Volume 8, Number 1 (January 2011)
Author: Steven Farry
Introduction and Chapter One
This thesis seeks to refine and extend phenomenographic methodologies1 by examining them through the lens of one of the late twentieth-century’s more radical sociological theorists, Jean Baudrillard. The methodological and theoretic issues addressed stem from an earlier iteration of the thesis, where a phenomenographic pilot study was conducted to elicit and identify ways of experiencing an intangible topic phenomenon. During the analysis phase of the pilot study, contradictory statements within the interview transcripts were observed to problematise the topic phenomenon’s conceptual stability. In particular, two accounts of the phenomenon appeared mutually exclusive: what one participant reported to constitute the topic phenomenon, another explicitly indicated to constitute something separate. Although it was possible, in accordance with phenomenographic methodological practice, to construct a category of description that collocated these aspects of the divergent accounts by interpreting them as manifesting a shared ‘way of experiencing’, the operation seemed to occlude a fundamental difference in the phenomenon being apprehended. The participants were not seeing the same thing in different ways; they were seeing different things and giving them the same label.
The issue proposed a choice between violating the methodologies’ experiential focus by endorsing one account instead of another or presenting a set of results that indicated the topic phenomenon did and did not offer certain empiric possibilities. Invoking phenomenographic methodologies’ empiric model, which attributes experience to subject-object relations within a context (Marton & Booth 1997), initially seemed to account for the issue by attributing the source of the discrepancy to subject and context rather than object; however, while reflecting upon this argument, it was observed that the description of the topic phenomenon in the methodologies’ categories of description and outcome space was distinguishable from any of the research subjects’ accounts. The discrepancies between the topic phenomenon and each subject’s empiric account suggested that the phenomenon as defined at the end of the phenomenographic study was a new construct and one that none of the research participants could be shown to have experienced. From this perspective, the topic phenomenon appeared to evade definition and representation throughout the process.
The topic phenomenon’s apparent indeterminacy, and the subsequent concerns this raises over the validity of the empiric encounters being represented, suggest a need to reflexively examine phenomenographic methodologies from a postmodern perspective. A review of methodologically-oriented literature from the period during which phenomenographic methodologies began to emerge in English-language journals (Marton 1981, 1986) identifies a relevant discussion in Norman Denzin’s 1986 appraisal of postmodern social theory. In the essay, Denzin laments that sociologists are largely ignorant about how ‘ordinary people’ experience what he calls the ‘information age’ on a daily basis. Denzin contends that, ‘we do not know how the meaning structures which are arising in the postmodern age find verification…how this information then enters and circulates within the real of the taken-for-granted’ (1986:202). The solution, he suggests, is to engage the postmodern frameworks that challenge traditional sociological theories, ensuring that theory and research adapt to the contemporary empiric situation.
Putting aside Denzin’s now-dated reference to an ‘information age’, the conceptual difficulties encountered in the pilot study suggest that the need to engage postmodern frameworks for the purposes of adapting qualitative research tools such as phenomenographic methodologies to contemporary empiric conditions persists. Endorsing Denzin’s programmatic, this thesis uses Baudrillard’s analysis of the postmodern condition and the problems it poses for sociology, as elaborated in “In the shadow of the silent majorities” (1983b ), “The precession of simulacra” (1983d ), and “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a ), to reflexively examine phenomenographic methodologies, particularly as they are described in Marton’s “Studying conceptions of reality—a metatheoretical note” (1981), “Phenomenography—a research approach to investigating different understandings of reality” (1986), “Phenomenography and “the art of teaching all things to all men”’ (1992), and “The structure of awareness” (2000).
Charting an imbricative relationship between Baudrillard’s and phenomenographic methodologies’ theoretic fields benefits both. It contests views of Baudrillard’s nihilistic contribution to sociology (Kellner 1989; Levin 1996) by demonstrating how his criticisms may be used to refine and extend a set of qualitative research tools and improve their validity claims through revising their perceived function and relationship with contemporary empiric conditions. For phenomenographic methodologies, applying Baudrillard’s theorising helps address the problematic relationship between their ontologic assumptions, the processes used to engage them, and the validity claims subsequently made for their representations of subjects’ empiric encounters with phenomena. As the thesis shows, addressing Baudrillard’s denials of sociology and its representative capacities help to describe and account for phenomenographic methodologies’ epistemological and ontological stance, the absence of causality within their models, and the decentring of individual subjects. Through the subsequent discussions, Baudrillard’s insights are shown to locate phenomenographic methodologies within a communicable and recognisable contemporary framework that emphasises their postmodern aspects in an original way.
The first chapter of the thesis begins by providing a brief overview of phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes. It uses a selection of Marton’s theoretic articles (1981, 1986, 1992, 2000) as a basis, supplementing them with references to the broader phenomenographic literature. The chapter then reflexively examines the relationship between the methodologies’ assumptions and processes and the extent to which they are consistently applied. It highlights the logical difficulties phenomenographic methodologies face in trying to posit a discrete and stable object within their analytic framework, arguing that they generate a sequence of objects—direct, research, panoptic, and indirect—inconsistent with their preliminary assumptions and relational ontology. The chapter also deploys Marton’s temporally-based critique of schematic memory theories (2000) to contest the possibility of implementing phenomenologically-inspired bracketing and achieving phenomenographic methodologies’ desired experiential focus. Together, these issues are argued to problematise phenomenographic methodologies’ validity claims, prefacing the revised framing of their focus and function that follows.
During the second chapter, the thesis demonstrates how Baudrillard’s concepts, theories, and analysis of contemporary empiric conditions may be used to elucidate and contextualise the issues raised during the reflexive examination. The thesis draws attention to the way Baudrillard’s theory of simulation, and its related concepts of simulacra and the hyperreal, may be applied to achieve an improved understanding of phenomenographic methodologies’ function as qualitative research tools, their focus, and the characteristics of the results they produce. A large portion of the chapter focuses upon demonstrating the ways that phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes conform to and achieve Baudrillard’s definition of simulation, ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (1988a :166). The demonstration identifies the potential absence of rationality, polarity, external referents, and negative instances that phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces exhibit. These characteristics are argued to account for phenomenographic methodologies’ lack of accepted validity measures (Marton 1986; åkerlind 2002).
Developing these points, the chapter argues that phenomenographic methodologies’ cumulative analytic technique produces sets of signifiers detached from the subjects and objects they ostensibly describe and measure. As a result, the methodologies attribute ways of experiencing to subjects who may not have expressed (or exhibit) a capacity to experience aspects of reality in the ways suggested. The process of detaching primary data from a discrete subject and categorising it according to the linguistic variables structuring the representation is argued to produce a Baudrillarian hyperreality, ‘a kind of linguistic combinatoire of signs begin[ning] to float freely’ (Huysenns 1989:16). The resulting set of meaning structures approximates Baudrillard’s vision of the postmodern empiric condition: ‘a mass which is itself the product of a social process yet can no longer be identified with any particular social subject or object’ (Baudrillard 1983b :5). This reading supports the earlier characterisation of phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces as hyperreal and accounts for their lack of predictive capacity.
The chapter then invokes Baudrillard’s description of the precession of simulacra (1983d ) to complement the proposal that phenomenographic methodologies’ newly-constituted subjects and objects are detached from their external referents. Applying Baudrillard’s reading helps to account for the temporal instability within phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic framework and the difficulty of achieving an experiential focus. It suggests that a simulation of the topic phenomenon precedes the data that ostensibly pertains to its construction. This awareness refines discussions of phenomenographic methodologies’ construction/discovery dichotomy (Walsh 1994; Bruce 1997) and aligns the issue with Baudrillard’s reading of broader empiric trends. It establishes a new relationship between phenomenographic methodologies and contemporary empiric conditions, providing a context for their revised function and focus.
The thesis’s conclusion offers two optimistic readings of phenomenographic methodologies’ function and the relationship between their simulation and contemporary empiric conditions. It proposes that phenomenographic methodologies provide a context in which simulation may be observed to occur, reducing the process’s capacity to achieve illusory representations of empiric conditions. In this sense, phenomenographic methodologies are argued to combat the proliferation of hyperreality. The thesis develops this point into its provocative second conclusion, which extends phenomenographic methodologies by suggesting they function to elucidate the application—as well as the logical difficulties and indeterminacy—of Baudrillard’s theorising. The conclusion points out that discussing the extent to which phenomenographic methodologies’ simulation accelerates the proliferation of hyperreality draws attention to the simulatory nature of their results, ostensibly limiting their capacity to be mistaken for and replace reality. Paradoxically, identifying phenomenographic methodologies’ simulation asserts what Baudrillard calls the reality principle (1988a :171-2), which reinforces the false belief that contemporary empiric conditions are not hyperreal.
Following Bryan Turner’s broader arguments concerning the relationship between sociology and postmodernism (1993:70-73), these discussions demonstrate that Baudrillard’s analysis provides a vocabulary and set of tools that help situate phenomenographic methodologies in relation to contemporary empiric conditions. Ironically, rather than ‘put[ting] an end to the social’, Baudrillard’s theoretic work contributes to the continuing relevance and extension of sociology and qualitative research tools such as phenomenographic methodologies. Through the second chapter’s arguments, the thesis shows how Baudrillard’s thinking provides a basis for refining and extending phenomenographic methodologies’ focus and function by achieving a better theoretic understanding of the effects of their assumptions and processes. In this way, the thesis shows that Baudrillard’s thinking provides a basis for reflexively constructing and understanding phenomenographic methodologies and creating opportunities to examine the subject-object relations they present in a way that improves their validity and is appropriate to contemporary empiric conditions.
Following John Richardson’s precedent (1999), the chapter engages Marton’s publications as the primary sources from which to pursue a reflexive examination of phenomenographic methodologies. The assumptions and processes identified from Marton’s work are expanded with reference to other phenomenographic researchers’ descriptions of their practices. The chapter’s goals are to identify the main assumptions and processes that phenomenographic methodologies use to generate their results, to explore the relationships between these assumptions and processes and examine the consistency of their application, and to consider the logical and temporal difficulties they pose in terms of the reliability and validity of their attempts to generate knowledge of subject-object relations. The issues this examination raises—the stability of the object within phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic framework, the relationship between the ways of experiencing identified and the subject group, the temporal difficulties of the methodologies’ analysis phase, and the researcher’s constitution of the topic phenomenon—form the basis of the reading proposed during the thesis’s second chapter, which seeks to describe, account for, and locate them using Baudrillard’s theorising and analysis of contemporary empiric conditions.
Phenomenographic methodologies: an overview
As an approach to generating knowledge, phenomenographic methodologies exhibit an unremarked-upon similarity to the technique John Stuart Mill describes in “Of the liberty of thought and discussion”, The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind ( 1975:27-8).
Phenomenographic methodologies emerged from Swedish pedagogical researcher Ference Marton’s attempts to enhance learning outcomes through understanding the different ways that students experience specific concepts, problems, or tasks (Marton 1981, 2000; Marton & Neuman 1996; Hasselgren & Beach 1997). Writing in 1979, Marton and Lennart Svensson contend that, ‘the learner’s construction of meaning (or development of a conception) of the content, is the very heart of the learning experience’ (Marton & Svensson 1979:473). As a result, Marton’s subsequent publications concerning phenomenographic methodologies propose that understanding the ways in which students experience or understand phenomena—Marton notes that he uses the terms interchangeably (2000:115)—expands pedagogical opportunities and facilitates students’ transitions to ‘better’ perceptions of reality (1986:33, 43-44).
Marton’s 1981 essay, “Studying conceptions of reality—a metatheoretical note”, establishes phenomenographic methodologies’ principle ontological assumption and rationalises their approach and the experiential analytic perspective they adopt. Anchoring his argument in an educational context, Marton contests the assumption that differences between subjects’ responses to a phenomenon or stimulus are the product of differing levels of personal competence, intelligence, or logic. He proposes that subjects experience or perceive phenomena or stimuli in different ways and that this accounts for their varying responses to it. This hypothesis establishes the basis of phenomenographic enquiry: an ontological assumption that people experience phenomena in different ways and a decision to position these different ways of experiencing as a discrete research focus.
Marton’s assumptions for engaging this hypothesis exhibit a complex relationship to positivist ontology. Initially, he advances a non-dualist perspective by suggesting that subjects experience different realities (Marton 1981, 1986, 2000; Uljens 1993; Hazel, Conrad & Martin 1997; Neuman 1997; Säljö 1997); however, in proposing phenomenographic methodologies, he contends that specific aspects of reality may be identified and subjects’ experiences of them examined. This suggests a positivist world-view in which the researcher or operator of the methodology exhibit a capacity to identify and hold constant a portion of reality in order to examine subjects’ experiences of it. Contending that subjects experience the ‘same’ phenomenon infers that an objective world separate from human awareness exists: the organising mechanism of its representation is a finite and consistent aspect of reality, without which the experiences described would have no reason to be aligned beyond whim. Marton accounts for this discrepancy by positing a relational empiric model where the experience of some aspect of reality is conceptualised as a relation between subject and object (Marton & Svensson 1979; Marton 1981, 1986). This ontology accepts the possible existence of an objective reality while acknowledging subjects’ internal construction of meaning (Marton 1981, 1986, 2000; Marton and Neuman 1996). Invoking the relational perspective allows Marton to position phenomenographic methodologies’ focus of enquiry as subjects’ experiences of reality rather than reality itself (Svensson 1997). His later work affirms the primacy of non-dualist ontology within phenomenographic methodologies by stating that, ‘in phenomenography, object and subject are not separate’ (2000:104) and defining experiences of the world as ‘subject-object relations of an internal nature’ (2000:115; Marton & Booth 1997).
