Table 2

Comparison of the main phenomenological traditions

Approach and influenceMethodsScholars
Descriptive empirical phenomenology: with foundations in the Husserlian method, seeks to identify the essence of the phenomenon through ‘epoche’ (bracketing) and psychological phenomenological reduction.The researcher compares written descriptions of the phenomenon of interest, for example, the experience of an illness, to identify the essential structures of the phenomenon, such as living with that illness.Giorgi5 and the Duquesne school, and more recently Les Todres6
The Sheffield School: builds on descriptive empirical phenomenology with additional analysis of the existentials of the life world (selfhood or identity, sociality, spatiality, temporality, activities of daily living, discourse).The researcher undertakes interviews and analysis focusing on existential themes, for example the individual’s sense of self and their relationships with others through their day-to-day experience of the phenomenon of interest, that relate for example to living with illness .Ashworth7
Heuristic: although has Husserlian foundations, the focus is the transformative effect of the inquiry on the researcher’s own experience.The researcher reviews different types of data, as all experiences of the phenomenon are of interest. The researcher considers the phenomenon of interest on themselves and their own experiences to develop a detailed description and creative synthesis of the experience.Moustakas8
Relational approaches: although has Heideggerian foundations, the findings are viewed as being co-created through the research dialogue.The researcher might interview one individual and choose to concentrate on certain elements of that experience, for example, the sense of self, being-in-the world, ways in which they have coped.
Reflexivity addresses the relational dynamics between researcher and co-researchers/participant in generating an interpretation.
Finlay9
van Manen approach: van Manen further developed the Hermeneutic (interpretive) approach by identifying the four life-world existentials that are implicit to understanding lived experience: temporality (lived time), spatiality (lived space), corporeality (lived body) and sociality (lived relationships).The researcher uses a broad range of data collection methods that are appropriate to participants and the phenomena of interest.
Data is analysed using thematic analysis and is influenced by the researcher’s interpretations. The aim is to bring to light the lived experience by considering the four existentials of existence as different perspectives in the analysis.
Findings can draw on the arts to better convey meaning, for example, translating key statements into a poem or using drawings or photographs to support or describe the meaning of a theme.
van Manen10
Interpretive phenomenology analysis (IPA): with foundations in the hermeneutic method, the focus is on interpretation and engagement with cognitive and social psychological literature.The researcher undertakes interviews and individual experiences are illustrated through thematic analysis.
Findings explore the lived experience of the phenomenon, influenced by researcher interpretations.
IPA is inductive and grounded in the data but acknowledges the dominant literature.
Smith et al 11
Critical narrative analysis: again with foundations in the hermeneutic method, this approach draws mainly on the philosophy of Gadamer and Ricoeur,12 who take similar stances on the approach to the hermeneutic interpretation of texts, deciphering differences between the structure and use of language to create meaning.
Hermeneutics is defined as the theory or practice of interpretation, while a hermeneutic (singular) is defined as a specific type or method of interpretation.
Narrative analysis is performed on interview data, where narratives are analysed in relation to their function, tone and content. In addition, a distinguishing feature of this narrative method is then the action that is taken ‘to interrogate the text using aspects of social theory as a hermeneutic of suspicion’ (p 130).12 Social theory, which relates to the phenomenon of interest, is drawn on to further critically examine our understanding.Langdridge12