Bracketing in Phenomenology: Only Undertaken in the Data Collection and Analysis Process?

Article excerpt

Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that the specific focus is to identify the inherent and unchanging in the meaning of the issue under study (Langdridge, 2007). There are different approaches to phenomenology. Embree (1997) identified seven approaches namely, descriptive (transcendental constitutive) phenomenology, naturalistic constitutive phenomenology, existential phenomenology, generative historicist phenomenology, genetic phenomenology, hermeneutic (interpretive) phenomenology, and realistic phenomenology. Amongst them, descriptive and hermeneutic (interpretive) phenomenology are the two classical approaches that guide the majority of psychological research (Langdridge, 2007). Understanding the participants' lived experiences marks phenomenology as based on Husserl's philosophical work. Freeman (2011) asserted that understanding cannot be conceived as a fixing of meaning but how the meaning is generated and transformed. In order to discover meanings in the data, one needs an attitude open enough to let unexpected meanings emerge (Giorgi, 2011; Lopez & Willis, 2004). Through the fundamental methodology of "bracketing" the researcher's own experiences, the researcher does not influence the participant's understanding of the phenomenon. Although the concept of bracketing is well-suited in research that aims to explore human experience, the application and operation of bracketing remain vague and, often perplexing (Gearing, 2004). It results with disconnection of the practice of bracketing in phenomenology.

Bracketing is a methodological device of phenomenological inquiry that requires deliberate putting aside one's own belief about the phenomenon under investigation or what one already knows about the subject prior to and throughout the phenomenological investigation (Carpenter, 2007). Bracketing is holding in abeyance those elements that define the limits of an experience when the nurse is uncovering a phenomenon about which s/he knows a great deal (Ray, 1985). The adoption of this attitude is unique to the phenomenological approach.

Bracketing is a means of demonstrating the validity of the data collection and analysis process (Ahern, 1999). Therefore, efforts should be made by researchers to put aside their repertoires of knowledge, beliefs, values and experiences in order to accurately describe participants' life experiences. However, in the hermeneutic phenomenological approach, it is acknowledged that pre-understanding cannot be eliminated or "bracketed" (Koch, 1995); the technique of bracketing is found inconsistent and problematic within this approach (LeVasseur, 2003). There is also no single set of methods for undertaking bracketing (Gearing, 2004; Wall, Glenn, Mitchinson, & Poole, 2004). Giorgi (2011) further argued that the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) provides no step in executing bracketing.

The recently published phenomenological studies involving nurses as participants have mentioned the term bracketing in their methodology (Kleiman, 2004; Sale, 2007), or have explicitly acknowledged that bracketing cannot be eliminated (Humble & Cross, 2010). However, these studies offer few sources of information or strategies for actually carrying out bracketing, or for addressing the problem of demonstrating validity. This lack of discussion about strategies may leave readers wondering as to how bracketing is actually carried out or how validity can be addressed in phenomenological studies. In order to handle these challenging issues properly, there is a need for a more concrete description to elicit how bracketing can be achieved in doing phenomenology.


This article is prompted by a concern about the issue of bracketing that we had to face while initiating a study aiming to explore the lived experiences of Psychiatric Advanced Practice Nurses (APN) in their newly adopted role perceptions and performance in Hong Kong (HK). …


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