The experiential focus
The positioning of empiric encounter as a subjective enterprise facilitates phenomenographic methodologies’ orientation towards what Marton calls the ‘experiential focus’ (1981:165). The experiential focus is deemed to be achieved by describing a phenomenon from the subject’s perspective. Marton contrasts the experiential focus with attempts to describe the subject and their experience of a phenomenon from the researcher’s perspective (Marton & Svensson 1979; Marton 1981; Dall’Alba 2000). His reasoning reflects phenomenographic methodologies’ initial assumption that perceptions of phenomena vary. He posits that without understanding how a subject conceives a phenomenon, their relationship to it cannot be described. Marton observes that, ‘we have no direct access to the world as it is seen by other people, and it is by no means self-evident which aspects of thinking we should focus on when we try to understand experience or conceptualisation of reality’ (1981:166). As a result, phenomenographic methodologies’ data gathering processes are directed towards eliciting reflective accounts or descriptions of phenomena (Bruce 1994). The experiential focus exercises a significant influence on phenomenographic methodologies’ subsequent processes for identifying and presenting ways of experiencing a topic phenomenon developed from these accounts.
Marton’s 1981 essay advances one other important principle in relation to phenomenographic methodologies. It hypothesises that the reasons why a person thinks a certain way about an object or phenomenon may vary according to context and the individual subject; however, their ways of thinking about that object or phenomenon may be stable across individuals and situations (1981, 1992). Marton’s hypothesis suggests that ways of experiencing a phenomenon are persistent units of apprehension that may be invoked in different contexts. As a result, they are a potential capacity (Marton 1992) not all subjects will exhibit or express them at a specific time. For this reason, phenomenographic methodologies attempt to identify all of the different ways that phenomena may be experienced. The process focuses upon eliciting variation in subjects’ ways of experiencing a topic phenomenon rather than identifying the commonalities of those experiences (Marton 1986; Bruce 1994; Marton & Booth 1997; åkerlind 2002; Cope 2002). Orienting the methodologies towards identifying potential ways of experiencing a phenomenon occurs at the expense of establishing causal relationships (Uljens 1993; Hazel et al 1997; Ashworth & Lucas 2000). It informs phenomenographic methodologies’ use of a cumulative analytic technique where the relationship between an account of experience and the subject who initially provided it is not maintained. Instead, a relationship is construed between the descriptions generated and the collective subjects (Marton 1986; Uljens 1993; Hazel et al 1997; Barnacle 2005; Bowden 2005). In these ways, the categories of description produced using phenomenographic methodologies are argued to be generalisable across circumstances and subjects (Marton 1992; Ramsden, Masters, Stephanou, Walsh, Martin, Laudrillard, & Marton 1993; Prosser, Trigwell & Taylor 1994; Dunkin 2000). This conclusion is contested within the phenomenographic literature; John Bowden (2000b) and Gerlese åkerlind (2002) contend that the cumulative ways of experiencing are specific to population and context.
Marton’s 1986 essay, “Phenomenography—a research approach to investigating different understandings of reality”, affirms and extends the assumptions and principles advanced in his 1981 publication. It provides greater methodological detail about the processes that allow ways of experiencing phenomena to be discerned and categorised in accordance with phenomenography’s ontological assumptions. In the essay, Marton defines phenomenography as ‘a research method for mapping the qualitatively different ways in which people experience, conceptualise, perceive, and understand various aspects of, and phenomena in, the world around them’ (Marton 1986:31). Marton’s later publications retain the core of this definition while additionally describing phenomenography as being an ‘empirical study’ (1994) and emphasising that it identifies the ‘limited number’ of qualitatively different ways a phenomenon may be experienced (1992, 1994). Subsequent iterations of the definition also affirm an orientation towards identifying potentialities and refer to a specific mode of presenting their results: phenomenography aims to record ‘the totality of ways in which people experience, or are capable of experiencing, the object of interest and interpret it in terms of distinctly different categories’ (Marton & Booth 1997).
During his 1986 essay, Marton elaborates on the relational ontology and its influence on the processes for achieving phenomenographic methodologies’ experiential focus. He reasons that ‘human beings do not simply perceive and experience, they perceive and experience things. Therefore, descriptions of perception and experience have to be made in terms of their content’ (1986:33). Marton uses this argument to explicitly link the description of a phenomenon to the ways it may be experienced (Uljens 1993). He proposes a methodological strategy of eliciting and categorising the ways that subjects describe a topic phenomenon in order to identify the set of ways that phenomenon may be experienced. From the set of categories, he argues, the structure of subjects’ awareness of the phenomenon may be discerned (1986, 1992). Marton’s later work describes phenomenographic methodologies aiming to elicit and categorise variation between subjects’ experiences of phenomena (1994, 1997).
Marton’s essay proposes a number of techniques for achieving the experiential, content-oriented description of phenomena required. With some exceptions (Marton 1988), his publications assume an interview-based data-gathering phase. Interviews are the most commonly-used form of data gathering in phenomenographic research (Ekeblad and Bond 1994; Walsh 2000), although the use of alternative data sources is practiced (Bruce 1996; see also studies cited in Hasselgren & Beach 1997) and discussed in methodological reviews (Russell and Massey 1994; åkerlind 2005a). The phenomenographic interview is argued to have specific goals and traits, including the aim of eliciting variation of experiences and focusing upon relationships between subjects and topic phenomena (Bruce 1994; Francis 1996; åkerlind 2005a). Marton suggests that a significant aspect of the attempt to generate data that will enable an experiential focus is the use of open-ended questions that allow subjects to ‘choose the dimensions of the question they want to answer. The dimensions they choose are an important source of data because they reveal an aspect of the individual’s relevance structure’ (1986:42). The use of open-ended questions and their capacity to avoid prefiguring or exerting a delimiting effect on subjects’ descriptions of the topic phenomenon is widely discussed in the phenomenographic literature (Bruce 1994; Entwistle 1997; Säljö 1997; Ashworth & Lucas 2000; Dall’Alba 2000; Trigwell 2000; Dortins 2002; Bowden 2005).
Lars-Owen Dahlgren and Michael Fallsberg (1991) and Geoff Dean (1994) provide concise models of phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic processes; however, the discussion below will rely on Marton’s publications to highlight the aspects deemed pertinent for this thesis. Following the data collection phase, Marton describes phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis proceeding by ‘narrowing down’ and interpreting topic phenomena using a selection of quotes from the research interviews (1986:42; see also Svensson & Theman, 1983; Francis 1996). The ‘narrowing down’ process is intended to identify the different aspects of the phenomenon that subjects experience. Significantly for this thesis, Marton does not detail the ontological principles or processes according to which the selection of quotes be deemed relevant. He records that ‘utterances found to be of interest for the question being investigated…are selected and marked…’ (1986:42-43). These utterances are distinguishable from the categories of description subsequently used to structure and describe them (Johansson, Marton, & Svensson 1985; Bruce 2003). Within the phenomenographic literature, these excerpts are sometimes described as ‘conceptions’, statements that convey some awareness of the topic phenomenon, or, most broadly, ‘the phenomenon as it is described by the person’ (Ekeblad & Bond 1994:153). They may also be regarded as phenomenographic methodologies’ units of analysis, those parts of an account of a phenomenon that reveal ‘people’s ways of experiencing a specific aspect of reality’ (Sandberg 1997:203); ‘the way man is related, or rather conceives of himself to be related, to the world’ (Uljens 1993:140); or, ‘the different ways in which people structure or organise their awareness of both situation and the phenomenon at any particular time’ (Dunkin 2000:139). Marton’s later work links conceptions to subjects’ discernment of variation (Marton & Booth 1997). He posits that subjects cannot attend to invariant features of reality; therefore, the aspects of a phenomenon they describe are based on the variables that distinguish the phenomenon from other aspects of awareness. From this perspective, each conception infers one or more dimensions of experience that may vary (Marton & Pang 2002; Pang 2003; Marton, Runesson & Tsui 2004). Marton’s most recent work contends that conceptions have referential and structural aspects, where the referential is the particular meaning or theme of what is perceived and the structural is the variation within that theme or general meaning (Marton & Pong 2005).
Marton’s late practice of categorising whole transcripts rather than excising specific conceptions as a preliminary analytic step (cited in Dall’Alba 2000; see also Patrick 2000; Bowden 2005) suggests an awareness of the excerpting procedure’s overt incompatibility with the experiential focus. As will be discussed in the second section of this chapter, the excising operation may be argued to reveal the researcher’s role in determining the topic phenomenon’s constitution and parameters and attributing this to subjects. Within the phenomenographic literature, categorising whole transcripts is argued to maintain the discursive context of what is expressed (Walsh 1994; Bowden 2000b; Trigwell 2000); however, it is also argued to potentially occlude important individual ways of representing that are expressed and retracted or deemed to be of less significance than other ways of representing the phenomenon manifested during the interview (åkerlind 2002).
Where an excising process has occurred, Marton’s describes forming a ‘data pool’ that collates the conceptions or sections of the research interviews deemed relevant to the topic phenomenon. As previously described, Marton indicates that once the relevant data has been collated its relationship to individual subjects may be ignored (1986, 1996; Uljens 1993; Hazel et al 1997). His later publications account for the technique on the grounds that phenomenographic methodologies attempt to map the ‘collective mind’ or ‘collective anatomy of awareness’ rather than accounts of specific individuals (Marton & Booth 1997:136; Hasselgren & Beach 1997; åkerlind 2002, 2005; Barnacle 2005). Following the excerpting operation, phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis attends primarily to the resulting data pool, although reference to original interview transcripts is proposed to ensure that the perceived meaning of the excised conceptions is consistent with that originally expressed (Marton 1986:42; åkerlind 2005a).
Categories of description
Phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis phase proceeds by developing bespoke ‘categories of description’ into which the collated data may be sorted. Each category of description is intended to describe a ‘pool of meaning’, a way of experiencing or apprehending the topic phenomenon that may be distinguished from other ways of experiencing it (Marton 1981:43). Marton regards the timing of the categories’ development as a significant difference between conventional and phenomenographic data analysis (1986; Svensson 1997): the categorising process takes place during the analysis phase, helping to maintain the experiential focus by ensuring the categories are developed with reference to the data that has been collected.
The categories of description may be regarded as the researcher’s attempt at describing the different ways subjects experience the topic phenomenon (Marton 1996; Säljö 1997; Sandberg 1997; Svensson 1997; Bowden 2000b). Although categories of description aim to match specific elements of the subjects’ accounts as closely as possible (Sandberg 1997; Svensson 1997), they are a distinct entity; as noted previously, Marton emphasises the difference between categories of description, which are a researcher-generated outcome of phenomenographic methodologies, and the experiences or understandings of the topic phenomenon to which they refer (Johansson, Marton, & Svensson 1985). Each emerging category of description collates the conceptions that the researcher interprets as inferring a particular way of experiencing; one that may be differentiated from other ways of experiencing the topic phenomenon (Burns 1994). Marton describes the conceptions being ‘brought together into categories on the basis of their similarities [while] categories are differentiated from one another in terms of their differences’ (1986:43). The differences attended to are those deemed to reflect ‘the most distinctive characteristics that appear in the data’ (Marton 1986:34). The phenomenographic literature proposes that each category of description exhibits referential and structural aspects (Hasselgren & Beach 1997; Cope 2002; Bruce 2003), where the referential aspect presents the meaning or content of the aspect of the phenomenon being focused upon and the structural aspect reflects how that content is seen and distinguished from other aspects of the phenomenon.
The use of subjects’ language and referential frameworks in constituting the categories is advocated in the phenomenographic literature (Entwistle 1997; Barnacle 2005; Bowden 2005; Green 2005); however, an alternative analytic theme contending that subjects’ specific language is subordinate to its intended or underlying meaning (Dahlgren 1984; Marton 1994; Entwistle 1997; Bowden 2000a; åkerlind 2005b; åkerlind, Bowden & Green 2005) may be argued to diminish the significance attributed to this practice. In his later work, Marton synthesises the approaches by interpreting the meaning aspect of conceptions and using ‘linguistic markers’ to determine their structure (Marton & Pong 2005:345). The categories of description are presented with excerpts from the research interviews as a means of documenting the researcher’s interpretation and classification (åkerlind 2002), redressing the loss of individual voices that the cumulative analytic technique produces (Dunkin 2000), and conveying the meaning of each category fully (Entwistle 1997). Marton notes that the set of categories are not mutually exclusive or inclusive (1986; Bowden et al 1992): individual excerpts from a subject’s account of a phenomenon may evidence or be potentially applicable to multiple categories of description (Sandberg 1997).
