Understanding Human Experience

How can we better understand the world around us?  The hard sciences help us tremendously.  But, the field of qualitative research also can provide useful insights into the human experience, even from a tech standpoint.

Here I will briefly describe three approaches to be familiar with:  phenomenology, grounded theory, and ethnography.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is a method of investigating or inquiring into the means of our experiences and reflecting, make sense of or theorizing on lived experience.  In David Eagleman’s book SUM, he describes the terms epoche and reduction.  Epoche is about trying to enter a state of openness to the experience is are trying to understand in its pre-reflective sense.  And, the reduction is about one there is openness, to try to close in on the mean of the phenomenon as it appears in the experience or consciousness.  Therefore, the purpose of the research is to arrive at phenomenal insights that contribute to thoughtfulness by using the methods of epoche and reduction.  Generally speaking, meaning questions are asked, and the underlying framework is rooted in continental philosophy.  The data includes gathering direct descriptions of experience as lived through a particular moment in time.

Grounded Theory

Glaser and Strauss’ The Discovery of Grounded Theory in 1967 publication started the discussion and has been revised over time due to research publications.  The theory involves identification and integration of categories of meaning from data. As a method, it helps with guidelines around categories, and as a theory, it is the end product which provides an explanatory framework to understand the phenomenon.  The most recognized versions of grounded theory include three main versions: the classical (Glaserian) version, Strauss and Corbin’s structured approach and Charmaz’s constructivist approach.

Ethnography

Ethnography was made popular by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the early 20th century and has since adapted into a staple especially for sociological research.  This is a method of studying experiences through perceptions and opinions, often incorporating culture or “way of life” when understanding the participant’s point of view.  Interviews and observations are common data collection techniques.  The goal of the search to develop a deep understanding of how and why people think, behave and interact as they do in a community or organization and understand this from the standpoint of the participant thereby providing insight to social life, perception, and values that shape cultural meanings and practices.

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