An aspect of research I have grappled with is developing a ‘reflexive’ stance. As an experienced arts therapist I am familiar with the practice of the ‘reflective practitioner’, using self awareness to understand the experience of others. But according to Etherington (2004) reflexivity is about a deeper process, moving into our inner core of responses, and high-lights the hidden places of our thoughts and feelings when working with others in research.
In phenomenological research, whilst working on data, we are asked to ‘bracket’ off thoughts and feelings, putting them to one side (Moustakas, 1994). An important question is whether it is possible to successfully ‘bracket’ personal responses and maintain these as separate. Through doing interviews I realise that my experiences are interwoven with the PhD project. It is inevitable that personal responses will become part of the research, for me it is important, if not ethical, to acknowledge this.
My methodology is a combination of reflexive thinking with ‘Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis’ (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). In a heuristic circle the emphasis is on ‘interpretation’, the researcher tries to understand the inner world of the participants, how they are experiencing their lived world. A useful comparison for musicians is it could be like playing Beethoven. Beethoven provides the text and the performer creates the interpretation, trying to understand the inner world of Beethoven, the music becomes a co-creation between Beethoven and the performer.
I have taken detailed reflexive notes on personal responses to the interviews, a skilled practice developed as a music therapist. Before beginning the analysis the reflexive notes are present, but put to one side on the desk, as the analysis process starts. My understanding is that the reflexive notes and analysis eventually become merged in an interpretation of the participant’s lived world. There is a possible ‘interaction’ between my material and the participant’s which could be revealed in the writing. How much I reveal remains to be seen, but the aliveness and spark of working with participants to create something new, speaks to the creative musician in me, who is constantly seeking connection with others through the joint making of sounds, only this time it is words and sounds in a research frame.
Etherington, K. (2004) Becoming a Reflexive Researcher: Using Our Selves in Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.
Moustakas, C. (1994) Phenomenological Research Methods. London: Sage Publications.
Smith, J.A., Flowers, P., and Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.