The outcome space
Following the categorising operation, Marton suggests that phenomenographic methodologies’ final step is to propose a structural relationship between the categories of description and present them in an ‘outcome space’ (2000; see also Francis 1996). Bowden dissents, arguing that the outcome space is not part of the phenomenographic process (2000b). He contends that the phenomenographic process ends when the categories of description have been developed. Marton’s essay, ‘The Structure of Awareness’ (2000) describes the outcome space as a synonym for the topic phenomenon: it is ‘the thing as it appears to us’ (2000:105; see also Pramling 1995; Marton & Dagmar 1996). This conceptualises the topic phenomenon as ‘a complex of the different ways in which it can be experienced’, although Marton notes the Heideggerian principle this, ‘does not imply that the object is identical with the way in which it is experienced’ (2000:105). Marton’s conceptualisation of the outcome space attempts to maintain phenomenographic methodologies’ experiential focus and relational ontology; however, his discussion reflects the complex relationship to positivist ontology described earlier in this chapter. Distinguishing between the object and the way it is experienced and suggesting that the outcome space is where different experiences of the same object are related (2000), would seem to contradict a non-dualist epistemology and afford the researcher a capacity to objectively grasp objects’ or phenomena’s parameters for the purposes of describing subjects’ experiences of them.
Marton’s description of the outcome space as a synonym for the topic phenomenon may be contrasted with readings that emphasise the relational ontologic field as the space’s focal point. Eva Ekeblad and Carol Bond describe the outcome space as identifying ‘the span of generative possibilities for relating with the phenomenon’ (1994:155). More specifically, åkerlind describes it as a ‘“space of variation”, ideally representing the full range of possible ways of experiencing the phenomenon in question, at this particular point in time, for the population represented by the sample group’ (2002:2). These descriptions highlight phenomenographic methodologies’ fluid framing of the empiric encounter between subject and object, reflecting their relational ontology and acknowledging subjects’ internal constitution of meaning. They present the outcome space as a model of ways of experiencing that exist between subjects and the topic phenomenon. Although these interpretations exceed Marton’s finite and totalising portrayal of the object, they do propose a limit to the subjects’ capacity to experience the object (Säljö 1997). A less ontologically-conclusive interpretation of the outcome space is that its cumulative categories of description reflects the researcher’s analysis of the variations in accounts or experiences of the topic phenomenon object rather than an objective aspect of reality (Säljö 1997; Cope 2002). Marton alludes to this perspective in his discussions of phenomenographic methodologies’ interpretive nature (1981:159) and their reliability (1986:35).
In relation to the outcome space’s structural dimension—the relationship between the categories of description—Marton proposes a logical construction, suggesting the categories typically form a hierarchy of inclusive relationships (1981, 2000). In contrast, åkerlind (2005b) posits two approaches to structuring the outcome space based upon the privileging of either logic or available empiric data. Marton assumes that awareness—and, subsequently, models of awareness—is structured based on his observation that subjects’ focus of attention has the capacity to change. Subjects may foreground one aspect of reality while other aspects remain present in the subjects’ awareness but occupy a subsidiary position (Marton & Booth 1997). From this observation, Marton concludes that hierarchical structure is an implicit component of subjects’ awareness of reality; all experiences of reality, including experiences of the topic phenomenon in a phenomenographic study, are therefore structured.
The structure Marton proposes is focused upon the way objects are discerned from and related to their contexts (Marton & Booth 1997). He hypothesises the existence of a margin of awareness that involves an external horizon, delimiting everything beyond the object and its thematic context, and an internal horizon, delimiting the object of attention from its thematic context (Marton & Booth 1997; Marton 2000; Cope 2002; Bruce 2003). Thus, the structural component of the outcome space demonstrates the relationships between the categories of description and between each category and the whole. It may be noted that Marton’s approach to discerning structure privileges it as something that exceeds the subjects’ capacity to represent this aspect of their experience.
Phenomenographic methodologies as sociological tools
The overview of phenomenographic methodologies provided above outlines the main assumptions governing their operations and the sequence of stages leading from data gathering to presenting categories of description and outcome spaces. In relation to phenomenographic methodologies’ function as qualitative research tools, the concepts of reliability and validity will now be used to guide a discussion of their capacity to generate knowledge of empiric conditions.
Reliability and validity
Marton contests the significance of assessing phenomenographic methodologies’ reliability on account of the researcher’s interpretive role in determining the categories of description presented (Marton 1986:35; Säljö 1988; Sandberg 1997). Although replicatory studies using phenomenographic methodologies have been conducted—for instance Marton, Dall’Alba, and Beaty (1993); see also Prosser (1994) and studies cited in Neuman (1997)—the extent to which researchers’ preconceptions of expected results may be bracketed when an interpretive function is performed is contested (Francis 1996) and would seem to contradict the relational perspective that posits phenomenographic methodologies’ results as experiences of the research data (Svennson & Theman 1983; Burns 1994; Walsh 1994; Bowden 1996; Marton & Booth 1997; Sandberg 1997; Cope 2002). The significance attributed to context as an integral component of conceptions, categories of description, and meaning may be read as suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies’ results will only be reliable where relevant contexts are replicated. Michael Prosser, Keith Trigwell and Philip Taylor present one side of this argument, contending that their phenomenographic study presents de-contextualised descriptions (1994:218). In contrast, Ekeblad and Bond argue that context is always present in descriptions of conceptions (1994:150). Contexts potentially include that of the data-gathering situation (see Säljö 1997) and the empirical encounter being described (Ekeblad & Bond 1994; Trigwell 1997; åkerlind 2002). In addition, tension between categories of descriptions’ intended generalisability and descriptive functions may be argued to inform the extent to which reliability is intended or desired.
Approaching empiric encounters as fluid entities whose constitution and meaning is contingent upon subjects, contexts, and researchers’ interpretation, suggests that achieving a quantitative measure of the reliability of phenomenographic methodologies’ results—and the desirability of doing so—will remain contested. As a result, a variety of methodology-specific reliability measures and practices are proposed for quality assurance purposes within the phenomenographic literature. These include various interjudge reliability approaches functioning as quantitative measurement devices (Johansson, Marton & Svensson 1985; Säljö 1988) and practical techniques (Sandberg 1997; Dunkin 2000; Bowden 2005), and recommendations for the use of consistent conceptual models or frameworks to present categories of description and results (Cope 2004). These reliability measures and practices attempt to produce consistent or replicable interpretations of extant data rather than sets of results that may necessarily be reproduced with other sample groups or across broader populations and contexts.
The recursive nature of these reliability measures and practices suggests that validity, in the sense of a fidelity between interpretation and data (Lincoln 2001), is of greater relevance to phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity to achieve their stated goals than reliability. In the absence of a positivist epistemology, validity cannot be approached as a question of categories of description and outcome spaces’ accuracy (Marton 1986; Säljö 1988; Sandberg 1997; åkerlind 2002, 2005). As a result, the phenomenographic literature proposes a number of qualitative and methodologically-specific validity measures and understandings of validity, including communicative validity (Kvale 1996 in åkerlind 2002), pragmatic validity (Kvale 1989 in Neuman 1997; Trigwell 2006), and an intelligibility measure reliant on results’ comprehensibility (Neuman 1997).
In contrast with these approaches, the critical appraisal conducted in this thesis proceeds by examining the potential validity of the methodologies’ processes and the theoretical constructs they employ to achieve an experiential focus: a view of the topic phenomenon as the subjects experience or see it. The reflexive examination that follows identifies a set of related issues problematising the stability of the object and the relationship between the identified ways of experiencing and the subject group. These issues contest the validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ descriptions of the ways subjects experience aspects of reality. The examination suggests that phenomenographic methodologies engage a series of transformative operations that incrementally inhibit the adoption of an experiential focus and the desired empirically-based descriptions. They institute a one-sided meaning making process that constitutes an artificial phenomenon, one that may be distinguished from any previous extant phenomena and, significantly from a relational ontologic perspective, from any specific subject or their empirical account.
Direct and indirect objects
Before examining the potential validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ processes for engaging an experiential focus of the object-as-experienced, it is pertinent to acknowledge the source of their validity’s capacity to vary. Marton and Shirley Booth (1997) provide a useful framework by distinguishing between direct and indirect objects in the learning environment. They suggest that the direct object is the problem that learners face, while the indirect object is the knowledge or understanding those learners aim to acquire. A similar distinction may be applied to the object within a phenomenographic methodology and the object of that phenomenographic methodology. The object within the phenomenographic methodology, the direct object, is the topic phenomenon that subjects experience. The knowledge or set of results the methodology aims towards is the indirect object, the categories of description and outcome space presenting the variation in subjects’ ways of experiencing the topic phenomenon. The discrepancy between the two is the structural source of variation in phenomenographic methodologies’ validity. It may be described as the interpretive gap: the difference between subjects’ experiences of the topic phenomenon and the ways of experiencing it subsequently identified.
Marton accounts for the interpretive gap on the basis that phenomenographic methodologies function in a context of discovery (1986; Säljö 1988). From this perspective, phenomenographic methodologies engage in a process of uncovering and categorising previously unclassified ways of experiencing reality (Marton 1986). The distinction between the accounts of experience and the ways of experiencing presented in categories of description is a matter of classifying or labeling what exists. An alternative perspective invokes a relational ontology to account for the interpretive gap: phenomenographic methodologies’ results reflect the researcher’s experience of the data; more specifically, they are the product of a relationship between the researcher and the data gathered (Svennson & Theman 1983; Burns 1994; Walsh 1994; Bowden 1996; Marton & Booth 1997; Sandberg 1997; Cope 2002).
The research object
Conceptualising phenomenographic methodologies’ data as the object component of a subject-object relation draws attention to that data as an entity distinct from the direct object. This entity may be referred to as the research object. For phenomenographic methodologies, the research object is the collated accounts of the direct object. The research object is distinguishable from the direct object, although it is assumed to be a set of descriptions of that direct object. It is also distinguishable from the indirect object, although it is the content from which that indirect object is derived. The research object’s function is to provide access to the direct object; thus, it has the potential to exert a mediating influence upon researchers’ descriptions of the direct object, as discussed in Francis (1996).
The phenomenographic literature notes the preliminary assumptions concerning the type of data used to constitute the research object where interviews are the primary data source. It acknowledges the problem of relying upon verbatim interview transcripts that may not capture non-verbal aspects of communication and may potentially exclude valid experiences and meaning structures (Bruce 1994; Hazel et al 1997; Dortins 2002; Barnacle 2005). Interview-sourced research objects are sometimes conceptualised as collaborative productions, where ‘the experiences and understandings are jointly constituted by interviewer and interviewee’ (Marton 1996:99; Booth 1997; Dortins 2002). From this perspective, the overlap of discursive practices between subject and researcher is suggested to determine the research object’s validity (Entwistle 1997). The research object is variously conceived as the person-world relationship (Marton 1981, 1986), the relationship between the group of subjects and the phenomenon (Bowden 2005), a discourse (Mishler 1991; Säljö 1997), and a text (Buck et al 2003). Discrepancies between the direct object and the research object are addressed as potentially occurring due to bias or other inadequacies in the research interview (Hasselgren and Beach 1997; Bowden 2000b; åkerlind 2005b), the codifying role that language plays in communicating experience (Säljö 1997), and the distinction between an original experience and that which is ‘reconstituted’ during the research interview (Entwistle 1997).
In a postmodern context, an initial response to the research object’s potential validity—the extent to which it may be described as coterminous with the direct object—is to invoke Jacques Derrida’s critique (1978) of the referential and representative possibilities of language. A separate set of arguments may be advanced to demonstrate that the act of observing subjects and recording their apprehension of phenomena both alters and formally constitutes them (Bourdieu 1985, 1993; Denzin 1989; Denzin & Lincoln 1994), creating a discrepancy between subjects’ pre and post participatory lifeworlds. This discrepancy may be argued to problematise the validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ results. Rather than reiterating these arguments, this thesis’s goal of refining and extending phenomenographic methodologies encourages attention to the assumptions and processes according to which the methodologies operate, identifying the mediated relationships between the constructs they employ and demonstrating the potential invalidity of the results they generate.
The panoptic object
Closely examining the direct, indirect, and research objects’ interrelationships and the ways that phenomenographic methodologies engage them identifies further distinctions that evidence the incremental shift away from the experiential focus. Following phenomenographic methodologies’ relational ontological assumption, the direct object is the object as experienced. It is not the objective object (Marton 1986, 2000; Webb 1996). As a result, the direct object is different for each subject; it is what they experience or see. During phenomenographic methodologies’ data-gathering phase, this assumption is maintained. Each subject is assumed and encouraged to describe their direct object to the best of their ability, although suggestions such as, ‘the requirement in a phenomenographic interview is to ensure that interviewees are all talking about the same phenomenon’ (åkerlind 2005b:113; see also Neuman 1997; Bowden 2000b, 2005) suggest an immediate loss of the experiential focus.
