Phenomenological Research Methodology

To investigate the sense of immersion created by an artist, along with the inextricable and varied experiences that the participants have and describe, I have identified a research method: Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology as followed by Francisco Varela. Phenomenology, in Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of it, is a philosophical view. Its aim is to put out of action the assumptions we normally make about ourselves and the world for scientific and practical purposes, and to get back to the world as we directly experience it, including pre-reflective perception. It accounts for my first-hand, creative experience which is continuously influenced by the experiences of participants, provides a better understanding of the aesthetics of immersive experience.
Phenomenology is the interpretive study of human experience originating with G.W.F. Hegel and developed by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and others. Though varied, its common aim is to examine and clarify human situations, events, and experience as they spontaneously occur in the course of daily life. (Von Echartsberg, 1998) Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological method is valuable and meaningful for research concerning immersive experience precisely because it accounts for subjective or first-personexperience including bodily experience. Its strength as a research method, however, is that Merleau-Ponty and phenomenologists who furthered his work insist on combining the study of subjective experience with objective methods. In Interactive Art, there is not much research dealing with phenomenological methods, especially those concerning Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty’s work is important to my research because it focuses on the body and experience. Media Artists Joseph Nechvatal and Char Davies mentioned that phenomenological research is necessary for Interactive Art research in their dissertations but they do not conduct phenomenological research per se. (Davies, 2005; Nechvatal, 1999) Recently there are two artists who have approached research with phenomenological perspectives. In 2007, Diane Gromala used a phenomenological method for her doctoral thesis, titled Towards a Phenomenological Theory of the Visceral in the Interactive Arts, focusing on descriptive analysis combined with questionnaires and physiological data analysis. (Diane Gromala, 2005) Susan Kozel used a first-person methodology in her book Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology. Scholars new to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty often simply use first-person reflection as their methodology. (Kozel, 2008) Interactive Media Artist, Thecla Schiphorst considers phenomenology as a research method in her research rooted in Somatics. In her dissertation, The Varieties of User Experience: Bridging Embodied Methodologies from Somatics and Performance to Human Computer Interaction, she claims that recent interdisciplinary contributions to HCI include the knowledge-rich domains of Somatics and Performance that carry long-standing traditions of embodied practice along with phenomenology, cognitive science, psychology and the arts. She explored phenomenological methods in her art/HCI explorations.

I follow this trend and conduct phenomenological research on immersive experience by triangulating First-person, Second-person, and Third-person studies to pursue validity.

  • Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. New York: Humanities Press.
  • Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1993). The embodied mind : cognitive science and human experience (1st MIT Press paperback ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Weinsheimer, J. (1985). Gadamer’s hermerneutics: A Reading of Truth and method. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Fraleigh, S. H., & Hanstein, P. (Eds.). (1999). Researching Dance: Evolving Modes of Inquiry. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Gromala, D. (2005). Towards a Phenomenological Theory of the Visceral in the Interactive Arts.University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK.
  • Johnson, M. (2007). The meaning of the body : aesthetics of human understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kozel, S. (2008). Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology. Cambridge; MA: MIT Press.
  • Von Echartsberg, R. (1998). Existential-phenomenological research. In R. Valle (Ed.), Phenomenological inquiry in psychology: Existential and transpersonal dimensions (pp. 253-269). New York: Plenum Press.

Phenomenological Research Design


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