Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Doing It Differently: Engaging Interview Participants with Imaginative Variation

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Doing It Differently: Engaging Interview Participants with Imaginative Variation

Article excerpt

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the innovative use of the phenomenological technique of imaginative variation as a creative method within data collection. It focuses on the first author's research investigating the lived erotic experiences of consensual bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM). Before outlining the innovative use of imaginative variation in the current study, some background in terms of the research problem will be provided.

Phenomenological research methods set out to move beyond the obscuring influence of the natural attitude that pervades everyday life and can impede grasping the meanings of lived experience (Husserl, 1931/1967). Many such methods involve requesting participants to describe particular experiences in vivid detail. Lived experience, however, can be difficult for participants to articulate, requiring as it does that the individual reflect on that which is normally taken for granted. We would argue that this difficulty tends to be exacerbated in relation to certain areas of the life-world. These would include experiences that may not be considered socially or culturally acceptable, thus leading either to reticence or to the hijacking of personal experiences by dominant discourses. A perceived lack of common reference points with the researcher may also inhibit a research interview.

Turley (2012) highlighted the problems encountered when relying on participants' descriptions of lived erotic experiences. Along with not providing sufficient detail in their descriptions, participants struggled to articulate their sexual experiences while grappling with expressing the nuanced detail in their accounts. In an attempt to circumvent this, the first author decided to utilise the phenomenological technique of imaginative variation in an innovative way. The problems posed by difficulties such as those outlined above are what this paper seeks to address in its focus on a particular empirical example, the essential nature of the lived erotic experiences of consensual bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM). Before this is discussed in detail in the next section, the traditional use of this method as proposed by Husserl (1936/1970) will be summarised in order for the differences between the two to be considered.

Traditionally, when conducting research and analysis within a phenomenological framework, the researcher would adopt the phenomenological attitude (Giorgi, 2006) and be in constant engagement with the epoché and phenomenological reduction, as detailed by Husserl, in order to avoid working within the natural attitude. Along with the epoché and phenomenological reduction, imaginative variation is an analytic method available to phenomenological researchers for the purpose of examining how a particular phenomenon presents itself to the consciousness of the researcher. The established aim of utilising imaginative variation in a phenomenological analysis is to elucidate meanings inherent to the experience under study. It involves the researcher considering the phenomenon being experienced from different perspectives by imaginatively altering various features of the phenomenon. As maintained by Husserl (1936/1970), this process will reveal the essences of an experience, as only those aspects that are invariant to the experience of the particular phenomenon will remain unchanged through the variation.

An Innovative Use of Imaginative Variation

This section will present the first author's novel use of imaginative variation in her phenomenological study of the lived erotic experience of consensual bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM). The nine participants recruited for the study ranged in age from mid-20 to mid-40, and identified across the spectrum of sexualities, with their BDSM role preferences ranging from dominant (or top) and submissive (or bottom) roles, although some liked to switch between these sexual roles. …

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