Phenomenographic methodologies then proceed to collate the subjects’ accounts of their direct objects on the assumption that they all contain or exhibit meanings or evidence of ways of experiencing pertaining to the same object (Marton 2000). Marton is explicit on this point, arguing that categories of description are logically related because they are experiences of the same object and that the outcome space is where different experiences of the same object are located (2000:108). The phenomenographic literature supports Marton’s contention that categories of description and outcome spaces represent experiences of a single topic phenomenon (åkerlind 2002, 2005b; Bowden 2000b, 2005). Dagmar Neuman (1997:67) points out that the single object is the phenomenon as the researcher understands it.
The object to which the research object’s meanings are assumed to be attributed or related to is distinguishable from any of the direct objects that subjects have described. The cumulative nature of its construction suggests that its properties will exceed the accounts of any specific direct object to which subjects have referred. As there is no previous record of this object within the operating phenomenographic methodology’s field, it may be regarded as newly constituted. Comprised of different subjects’ views, and existing in a hypothetical—in the sense that no specific instance of it has been identified, its existence is theoretic—state, it may be called the panoptic object. The panoptic object replaces the direct object(s) as the point towards which phenomenographic methodologies’ ways of experiencing are oriented; it is the object component of the experiences that phenomenographic methodologies assume are the results of subject-object relations.
Although the panoptic object is derived from data that is assumed to be empirically based, the object itself cannot be empirically based because it may be distinguished from any specific subject’s account of their experiences. The phenomenographic literature addresses the discrepancy between individual subjects’ experiences and their methodologies’ results when discussing validity measures that involve subjects in the analytic phase (Hasselgren & Beach 1997; Marton & Booth 1997; åkerlind 2002, 2005; Barnacle 2005; Bowden 2005). As a result, it may be argued that phenomenographic methodologies identify and present ways of experiencing objects that do not exist in their subjects’ lifeworlds. This possibility is noted within the phenomenographic literature (Ashworth & Lucas 2000; Cope 2002), problematising the validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ indirect object as an empirically-sourced record of subjects’ ways of experiencing a topic phenomenon. From a relational perspective, it may also be argued that in changing the object-side of the represented subject-object relationships, the meaning of the empiric encounter the indirect object represents changes: the experience being presented differs from that which subjects originally described.
A one-sided meaning making process
The panoptic object is constituted through a unilateral process that facilitates phenomenographic methodologies’ divergence from the experiential focus and the substitution of direct objects as the point towards which subjects’ ways of experiencing are oriented. Phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis phase privileges the researcher with a capacity to determine those aspects of the research object that constitute or are relevant to the panoptic object (Dortins 2002; Sorva & Malmi 2007). Privileging only some aspects of the research object as conferring meaning upon the panoptic object creates a distinction between the two objects. Using Marton’s terms from “The structure of awareness” (2000), the process involves distinguishing between those aspects of the research object deemed to fall within the direct object’s internal horizon and those that make up its thematic fields and margin of awareness.
Phenomenographic researchers’ capacity to distinguish between the direct object and its thematic field indicates a presupposition of the direct object’s extent: the boundary where the direct object stops and its context begins (Ashworth & Lucas 2000). In the absence of a subject explicitly discriminating between a direct object and its context, there is no basis on which to assume a distinction between the two when attempting to achieve an experiential focus. Bracketing presuppositions about the direct object as Marton suggests (1994; Sandberg 1997) precludes a distinction between that direct object and its theme. The decision to define some aspects of the research object as pertaining to the direct object and others as exogenous—see, for instance, Francis (1996)—is unilateral and based on assumptions that are extrinsic to the data gathered (Dortins 2002); under bracketed conditions, everything the subject expresses should be regarded as pertaining to the direct object unless that subject indicates otherwise. From this perspective, it may be argued that phenomenographic methodologies allow researchers to constitute their own understandings of phenomena through the research data (Webb 1996; Hasselgren & Beach 1997; Sorva & Malmi 2007). The researcher’s role in determining the aspects of the research object that pertain to the panoptic object creates the potential for phenomenographic methodologies to produce results that may be distinguished from subjects’ empiric encounters and the records of those empiric encounters generated during the data-gathering phase.
The researcher’s mediating influence may be demonstrated by considering phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis phase through the lens of Marton’s critique of schematic memory models (2000). Marton employs a temporal argument to contest schematic models of memory. He argues that in order to apply a schema to an unfamiliar phenomenon, it must be searched for through all extant schemas, which cannot occur before the object has been apprehended using the required schema. The same criticism may be made of phenomenographic methodologies, which require researchers to examine the research object for evidence of direct objects that are not yet defined. For the analysis to proceed, the researcher must apply their own understanding of the direct object’s parameters to distinguish between aspects of the research object that pertain to the direct object and those that pertain to its context or to extrinsic elements within the field.
Marton’s understanding of bracketing preconceived ideas about a topic phenomenon and ‘focus[ing] on similarities and differences between the ways in which the phenomenon appears to the participants’ (1994:4428) overlooks the preliminary lack of bracketing that allows the researcher to identify which similarities and differences pertain to the direct object and which do not. The researcher only identifies those similarities and differences that comply with their preliminary understanding of the aspects of the direct object that may vary. Although the research subjects’ accounts may be interpreted as suggesting new ways of experiencing a phenomenon, only the researcher exhibits the power to recognise them (Dortins 2002; Sorva & Malmi 2007). This process contradicts phenomenographic methodologies’ emphasis upon adopting subjects’ views of phenomena instead of external perspectives on those subjects’ relationship to phenomena (Martin & Svensson 1979; Marton 1981).
Locating the object
The discrepancy between phenomenographic methodologies’ results—the indirect object that presents a set of ways of experiencing the panoptic object—and subjects’ life-worlds is demonstrated when considering the indirect object’s location. Phenomenographic methodologies’ relational ontology assumes that phenomena do not have independent existences, but are always experienced in some way by someone (Ekeblad & Bond 1994; Marton 2000). This assumption posits the subject as the location of the indirect object, the set of experiences and meaning structures that phenomenographic methodologies identify and present. As shown above, the research, panoptic, and indirect objects may be distinguished from any specific member of the subject group’s account of a direct object. Acknowledging that none of the original subjects exhibit or express the indirect object suggests that its location is extrinsic to them. One way of resolving this is to posit that the subject who exhibits and expresses the indirect object—the person in whose lifeworld it may logically be argued to exist—is the researcher. In this way, the researcher replaces the original subjects as the location of phenomenographic methodologies’ ways of experiencing while attributing those ways of experiencing to the original subjects.
Identifying the researcher as the site of the indirect object challenges phenomenographic methodologies’ validity by problematising the relationship between the ways of experiencing identified and the subject group. In particular, it contradicts Marton’s conceptualisation of phenomenography as a tool for examining others’ experiences rather than one’s own (1986). Within the phenomenographic literature, Michael Uljens (1993) and Elizabeth Hazel, Linda Conrad, and Elaine Martin (1997) note phenomenographic methodologies’ tendency to disregard the relationship between the data gathered and the subjects who provide that data. As discussed in the first half of this chapter, Marton accounts for the limited relationship between ways of experiencing and individual subjects on the grounds that phenomenographic methodologies aim towards a cumulative set of potentialities (1986). His later work contends that phenomenographic methodologies’ validity claim is made only in relation to the data gathered as part of the research (Marton & Booth 1997) and that determining whether subjects possess the capacity to experience phenomena in the ways of experiencing identified ‘falls outside phenomenography proper’ (Marton & Booth 1997:136). These admissions problematise the use of phenomenographic methodologies as sociological tools by limiting the extent to which their results may be said to represent subjects’ empiric encounters.
The awareness that subjects do not exhibit or express the panoptic or indirect objects draws attention to their role and treatment within phenomenographic methodologies. Marton’s argument that phenomenographic methodologies attempt to identify subjects’ cumulative or potential experiences suggests a totalising approach to the subject that is holistically inconsistent with an experiential focus. From this perspective, subjects appear as interchangeable units representing the subject group and lacking individual characteristics. Booth demonstrates this point when commenting that ‘students can understand one and the same text…in a number of different ways. They do not, however, each understand it in their own unique way’ (1997:136). Phenomenographic methodologies conceptualise an idealised subject position: a point at which the subject is capable of exhibiting all identified ways of experiencing the object. As will be shown in the following chapter, the potential empiric invalidity of this position is demonstrated when phenomenographic methodologies’ idealised subject is assumed to exhibit ways of experiencing that are contradictory or mutually exclusive.
Although phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to seek to maintain the specificity of individual experiences by augmenting their meta-level categories of description with excerpts of content from the research object (Entwistle 1997; Dunkin 2000; åkerlind 2002), the subject who provides the relevant account exhibits no evidenced relation to the data that is included: the empiric detail provided may not be traced or attributed to an individual subject. In this way, the phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to have returned to the practice of describing the subject and the way they experience an object from an external perspective. The subject is described to the extent that the subject group is described, and the topic phenomenon is described to the extent that the researcher conceptualises it following observation of the subject group. The individual subject’s experiences are represented using data that is exogenous to them and their experiences: by viewing the subject position as a cumulative whole, ways of seeing the object are attributed to individual subjects who may not experience or see it that way. The potential for this to occur evidences the capacity of phenomenographic methodologies’ validity to vary. Developing the point, phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to establish their own subject position and fill it with a newly-constituted idealised subject whose properties and relationship to—that is, ways of experiencing—the panoptic object may be distinguished from any extant subject. In effect, phenomenographic methodologies’ subject cannot be located beyond the indirect object. As a result, it may be argued that the subject does not exist beyond the reality the methodologies constitute. Considering this conclusion in relation to Marton’s assertion that objects do not have independent existences but are always experienced in some way by someone (2000), it follows that the panoptic object that phenomenographic methodologies constitute also cannot be located—and, as a result, does not exist—beyond the parameters of their operation. In attributing this object to a group of extant subjects, phenomenographic methodologies’ validity is compromised. Furthermore, as the object is not experienced by an extant subject, the description or representation of the subject-object relations presented through the indirect object cannot be described as empirically based.
This chapter has demonstrated how phenomenographic methodologies constitute new objects that are attributed to their purported subjects. These objects are allegedly empirically-based, but are not exhibited by any of the subjects to whom they are attributed. Additionally, the characteristics of the idealised subject position distinguish it from any of the subjects that participate in phenomenographic methodologies’ data-gathering stage. This indicates that the idealised subject, like the panoptic object, is newly constituted: no record of it exists at the point where phenomenographic methodologies commence; it is a product of the methodologies’ assumptions and processes, culminating in the representation of the indirect object. The constitution of new subjects and objects in this way has significant implications for phenomenographic methodologies’ validity claims. In the following chapter, Baudrillard’s’ concepts of simulation, simulacra, and the hyperreal will be used to provide a theoretic framework and reading of the contemporary empiric condition that addresses and contextualises the problems posed. Aligning phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes, and the subsequent validity issues they generate, with Baudrillard’s reading of contemporary empiric conditions refines and extends phenomenographic methodologies through proposing a new function, focus, and relationship to those conditions.
This chapter examines phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes in relation to simulation and its related concepts of simulacra and the hyperreal. It begins by proposing a reading of the one-sided meaning-making processes that were identified during the previous chapter. It invokes Baudrillard’s arguments from “In the shadow of the silent majorities” (1983 ) to elucidate and account for the methodologies’ inability to evade the interpretive act and achieve their goal of describing objects as they appear to the subject (Marton 1986, 1992). The discussion demonstrates the limits of phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity to generate a representation of reality—including the subjective reality of the experiential perspective—forming an important preface to later arguments that the methodologies achieve simulation. As a related point, the section addresses the phenomenographic literature’s contention that quality-assessment measures such as reliability and validity are unsuitable for evaluating qualitative research methodologies and their results (Marton 1986; Kvale 1996; åkerlind 2002). In advocating that a new set of tools be adopted—tools that privilege values such as internal consistency and the communicability of results—the phenomenographic literature is argued to evidence Baudrillard’s theory that simulacra attempt to detach themselves from the extant reality they profess to reflect (Baudrillard 1983a , 1988a ; Poster 1981; Trifinova 2003). The proposed tools remove the need to invoke external referents, allowing phenomenographic methodologies to function recursively. This creates the conditions under which they become simulacrums, agents producing sets of signifiers entirely detached from the subjects and objects they ostensibly describe and measure. Applying Baudrillard’s insight helps interpret the structural forces motivating the changes proposed within the phenomenographic literature.
Having accounted for and contextualised phenomenographic methodologies’ limited capacity to achieve representation, the chapter considers the definition of simulation Baudrillard offers in his essay “Simulacra and simulations”, ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (1988a :166). After demonstrating how phenomenographic methodologies may be said to conform to this definition, the section examines how the steps involved in achieving simulation are facilitated through specific assumptions and processes. Invoking an argument Baudrillard advances in “The system of objects” (1988b ), the section contends that phenomenographic methodologies’ relational principle, which locates meaning between subject and object (Marton 1992), positions the two constitutive elements outside the methodologies’ frame of reference, excluding the subjects and objects to which its indirect object ostensibly pertains. This argument helps to evidence phenomenographic methodologies’ practice of excluding external referentials from their simulations, a point that has been raised (Uljens 1993) but not widely discussed within the phenomenographic literature. The value of this discussion is that it provides an opportunity to examine and refine the impact of phenomenographic methodologies’ relational perspective on their capacities for representation, drawing attention to the representational devices they use to convey the image of subjective reality that masks their simulation. In addition, it develops an understanding of the nature of subject-object relations and the conceptions that represent them with emphasis upon the forces that potentially generate meaning in the contemporary empiric context, extending the phenomenographic literature’s recognition of the impact of context on meaning making (Marton & Booth 1997; Linder & Marshall 2003).
