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Phenomenology as a healthcare research method
  1. Alison Rodriguez,
  2. Joanna Smith
  1. School of Healthcare, School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joanna Smith, School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9UT, UK; j.e.smith1{at}

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Qualitative research methodologies focus on meaning and although use similar methods have differing epistemological and ontological underpinnings, with each approach offering a different lens to explore, interpret or explain phenomena in real-world contexts and settings. In this article, we provide a brief overview of phenomenology and outline the main phenomenological approaches relevant for undertaking healthcare research.

What is phenomenology?

Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), a philosopher, established the discipline of phenomenology. In Husserl’s approach to phenomenology, now labelled descriptive phenomenology, experiences are described and researcher perceptions are set aside or ‘bracketed’ in order to enter into the life world of the research participant without any presuppositions.1 Experience is recognised to involve perception, thought, memory, imagination and emotion, each involving ‘intentionality’, as the individual focuses their gaze on a specific ‘thing’ or event.1 Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), a student of Husserl, rejected the theory of knowledge or ‘epistemology’ that influenced Husserl’s work, and instead adopted ‘ontology’, the science of being. In relation to research, ‘epistemology’ is concerned with what constitutes valid knowledge, and how knowledge is gained with a distinction between justified belief and opinion, while ‘ontology’ ‘is more concerned with the nature of reality and now we understand what exists and is experienced.

Heidegger developed interpretive phenomenology using hermeneutics, the philosophy of interpretation, and postulated about the concept of ‘being’ in the world, asking, ‘What is being?’. Heidegger was interested in interpreting and describing human experience but rejected ‘bracketing’ because …

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