distance student in Australia. Susan played the role of "critical companion" (assisting in debriefing and review of thesis writing) and has served as a co-author on other publications arising from this thesis. …