The chapter discusses whether phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces may be said to exhibit the characteristics of the hyperreal that Baudrillard describes simulation producing (1988a ; 1988b ). This section demonstrates that phenomenographic methodologies are incapable of distinguishing between ‘true’, ‘false’, and parodic accounts of experience. It shows how the absence of ideal and negative instances, both between and within phenomenographic methodologies, collapses polarity and produces results lacking in rationality. The chapter suggests that phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces are analogous to Baudrillard’s contention that simulations are merely operational matrices reflecting a linguistic combinatoire of signs (Baudrillard 1988a ; Poster 1981; Huysenns 1989). This argument extends efforts to highlight linguistic and social influences upon phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis and representation of empirical subject-object relations (Säljö 1997; Buck et al 2003).
The final section of the chapter considers phenomenographic methodologies from a structural perspective by contrasting their function with the nihilistic view of the contemporary empirical condition that Baudrillard describes in “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a ). The key points discussed are phenomenographic methodologies’ aim of producing metanarratives, the ways in which their models may be said to precede the data they generate, and the sense that the methodologies function as semiotic systems devoted to achieving their reoccurrence. The chapter asserts that phenomenographic studies may be construed as attempts similar to Baudrillard’s early work (1981b ), which advocates gaining access to the codes that govern representation in order to achieve change. It concludes by suggesting that an improved understanding of the structural forces influencing phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes will help to place the simulations they produce in a recognisable framework, refining and extending their relationship with—and, therefore, their capacity for engaging—contemporary empiric conditions. In doing so, the thesis demonstrates how Baudrillard’s work provides useful tools for improving understandings of qualitative research methods such as phenomenographic methodologies and its attempts to provide knowledge of ways of experiencing contemporary empiric conditions.
Interpretation and its implications
During the first chapter of this thesis, the one-sidedness of phenomenographic methodologies’ meaning-making processes was demonstrated to reveal their limitations as qualitative research tools and highlight the interpretative function underpinning attempts to grasp the ‘subject-object relations of an internal nature’ that Marton describes in “Structure” (2000:115). From a Baudrillardian perspective, the implications of this reading become broader. In his essay “In the shadow of the silent majorities” (1983b ), Baudrillard argues that the need to perform an interpretative act, to impose order on ambiguous and contradictory empirical accounts, reflects an act of resistance on the part of the masses more than the shortcomings of sociological research methods. For phenomenographic methodologies, the implication of this resistance—whether performed consciously or unconsciously—is that the aim to capture and represent all of the ways of experiencing a phenomenon will potentially be flawed.
Baudrillard commences his essay by describing the ‘imaginary representation’ of the masses within sociological frameworks ‘drift[ing] somewhere between passivity and wild spontaneity, but always as a potential energy, a reservoir of the social and of social energy’ (1983b :2). This accords with phenomenographic methodologies’ treatment of the subject: deindividuated and separated from the empirical accounts its referents provide, the subject position is effectively deemed to possess an unlimited potential to exhibit and express the ways of experiencing attributed to it, irrespective of the unique capacities of the subjects whom it is intended to represent. The phenomenographic researcher may be to argued to occupy a privileged position that is implicated in the manipulative relationship Baudrillard construes: as this thesis has shown, phenomenographic methodologies allow the researcher to exercise a capacity to excerpt, interpret, and attribute ways of experiencing phenomena from and to the subject position.
Baudrillard’s essay inverts the conventional hierarchy between researcher and research subject by inscribing the masses—constituted within qualitative methodologies as the research subjects—with the power to resist researchers’ requests for disclosure. He argues that researchers’ need for interpretative tools, which aim to get as close as possible to subjects’ ‘real’ meaning, evidences the masses’ capacity to reserve their ‘true’ thoughts and meaning structures (1983b ). Within the phenomenographic literature, there are several references to the interpretative act as a methodological component (Burns 1994; Entwistle 1997; Marton & Booth 1997; Sandberg 1997; Svensson 1997; Bowden 2000b; åkerlind 2002); however, they position interpretation as a secondary process occurring after the conceptions from which subjects’ ways of experiencing phenomena are discerned. Marton and Booth illustrate this when they describe phenomenographic studies identifying ‘the totality of ways in which people experience, or are capable of experiencing, the object of interest and interpret[ing] it in terms of distinctly different categories that capture the essence of the variation’ (1997:121-22). In this sentence, the conjunction ‘and’ is used to separate the act of identifying from the act of interpreting and to imply a sequential order. Marton also infers the temporal location of the interpretive process in “Reality”, where he indicates that interpretation occurs when quotes from interview transcripts are ‘interpreted and classified in terms of the contexts from which they are taken’ (1986:42).
As observed in the previous chapter, the interpretive process occurs much earlier in phenomenographic methodologies than Marton’s description infers. It commences when researchers begin to apply themselves to transcribed interviews, determining which linguistic elements apply to and constitute the panoptic object. The difference in locating the point at which the interpretative act commences, however, does not detract from the understanding that interpretation influences the results that phenomenographic methodologies produce, allowing Baudrillard’s preliminary hypothesis that the interpretive act evidences subjects’ implicit resistance to requests for disclosure to stand.
Having established subjects’ capacity to reserve their ‘true’ meaning, Baudrillard suggests that information gathered in sociological studies may be a product of subjects reflecting back what is projected onto them (1983b :3). In seeking to examine whether this could occur within phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic framework, this thesis has previously shown how their ontological assumptions indicate that each subject experiences its own direct object, an account of which is then used as the preliminary basis of analysis. This object (and the account of it) may be differentiated from the phenomenon the methodologies’ indirect object subsequently constitutes and defines. Attributing the indirect object’s ways of experiencing cumulatively to research subjects who may not have exhibited or expressed those ways of experiencing, and inferring that the panoptic object exists in their lifeworlds, suggests that the researcher is projecting an external and alien set of empiric encounters and meanings onto those subjects. This possibility is noted within the phenomenographic literature (Webb 1996; Hasselgren and Beach 1997; Sorva & Malmi 2007). It may be argued to demonstrate the need to refine the assumptions and processes with which phenomenographic methodologies engage subjects’ empirical encounters.
Echoing the social
Extrapolating from the idea that interviews produce only ‘official’ or socially-acceptable accounts of experience, Baudrillard’s essay offers the alternative possibility that research subjects echo the social, functioning as transparent conductors of norms and information from a previous era (1983b :28). He describes the masses’ ‘anticipated responses’ and ‘circular signals’ producing a cycle of ‘exasperating, endless conformity’ (1983b :33) to the extant social record. Within the phenomenographic literature, Roger Säljö (1997) makes the case that the accounts of phenomena collected during phenomenographic methodologies’ data gathering phase are the product of, ‘[an] attempt to fulfil one’s communicative obligations’ (1997:177) that owes itself to learned and shared communicative practices and criteria for encoding experience (1997:182). In terms of the temporal dimension of Baudrillard’s reading, Marton alludes to phenomenographic enquiry’s historic orientation in his essay “Metatheoretical” (1981), registering the way that conceptions of time, love, space, and childhood have differed between historical periods: ‘the obvious implication… is that such fundamental ”givens” of our existence are man-made. We have simply learnt to experience reality in one way instead of any of a number of other possible ways’ (1981:160). Gordon Taylor reaches an apposite conclusion, asserting that, ‘phenomenographic analyses of differing conceptions tend to tell us much the same as we can discover by studying the history of attitudes toward the subject in question’ (1993:63 in Webb 1996:3). These contentions conform to Baudrillard’s contention that subjects echo the social.
An additional strand of reasoning may be developed from Mike Gane’s reading of Baudrillard, which points out how ‘in each phase of representation a former, dominant conception of the ‘real’ is taken as the reference model of ‘current’ reality, always already out of date’ (Gane 1991:95). Phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis proceeds by attending to artefacts that describe earlier empiric encounters; the best their experiential focus may achieve is a record of the object as the subject saw it. As a result, their findings may only be assumed to exist in relation to current empiric conditions. As with the interpretive gap discussed in the previous chapter, the existence of this relationship is a structural source of potential invalidity. Assuming an equivalence between past and present empiric possibilities suggests a static empiric condition. Such a proposed representation of empiric conditions may be argued to be inherently invalid as it does not account or allow for evolution and change. Baudrillard’s perspective, that research subjects are channelling the empiricism of previous time periods, offering a social record rather than providing access to a ‘true’ representation of empiric encounters occurring under contemporary ontological conditions (1983b), helps address this discrepancy by refining understandings of phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity and focus, improving their results’ validity claims and potential applications.
Baudrillard pursues an additional line of argument in “Silent majorities” that is of relevance to phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity to achieve the experiential focus and valid sets of results. As a preliminary element of his argument that sociological tools simulate the social rather than represent it, Baudrillard employs the example of ‘stellar gas known only through analysis of their [sic] light spectrum’ (1983b:21) as a metaphor for the limitations of their measurement and representative capabilities. Baudrillard’s metaphor reiterates C. Wright Mills’s argument that sociological tools define phenomena such as opinions or knowledge only in terms of what they have the capacity to measure and that this process has a tendency to encourage particular species of phenomena or knowledge within the social sphere (Cormack 2002). Relating this to phenomenographic methodologies, the difficulty for Marton’s proposed methodological model is that it aims to produce a record of all the ways a phenomenon may be experienced; however, the phenomenon is only defined (in other words, only said to exist) to the extent of the ways that the methodological tool has registered that it may be experienced. Marton describes ‘the phenomenon in question [being] narrowed down to and interpreted in terms of selected quotes from all the interviews’ (1986:42). He then advocates that the phenomenon be seen as ‘a complex of the different ways in which it can be experienced’ (2000:105), meaning that the outcome space is its synonym, representing ‘the thing as it appears to us’ (2000:105). In this way, topic phenomena are exclusively constituted from the data gathered as part of phenomenographic methodologies’ processes.
Although Marton writes that, ‘the very label “phenomenography” was chosen to convey the idea of describing various specific things as they appear to us’ (2000:102-103), it would be more accurate to state that phenomenographic methodologies determine aspects of reality that subjects ‘see’ and infer that these are specific things. As Richard Jenkins (2002) argues in a separate context, the classificatory procedure exerts a constitutive effect: the object is only defined according to the ways of experiencing that the methodologies identify. Marton’s acknowledgement of the representational limits of his methodology supports this reading. In “Structure”, he states that, ‘the thesis that an object of experience is not independent of the way in which it is experienced does not imply that the object is identical with the way in which it is experienced’ (2000:5). As with Marton’s reference to ‘narrow[ing] down’ phenomena (1986:42), elements outside the scope of the research interview and the data that has been collected—in other words, beyond the methodological tools’ capacity for measurement—may exist but are deemed to be extrinsic to the phenomenon as it is defined for the purposes of the study. The implication drawn follows one of the key points advanced throughout this thesis: phenomenographic methodologies’ objects are distinguishable from extant elements of reality. The topic phenomena that phenomenographic methodologies constitute does not have an equivalent reference beyond the methodology. It follows that phenomenographic methodologies cannot be argued to produce representations of objects or aspects of reality existing beyond their parameters; instead, in accordance with Baudrillard’s observation—which owes itself to both Mills and Max Weber (1949:72)—that sociological research tools constitute the objects of their inquiry (1983b ; 1993 ), they generate new objects.
An alternative way of examining phenomenographic methodologies’ constitution of topic phenomena is to consider them as the products of an expanded reading analogous to Temenuga Trifinova’s description of the shift from object to Baudrillarian image (2003). Trifinova suggests that images are produced as a result of saturation or overexposure to multiple perspectives: they are distinguishable from real empiric encounters because they reflect more empirical potential than any single subject would otherwise have access to at a specific point. The object is reduced to an image by virtue of exceeding its own capacity for exposure. In a similar sense, the panoptic object that phenomenographic methodologies constitute to encompass all of the ways of experiencing is one that has been exposed to the collocation of more ways of experiencing than any single subject exhibits. Like Trifinova’s reading of the Baudrillarian image, phenomenographic methodologies’ panoptic objects are visible or experience-able from all sides; they exceed the subject-object relations of any extant empiric record. As a result, they are reduced to images of the referents they purport to represent. The significance of this possibility, discussed later in the chapter, is that the image detaches itself from its referent and exhibits an independent existence from the phenomenon it was originally conceived to represent.
The collapse of meaning
Returning to the argument presented in “Silent majorities”, when an interpreter attributes something to the masses that is distinguishable (and, therefore, different) from what they have described or experienced, and presents this as a true representation of their empiric encounter, the social reality suffers what Baudrillard calls ‘the collapse of meaning’ (1983b:3). As Baudrillard puts it, ‘they [the researchers] have only penetrated…at the cost of their misappropriation, of their radical distortion’ (1983b :8), which seems an accurate, though hyperbolic, description of phenomenographic methodologies’ mediating assumptions and processes that harness multiple subjects’ discursive representations of direct objects and combine them to form panoptic objects that exceed any specific subject’s empiric encounter. Baudrillard’s collapse of meaning occurs when a newly-constituted panoptic object is attributed to subjects and presented as a valid representation of their empiric possibilities—the potential they exhibit for experiencing an object—through the indirect object. This conclusion challenges the validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ outcome spaces.
Following Baudrillard’s argument in “Silent majorities”, this collapse of meaning may be understood to indicate that the social is being simulated rather than represented: ‘[there] can no longer be a question of expression or representation, but only…the simulation of an ever inexpressible and unexpressed social’ (1983b :21). To develop an understanding of the nature of this ‘simulation’ and the extent and ways in which phenomenographic methodologies may be understood to achieve the concept, Baudrillard’s essay “Simulacra and Simulations” (1988a ) provides a useful definition of the term and discussion of its attributes.
Baudrillard’s essay defines simulation as ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (1988a :166). In relation to the first element of this definition, phenomenographic methodologies may be considered models based upon an awareness of the assumptions and processes they exhibit that govern the constitution of subject, object, and the relationships between them. These assumptions and processes constitute the relevant elements and establish the parameters of the reality being created. Baudrillard describes this operation in a separate essay, “The ideological genesis of needs” (1981a ). The assumptions and processes provide a framework (or, in other words, a model) that requires the user to gather, or create, certain data in order to generate a record (or, from Baudrillard’s perspective, a simulation) of empiric encounters.
A real without reality
Baudrillard’s contention that models—whether media or methodology-based—generate a real without reality may be established by considering the differences between the elements constituted within phenomenographic methodologies and their external referents’ capacities. The first chapter of this thesis has shown that, instead of representing a reality, phenomenographic methodologies generate new subject and object positions through their constitutive processes. The methodologies’ idealised subject position fills the space that extant subjects and their unique empiric capacities would otherwise have occupied within the model. The methodologies’ subjects and objects are constituted in a way that makes them distinguishable from—and therefore excludes—the external, reality-based referents they claim. As Baudrillard notes in Sheila Faria Glaser’s translation of “The precession of simulacra” (1994 :29), it is impossible to locate an instance of the model that has been generated: phenomenographic methodologies produce a real that is without external reality.
A similar conclusion may be reached by following the argument Baudrillard advances in his essay “The system of objects” (1988b ). Baudrillard discusses Pierre Martineau’s explication of consumption, citing Martineau’s statement that ‘any buying process is an interaction between the personality of the individual and the so-called “personality” of the product itself’ (1957:73 in Baudrillard 1988b:14). Baudrillard’s essay subsequently locates the focus of consumption—and, more broadly, the empiric conditions under which objects are experienced in a consumerist or capitalist society (Grace 2000; Salquiero Seabra Ferreira 2005)—as the relation between objects and other subject objects (1988b ; Poster 1981). Considering the premise of phenomenographic methodologies’ location of experience, the methodologies’ relational ontology appears to match Martineau’s understanding of consumption: Marton expresses the view that, ‘in phenomenography, object and subject are not separate, the subject’s experience of the object is a relation between the two’ (2000:104; 1986, 1992). Although Marton construes the ways of experiencing upon which the methodologies focus as ‘subject-object relations of an internal nature’ (Marton 2000:115; Linder & Marshall 2003), he points out that an experience cannot be defined spatially, nor attributed wholly to subject or object: ‘experiences’ are ‘relations between the individual and the phenomenon, and hence they are between the two’ (Marton 1992:260).
While Marton locates experiences between subject and object, he contends that ‘the research is never separated from the object of perception or the content of thought’ (1986:32). Bo Dahlin concurs, citing John Dewey’s reading of experience as ‘recognis[ing] in its primary integrity no division between act and material, subject and object, but contain[ing] them both in an unanalysed totality’ (Dewey 1981:257 in Dahlin 1994:90) as a reference point for phenomenographic methodologies’ ontology. In contrast with these views, an alternative reading of the relational perspective’s impact on experiences’ location is that placing those experiences (as captured in the categories of description) between subject and object separates ‘the research’ from both. In seeking to describe the relationship between subject and object, the two elements ostensibly responsible for generating the empirical encounter exist only to the extent that inferences about them may be drawn from the characteristics of the relationship the methodologies describe. They are extrinsic to the methodologies’ focus in the sense that any parts of the relevant subject and object not engaged in the relationship between them are excluded from the indirect object: adopting an experiential focus means that phenomenographic methodologies do not describe subject or object, but the way one sees the other (Marton & Svensson 1979); as Uljens puts it, ‘even though the conceptions have been understood in terms of man-world relations, both the man and the world are forgotten in the course of the empirical analysis’ (1993:145).
The reading of subject-object relations Baudrillard’s develops in “The system of objects” differs from both Martineau’s and Marton’s assessments by retaining some space for the original entities. It describes subject and object as both ‘included and excluded at the same time…abstracted and annulled’ (1988b:22). Victoria Grace’s reading of Baudrillard’s For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981b ) suggests that a dichotomous splitting of subject and object is an abstraction conducted to advance capitalist and consumerist conditions (2000:12). A similar interpretation may be applied to Marton’s proposal that the object be understood as the complex of different ways it may be experienced (2000:105). Reversing Marton’s formulation suggests that subjects be understood as complexes of different ways they experience the object, a perspective that would seem sympathetic to the development of capitalist and consumerist models of the self.
The point advanced in this thesis is that locating subject and object both inside and outside the relationship between the two suggests they are part of the reality being constituted, but are also beyond it. Marton’s oblique comment that ‘an experience of an object is…a part of the whole which is subjective and objective at the same time’ (2000:105) may be read as apposite. Additional perspectives—for instance, Donald Woods Winnicott’s work on the developmental stages and intermediate zones between that which is subjective and that which is objectively perceived (2005 )—demonstrate the difficulty of determining whether subjectivity and objectivity are intrinsic, extrinsic, or adjacent to experience. In terms of this thesis’s contention that the relational assumption serves to exclude extant subjects and objects from phenomenographic methodologies, the key element of Marton’s statement is that the experience of the object is a part of the whole. The referents themselves are not the focus of the investigation; the only attempt made to apprehend them comes as a consequence of their presence in the relationship between subject and object. Relating this to the definition of simulation being discussed, the conclusion may be reached that the real (embodied in the external referents) is at least partially absent from the reality (the indirect object) that phenomenographic methodologies produce. The external referents’ partial incorporation allows a distinction to be made between extant subject and object and what the model represents. Since the model’s subject and object represent something different from the referents they claim, it appears that the extant referents are wholly, rather than partially, absent. In the absence of valid representations of external referents, it follows that reality may be said to be absent from the model. What remains is a reality that parallels Baudrillard’s reading of the postmodern empirical condition: ‘a mass which is itself the product of a social process yet can no longer be identified with any particular social subject or object’ (1983b :5). Following Rex Butler’s provocative argument that simulation’s aim is to ‘realise’ reality rather than hide it (Butler 1999:23), and in keeping with this thesis’s contention that phenomenographic methodologies generate new subjects and objects, it may be suggested that a ‘new’ reality has been produced.
A real without origin
Baudrillard’s suggestion that simulation generates a real without origin is more difficult to demonstrate. Putting aside the temporal difficulties of phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic phase charted in the first chapter of this thesis, their new subjects and objects would seem to originate at the point where they are first located. My reading of Baudrillard’s definition is not that he is referring to the difficulty of untangling an evolutionary chain of subjects and objects’ incremental change and constitution. (The possibility of doing so, in any event, being contested by Jacques Derrida (1989) among others.) Instead, I interpret it as suggesting that simulation’s subject and object are without origin in reality; their origin is in a model. This interpretation accords with Gary Genosko’s reading of simulation, which argues that external referents are generated as an effect of the sign that defines them, rather than the reverse (1994:40). Both suggestions contrast elements of reality that originate through the authentic processes of pre-modern production—which Baudrillard sentimentally valorises in “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a )—with those that are constituted through contrived attempts to create a logical and rational representation of the social. An awareness of such model-based origins complements Baudrillard’s reasoning that sociological tools are unable to accurately apprehend and represent the social (1983b ; Bogard 1990; Butler 1999; Cormack 2004), necessitating the simulation of external referents.
Within the phenomenographic literature, Säljö comes closest to identifying the model-based origin of the realities that phenomenographic methodologies constitute. He warns of the potential for phenomenography to slip from methodology to ontology, describing a situation where ‘ways of experiencing are no longer the analyst’s tool for understanding human activities in context, but rather something that is supposed to be there in the material and which one is more less obliged to find’ (1997:178). This suggests an awareness that phenomenographic methodologies, ostensibly aimed at representing social phenomena, have the potential to devolve to something that does not represent the real, but generates it through internal assumptions and processes. The point may be developed using Robert Antonio’s discussion of Fredric Jameson’s reading of the implications of ‘postmodern hyperspace’ (1991:156). Antonio emphasises the significance of critical distance, where the ideology of a methodology is implicitly bound up with the investigation it pursues. It may be said that there is a lack of critical distance in phenomenographic methodologies because ways of experiencing are assumed to be discernable from interview data; therefore, as Säljö points out, they must exist in the transcripts of interviews carried out during phenomenographic methodologies’ data-gathering phase. A set of interviews where the researcher concludes that no ways of experiencing have been expressed is a failure, the result of either incorrect interviewing or insufficient interpreting. An alternative hypothesis—that the topic phenomenon and subjects’ ways of experiencing it could not be captured using the methodology—may not be validated using phenomenographic methodologies. This demonstrates the methodologies’ recursivity and the absence of external referents exhibited. Were phenomenographic methodologies able to accurately capture external referents, critical distance would be said to be achievable on the grounds that a contrast between the methodologies’ constituted elements and findings and their external referents could be drawn. This contrast would allow the alternative hypothesis to stand as the methodologies’ results would be potentially falsifiable. Instead, as Baudrillard suggests occurs with all sociological representation (Cormack 2002), subject and object are constituted through the methodologies and have no external referents. Their origin is in the model.
This observation complements the earlier point that phenomenographic methodologies’ constitute the objects of their enquiry through their assumptions and processes. It may be argued to account for the phenomenographic literature’s reluctance to use subjects’ response to phenomenographic methodologies’ indirect object as a validation measure. åkerlind’s (2002) discussion of phenomenographic validity makes explicit reference to the potential discrepancy between the results that phenomenographic methodologies generate and research subjects’ experiences and empiric conditions (see also Burns 1994; Marton & Booth 1997; Bowden 2000, 2005). åkerlind argues against the practice of asking research subjects to validate categories of description, suggesting that because conceptions change over time and with context, the interviewee’s perception of the categories of description should not be construed as authoritative; the subject’s perception may have changed from what it was. More significantly for this thesis’s argument that phenomenographic methodologies’ constitute new subjects and objects, she suggests that phenomenographic researchers are interpreting collective perceptions, not individual ones, hence there will be differences between the phenomenographic methodologies’ results and individuals’ experiences. One way of interpreting the reluctance to involve extant subjects as a validity measure is to suggest that it would remove the ‘alibi’—Baudrillard’s term from “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a ) and The Perfect Crime (1995)—that phenomenographic methodologies’ subjects and objects provide for reality. Baudrillard’s alibi theory would seem to suggest that phenomenographic methodologies should demonstrate the falsity of their efforts at representation in order to reassert the reality principle (1988a :171-2). Under hyperreal empiric conditions, phenomenographic methodologies’ interpretive gap appears as the difference between their alleged representation of subject and object and what is ostensibly ‘reality’. According to Baudrillard’s alibi theory, this reinforces the illusion of a reality-based empiric condition that subjects may distinguish from hyperreality. The problem with this argument is that, in demonstrating an interpretive gap, phenomenographic methodologies remove the illusion of their capacity to represent reality, revealing themselves as simulation-producing agents. The competing structural tendencies for phenomenographic methodologies to both evidence the flaws of their representations and disguise those flaws may be argued to account for the difficulty of establishing an agreed-upon validity measure within the phenomenographic literature. This point will be further addressed later in the thesis.
Demonstrating that phenomenographic methodologies conform to Baudrillard’s definition of simulation does not necessarily indicate that the two are synonymous. While the previous pages have shown that phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes may be described as ‘generat[ing]…models of a real without origin or reality’ (1988a :166), to examine the extent to which their simulations are successful, it is relevant to consider whether they exhibit characteristics and operate in ways that are comparable to those Baudrillard describes in his essay.
A system of signs
Baudrillard suggests that simulation begins with the ‘artificial resurrection’ of referentials in systems of signs (1988a :167). This idea may be read in light of his thesis that the contemporary empiric condition is one where phenomena are not experienced per se but through a media-driven dimension of signs and values that exceed objects’ physical properties (Poster 1981; King 2000). As an initial step, however, Baudrillard’s proposition may be examined literally. At the broadest level, any attempt to assess elements of a culture in ‘its own terms’ positions it as a symbolic system. The researcher is involved in isolating the culture’s elements, specifying their relationship, and characterising the system in some way (Geertz 1973:17). Phenomenographic methodologies produce systems of signs: each category of description is a sign that purports to represent one aspect of an empirical encounter between subject and object. Within the phenomenographic literature, suggestions that categories of description should be ‘meaning bearing in a particular way’ (Hasselgren and Beach 1997:194), related ‘as faithfully as possible’ to individuals’ conceptions (Sandberg 1997:157) and understood as ‘the researcher’s way of expressing the different ways of functioning’ (Uljens 1993:144) infer their interpretive and semiotic functions. Additional references to interjudge agreement, which ‘gives a measurement of the extent to which other researchers are able to recognise the conceptions identified by the original researcher, through his/her categories of description’ (Sandberg 1997:205), communicative validity (Kvale 1996; åkerlind 2002), and assessing the ‘intelligibility’ of outcome spaces and results (Neuman 1997) within the phenomenographic literature further emphasise the semiotic element of the methodologies’ results.
Marton stipulates the structure and systemic nature of the signs’ relationships in his essay “Studying conceptions of reality—a metatheoretical note” (1981), where he states that experience should be represented in a finite number of categories of description with each one characterising a specific way of functioning or ‘way in which individuals relate themselves to specific situations’ (166). Similarly, Marton and Booth’s (1997) criteria for judging the quality of a phenomenographic outcome space may be read as outlining the principles according to which the semiotic system is structured. The criteria are that categories must reveal something distinctive about a way of understanding the phenomenon; that they be logically related; and that data be represented as parsimoniously as possible (1997:125). Each of these criteria may be read as a means of ensuring the communicative or semiotic dimension and orientation of the system. In this context, the reliability-oriented measures and practices described in the previous paragraph function as tools for assessing and establishing the signs’ efficacy: their capacity to project an intelligible meaning that allows external parties to attribute appropriate data to each category.
Baudrillard’s description of an ‘artificial resurrection’ of ‘referentials’ within a semiotic system is germane to a number of issues raised previously in this thesis. The use of the term ‘artificial’ may be argued to reflect the falsity of phenomenographic methodologies’ representation of extant subject and object. It may also connote that the subjects’ and objects’ resurrection has not occurred through an organic process, but through the contrivances of a model. The suggestion that the referentials are being ‘resurrected’ points to Baudrillard’s contention that reality, in the guise of the social, is in short supply, and has, in fact, disappeared, leaving only its echo (1983b ; Bogard 1990). Where an authentic resurrection would be understood to bring reality back to life, constituting a new reality using empiric models that simulate extant referents may be understood as artificial. From these perspectives, phenomenographic methodologies’ referents may be described as artificially resurrected in a new field of signification.
Returning to one of Baudrillard’s themes that was mentioned previously—the critique of Marxism on the grounds that empiricism is no longer governed by the physical capacities of objects but by their sign value—the ‘artificial resurrection’ of referentials in systems of signs may also be understood to distinguish the objects or phenomena that exist under contemporary empiric conditions from the finite, stable objects that Baudrillard associates with pre-symbolic exchange-period production (1993 ). As part of his critique of Marxism’s capacity to engage contemporary production and consumption (1988b ), Baudrillard highlights how the media exhibits the power to inculcate sign values and attribute them to objects or phenomena to produce a new and limited system of recognition among subjects that is contingent upon a lexicon of consumption-oriented modes of apprehension. Under these conditions, the resurrected referentials being discussed point to objects or phenomena existing in a field where artificial and shifting sign values exercise their own capacity as signifiers and are components of empiric encounters and the discourse surrounding them (Poster 1981).
Applying this reading of contemporary empiric conditions to phenomenographic methodologies expands awareness of the breadth of empiric dimensions they recognise when constituting their topic phenomena. An attempt to record ‘the totality of ways in which people experience, or are capable of experiencing, the object of interest’ (Marton & Booth 1997:121-22) necessarily includes more than phenomena’s physically-apparent dimensions. It will potentially include accounts of symbolic values that are created and attributed to objects and phenomena through the media and other modes of cultural dissemination. The use of phenomenological techniques such as bracketing, epoché, and horizontilisation during phenomenographic methodologies’ data gathering and analytic operations (see Sandberg 1997) increases the likelihood that researchers will incorporate ethereal dimensions of experience that exceed the fixed physical and functional properties of their topic phenomena into the ways of experiencing they identify. In this context, phenomenographic methodologies’ emphasis upon using subjects’ own terminology to describe phenomena (Marton & Svensson 1979; Nordenbo 1990; Svensson 1994; Entwistle 1997) encourages the potential recording and retransmitting of media-centric discourses and symbolic values. As will be shown below, this has potential ramifications for phenomenographic methodologies’ attempts to access subject-object relations and ways of experiencing phenomena through discursive analysis.
Acknowledging that phenomenographic methodologies incorporate symbolic values into the experiences of phenomena they constitute alters the dyadic subject-object relationship that Marton posits as the basis of phenomenographic methodologies. Although Marton acknowledges that learning takes place in a context and involves the delimitation of an object from its context (Marton & Booth 1997:108), phenomenographic methodologies do not attend to context—understanding context as everything outside the topic phenomenon—as including entities that may independently transmit or determine the discourse with or through which subjects account for their empiric encounters. As Anders Berglund notes, ’phenomenography, with its focus on the learners and the phenomena that is learnt about, does not alone offer the intellectual tools that are needed for extending the study object to include to the relation between the learner and his/her whole learning environment’ (2002:2). In “The system of objects” (1988b ), Baudrillard describes how symbolic values may be generated independently of products and connected to them through advertising and the media. Incorporating these symbolic values into the ways of experiencing a phenomenon acknowledges the presence of elements that mediate the relationship between subject and object. Although Marton describes phenomenographic methodologies as being interested in ‘the content of thinking’ rather than ‘the relations that exist between human beings and the world around them’ (1986:31-32), he also emphasises the importance of ‘understand[ing] the relationship that exists between an individual and what he or she is trying to learn’ (1986:43-44). An awareness that conceptions are the products of a relationship between subjects and object as well as between subject and context—which may be distinguished from the understanding that the relationship occurs within a context, as Marton and Booth’s (1997) framing would suggest—would seem to be a necessary prerequisite to understanding the relations between an individual and the world.
Without acknowledging the extended or mediated nature of the relationship between subject and object, there is no basis on which to differentiate between conceptions that relate to the topic phenomenon and those that relate to independent contextual elements such as advertising and other social influences disseminated through the media that attribute content or empiric possibilities to the topic phenomenon. Tom Adawi, Berglund, Booth and åke Ingerman (2002) register contexts’ mediating influence upon meaning in their discussion of the different contexts that exist at phenomenographic methodologies’ successive stages. They allude to the ‘social, spatial and temporal dimensions that lend [topic phenomena] meaning’ (2002: 82) without specifying the role that specific entities or phenomena may play in this ‘lending’ or establishing the empiric grounds upon which meaning should be attributed to topic phenomena instead of to the contextual element. Marton and Booth may also be argued to engage the issue during their discussion of the margin of awareness (Marton and Booth 1997; Marton 2000), which distinguishes between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ empirical horizons and asks how phenomena are delineated from their context (Cope 2002). Their discussion addresses issues that Marton and Svennson had previously raised: ‘how valid descriptions of student learning might be obtained in order to decide what is general and what is context-dependent, in what way and to what extent’ (1979:479). While the later discussion recognises the need to distinguish subjects’ apprehension of phenomena from their contextual awareness, it fails to conceptualise subject-object relations as one of many possible ways of experiencing that may be identified. A pertinent example is Robert Govers, Frank M Go and Kuldeep Kumar’s (2007) phenomenographically-oriented study of potential tourists’ perceptions of destinations they had not yet visited. Should the subjects be understood to have developed meaning structures and conceptions based on a relationship with the object—a place they had not yet visited—or is their relationship more accurately described as being with other contextual objects and phenomena, in particular (and as discussed in Govers, Go and Kumar) with advertising and information-technology transmitted messages that convey meaning about the topic phenomenon? Attributing the conceptions and meaning structures produced to the topic object in this example evidences a central problem with the validity of phenomenographic methodologies’ analysis: at what point and on what grounds may it be decided that a subject is evidencing a way of experiencing a phenomenon as opposed to a way of experiencing a symbolic value propagated by an independent entity or an aspect of context that confers meaning upon the topic phenomenon?
The point being pursued here is not whether social expectations and symbolic values reflect actual or valid ways of experiencing phenomena but whether phenomenographic methodologies’ attempt to represent the act of experiencing phenomena through these extrinsic dimensions will have implications for the (hyper)reality of the empiric model produced. To an extent, this concern is reflected in issues raised in the literature regarding phenomenographic methodologies’ lack of attention to the source and nature of conceptions (Uljens 1993; Säljö 1997; Richardson 1999). In particular, it underpins Säljö’s critique of phenomenographic methodologies as reproducing learned behaviour that reflects social contexts rather than empiric encounters (1997). Phenomenographic methodologies require a set of empiric assumptions that account for mediating social forces that influence and provide the discourse surrounding experience as well as on the dimensions of the experience to which subjects attend while being in some way distinguishable or independent from objects themselves. To this end, Svensson’s conspectus of conceptions as ‘dependent both on human activity and the world or reality external to any individual… [they are] created through thinking about external reality’ (1997:165) suggests the more sophisticated style of view necessary to engage subject and object under contemporary empiric conditions, although it does not establish the principles according to which analysis that differentiates between context and phenomenon may proceed.
Distorting the real
The implications of failing to develop these principles may be examined in relation to Baudrillard’s contention that, once simulation begins, ‘the real…no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational’ (1988a :167). When phenomenographic methodologies incorporate fluid and limitless sign values into the relationship between subject and object they are creating the possibility to distort the reality produced to the extent that the empiric model presented will no longer be rational.
Baudrillard’s “The system of objects” (1988b ) describes one way that this empiric distortion can occur. The essay points out that, as a result of advertising and media impact on the social environment, subjects may not understand the meaning of the characteristics they attribute to phenomena. The subjects only understand that the characteristics they have been taught to associate with a particular phenomenon are in some way desirable (Baudrillard 1988b ; Poster 1981). In relation to phenomenographic methodologies, this may be demonstrated by considering how my experience of the computer on which this thesis is written could be constructed. If I am asked about the computer, one of the things I might mention is that it has or is ‘dual core’. I do not know what ‘dual core’ does or means; however, I believe both that my computer has/is it and that this is a desirable trait. A phenomenographic methodology does not need to know how I developed this information or conception (Uljens 1993; Richardson 1999); it is satisfied to determine that one way I experience my computer is through apprehending that it exhibits/possesses a particular feature.
The irrationality of this way of experiencing is revealed when trying to identify the meaning ‘dual core’ has for me. I have understood that the computer has/is dual core based upon information provided to me: the words ‘dual core’ are written on the box that the computer came in. The box does not specify that the computer ‘has’ a dual core, nor does it make any direct claims as to what this dual core does; it simply exhibits the words in a logo. I may imagine that ‘dual core’ connotes or somehow produces improved speed or performance; however, I could not say that I have experienced this. Potentially, the function of ‘dual core’ may simply be to distinguish this computer from other computers that do not have ‘dual core’ written on their boxes.
It would seem that ‘dual core’ has no meaning for me beyond the sense that it is in some way desirable. Despite this lack of meaning, phenomenographic methodologies consider such a conception to be part of the content of my thinking (Marton 1986) from which a way of experiencing may be discerned. The example illustrates one of phenomenographic methodologies’ limits by demonstrating how subjects can operate and experience phenomena in ways that exceed their understanding of those phenomena. Baudrillard provides a description that seems analogous to the way in which phenomenographic methodologies’ encode such experience: ‘it is not the concrete structure…that is expressed but rather the for, colour, shape, the accessories, and the “social standing” of the object…[it] establishes a repertoire and creates a lexicon of forms and colours in which recurrent modalities…can be expressed’ (1988b ;15). As discussed in relation to the artificial resurrection of signifiers, phenomenographic methodologies exhibit the potential to capture and retransmit elements of the advertising of an object and infer that these represent ways of experiencing the object, even where the discursive content has little relation to the properties of the phenomenon and little meaning for the subject. While åkerlind (2005b:114) asserts that these sorts of conceptions should be identified during a well-conducted interview because probing questioning would reveal the absence of such terms’ meaning for subjects, this practice does not accord with recent framing of categories of description reflecting discernment of variation (Marton & Booth 1997; Marton & Pang 2002; Pang 2003). In the example given, the subject identifies the capacity for the computer to be or not be dual core despite not understanding the difference between the two states. More broadly, it fails to address the influence that minimally-understood conceptions may have upon behaviour and perception, suggesting further limits to phenomenographic methodologies’ efficacy as sociologic tools that allegedly focus upon empiric encounters and experience.
The example above suggests that phenomenographic methodologies may only produce what Baudrillard describes as a ‘floating…immense combinatorial matrix of types and models, where incoherent needs are distributed’ (1988b :15). Such a description seems appropriate to the categories of description and outcome space that would be produced based on the experience of the computer as I have described it. The categories of description would ‘float’ in the sense that they are not connected to the external referent they assert to represent. They reflect the language and meaning of the object’s presentation: the subject’s experiences of phenomena as mediated by the ideas that have emerged from the social environment, not the properties of the phenomena per se. As has been shown, phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description may present ways of experiencing that are based upon language that has no meaning for the subject; language that would seem only to describe and differentiate aspects of commodification and desire for these aspects. Following this line of reasoning, Baudrillard’s description of a matrix of incoherent needs—incoherent in the sense that it lacks the capacity to communicate meaning—is appropriate. Incorporating sign values and other ethereal dimensions of experience into phenomenographic methodologies’ constitutive processes creates the potential for the real being produced to lack rationality: the meaning expressed in the categories no longer accounts for or engages with the object but with aspects of its context: the empiric conditions mediating its apprehension.
Further aspects of rationality
Within the phenomenographic literature, Richardson observes further methodological problems that may be approached under the rubric of rationality. He points out that, unlike contemporary ethnographers, phenomenographers do not take a skeptical approach to what people say during research interviews (1999; see also Säljö 1997). Through the guise of ‘seeing with’ the subjects, phenomenographic methodologies do not contest conceptualisations: Bowden (2005:14), for instance, is specific about not making judgmental comment on subjects’ descriptions of phenomena that may influence the direction or emphasis of the accounts; Peter Ashworth and Ursula Lucas also caution against marginalising ‘views and factual claims which…may well be regarded by the researcher as quite erroneous’ (2000:299). Identifying ‘the totality of ways in which people experience, or are capable of experiencing, the object of interest’ (Marton and Booth 1997:121-22) means that it is sufficient for phenomenographic methodologies to identify potentialities. They are not obliged to determine whether subjects actually do experience phenomena a certain way, merely that they express a conception that infers the capacity to do so. In addition, phenomenographic methodologies preclude the possibility of observing causal or correlative relationships between specific subjects and the accounts of experience they offer (Hazel et al 1997; Barnacle 2005). As a result, it may be observed that phenomenographic methodologies limit and are limited in their capacity to validate what subjects assert.
In relation to this observation, the problem Richardson highlights is that subjects may say that they experience a phenomenon in a way that they do not (1999). Following the recent proposal that conceptions reveal the discernment of variation (Marton & Pang 2002; Pang 2003; Marton, Runesson & Tsui 2004), this is acceptable because the subject’s account of the experience evidences the potential capacity to apprehend the phenomenon’s capacity to vary in a particular dimension. One implication of this doctrine is that the ways of experiencing identified do not represent how subjects experience or are capable of experiencing a phenomenon, but how they believe they are capable of experiencing it. Such a conclusion is suggestive of Butler’s reading of hyperreality as a realisation of how the world could be rather than how it is (1999:25).
This perspective’s difficulties arise where subjects suggest that although they themselves do not experience a phenomenon in a certain way, others do. At their most reductive, phenomenographic methodologies may interpret such suggestions as evidencing that subjects apprehend a topic phenomenon by imagining others’ experiences of it. At the same time, the subjects are discerning the topic phenomenon’s capacity to vary, but attributing the experience of that dimension of variation to others. While this poses an interesting analytic dilemma, a concern of relevance for this thesis is that, where subjects’ information about how others experience phenomena is incorrect, phenomenographic methodologies will record and retransmit the error. Putting aside the political implications of passively accepting (mis)information, ramifications for phenomenographic methodologies’ empiric model exist. On one hand, it may be argued that a subject’s assumption about a phenomenon remains part of their understanding of it, whether the assumption is demonstrably true or demonstrably false (Dahlin 1994:88, see also Dahlin 2007). As a result, subjects’ imagined or mistaken elements of a phenomenon are an accurate component of the content of their thinking and their experiences of phenomena (Ashworth & Lucas 2000). This outcome is not without its benefits. As Anna Eckerdal and Michael Thuné note, knowledge of ‘inaccurate’ conceptions of phenomena are of potential use to educators and researchers (2005). From phenomenographic methodologies’ non-dualist perspective, it may also be assumed that there is no objectively-graspable reality to which accounts of phenomena may be compared (Marton 1981; Marton & Neuman 1996), therefore there is no basis on which to assess whether the accounts are ‘true’ or ‘false’.
The exception to this reasoning stems from phenomenographic methodologies’ aim to assess the totality of ways that a phenomenon is capable of being experienced (Marton 1986). By incorporating information that does not accurately reflect how subjects experience a phenomena and asserting that subjects do have the capacity to experience it in that way, it may be said that the methodologies’ attempted representation is inaccurate. For instance, a subject may imagine and assert that a phenomenon may be experienced in some way by other subjects. If the subject is mistaken, and no other subject actually does have the capacity to experience the phenomenon that way, should this be recorded as a way of experiencing the phenomenon?
The capacity to produce a reality where such alleged representations are possible suggests the irrational, not in the pejorative sense that it lacks logic, but in the sense that the ways of experiencing being produced may, as Richardson notes (1999), not be grounded in empiricism. Marton and Booth concede the point when suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies’ validity claim is made only in relation to the data gathered and that determining whether subjects possess the capacity to experience phenomena in the ways of experiencing identified ‘falls outside phenomenography proper’ (1997:136; see also åkerlind 2005a). This has subsequent implications for the subject position. Given that none of the subjects have, by necessity, experienced a phenomenon in the ways they allegedly have the capacity to, is there any need for the subject? This question will be addressed later in the thesis, when Baudrillard’s contention that simulations produce empiric models that are ‘nothing more than operational’ (1988) is discussed. In relation to the point currently being discussed, the observation supports this thesis’s characterisation of phenomenographic methodologies as achieving simulation rather than representation.
The absence of ideal or negative instances
Baudrillard associates the demise of rationality with the absence of a structure that can provide the capacity for measurement. His contention that, ‘the real…no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance’ (1988a :167) extends the non-positivist theme that, with no capacity for objectively grasping reality, there is no basis on which to establish the accuracy of representation. Baudrillard suggests that it is not accurate representation that is at stake—he has already concluded that this is impossible—but the rationality of the real. Considering the ways that phenomenographic methodologies may be understood to remove ideal or negative instances from their simulations provides a context for interpreting the relationship Baudrillard draws between those instances and rationality. It develops this thesis’s argument that phenomenographic methodologies achieve simulation and extends awareness of the methodologies’ empiric models and their influence on the reality presented through their results.
Phenomenography’s non-dualist ontological assumptions and processes prohibit the positioning of an empiric ideal (Marton 1981). As Säljö notes, it is not possible to prove that a phenomenographic methodology’s categories of description are accurate or superior to another (1988:45 in Sandberg 1997; åkerlind 2002). Baudrillard’s suggestion that the real is no longer measured against an ideal does not contradict my assertion that phenomenographic methodologies manifest an idealised subject position. The idealised subject is ideal in that it that exhibits the capacity to experience a phenomenon in all of the ways the constituting phenomenographic methodology identifies. Phenomenographic methodologies do not attempt to measure the real against this ideal subject; as has been shown, their assumptions and processes prohibit comparison between the simulations they produce and the original subjects that provide the data from which these simulations are generated (Hazel et al 1997; Barnacle 2005). The methodologies also do not exhibit a predictive (and, therefore, falsifiable) capacity in relation to individual external subjects’ accounts of phenomena. Their aim of generating potentialities rather than actualities problematises attempts at measuring subjects’ accounts: given the methodologies’ demonstrated capacity to incorporate non-verifiable or false assumptions into the ways of experiencing, there can be no hierarchical assumption that it is logical or preferable for subjects to exhibit as many of them as possible. Furthermore, there is no assertion that subjects actually experience the phenomenon in the ways identified (Marton & Booth 1997). As a result, it may be said that the ideal subject described in this thesis does not provide a scale against which the real may be measured.
Using ways of experiencing as the basic interpretive unit (Dunkin 2000) removes the possibility of negative instances from phenomenographic methodologies’ simulations. Svensson (1997:163) associates this with the decision to describe knowledge in qualitative rather than quantitative terms. Abstracting from Marton’s recent aligning of phenomenographic methodologies with variation theory (Marton & Pang 2002; Pang 2003; Marton, Runesson & Tsui 2004), a way of experiencing may be understood as a variable that is invoked in a relational and structural sense. Interpreting and categorising by variable diminishes the specificity of subjects’ accounts of experience to the extent that the distinction between opposing viewpoints is collapsed into categories that exhibit an absence of polarity. Following Gane’s reading of Baudrillarian subject-object relations, the process of fragmenting the relationship between subject and object into autonomous zones ‘tends to neutralise these zones as sites of potential contradiction’ (1991:28-29). This may be seen when considering the way phenomenographic methodologies would interpret two subjects who express different ideas about the size of a phenomenon. Although one subject may state that the object is big and the other that it is small, both subjects may be said to exhibit a way of experiencing the phenomenon that involves an apprehension of its size. The ‘size’ category of description will collocate opinions that differ in the content of their perception because the methodology establishes ‘size’ as the variable structuring both subjects’ accounts of the phenomenon. Collocating these divergent statements in a single category of description has the effect of collapsing the distinction between them: an expressed perception that an object is big becomes equivalent to one that it is small. Categorising by variable, and evidencing the resulting categories with contradictory accounts, collapses the results’ polarity and removes the possibility of constituting a negative instance using a phenomenographic methodology.
It may be argued that phenomenographic methodologies present ways of experiencing in the form of binary dyads that create the potential for negative instances to occur. For instance, it could be asked whether subjects experience a topic phenomenon according to a specific way of experiencing or not. As the ways of experiencing are only potentialities, however, a subject who fails to express a conception that may be interpreted as involving this way of experiencing does not negate it; they only fail to exhibit that way of experiencing. If none of the subjects interviewed using a phenomenographic methodology expressed a way of experiencing, it would not exist within the results; in not existing, it could not be a negative instance of some other extant way of experiencing. Attempts to establish a negative instance, for instance by engaging in ‘narrative incitement’ strategies (Gubrium & Holstein 1997:153) that prompt subjects by asking them whether they apprehend or experience a phenomenon in a certain way contradict the tenets of phenomenographic methodologies’ experiential focus (Bowden 2005:30). From a variation theory perspective, asking subjects if they experience a phenomenon in a certain way forces them to exhibit the capacity to do so, even if they state that they do not experience the phenomenon in that way and had not done so previously. Conceivable ways that a subject could offer a negative instance would be if they expressed an inability to answer or understand the question. If this did occur, the categories of description and outcome space, which are intended to represent the ways of experiencing, would not exhibit any record, as they do not function to present ways that phenomena are not experienced (Dahlin 2007). As a result, it may be concluded that negative instances of ways of experiencing cannot be identified generated using phenomenographic methodologies.
Attempting to replicate phenomenographic methodologies’ results with the intent of confirming the existence of previously-identified ways of experiencing will also not achieve negative instances. As phenomena are constituted during the methodologies’ operations, and outcome spaces are understood as synonyms for the relevant phenomena (Marton & Neuman 1996; Marton 2000), methodologies that produce different ways of experiencing must be understood as constituting different phenomena: a replica phenomenographic study that does not generate one of the ways of experiencing the original study produced is therefore constituting a different phenomenon. Dahlin (2007) alludes to the point when discussing the implications of non-dualist ontology for learning: ‘if one’s consciousness of the world changes…then the world itself, what one consider to be reality, must also change… both the self and the world are constituted in a new way’ (2007:339; see also Taylor 1993). Consequently, it would appear that phenomenographic methodologies produce simulations that have no capacity to evidence a negative instance. Neither the ways of experiencing nor the categories of description that seek to contextualise and evidence them are directly negatable within or between phenomenographic methodologies. The absence of rationality Baudrillard associates with this situation is visible through the previously-cited example that demonstrates phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity to generate models of empiric encounters in which the ‘same’ object may be both big and small at the same time.
A way of operating
Baudrillard suggests that, with ideal and negative instances absent, reality is reduced to being ‘operational’ (1988a :167). For Baudrillard, this operationality is what remains once rationality and the capacity to generate meaning are removed from the empiric condition. He conflates his idea with the sense that encounters between subject and object may persist through the coding and decoding rituals governing their encounters, even when the external referents and meaning structures to which they pertain are absent. These rituals create the illusion that encounters between elements remain meaningful, obscuring the revelation that reality is absent and that all that remains are simulations of those encounters.
Baudrillard’s notion of operationality would seem analogous to the hyperreality that phenomenographic methodologies present through their indirect objects. Through their relational ontology and use of ways of experiencing to depict empiric encounters, the outcome spaces do not convey or consign any meaning or value upon subject or object. In mapping the (alleged) dimensions that have the potential to vary during encounters between ideal subjects and panoptic objects, phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to reflect the coding and decoding rituals their subjects employ when encountering an object, not a record of a specific encounter between those objects. This is appropriate, as no instance of the newly-constituted subject and object encountering each other may be identified. As Ekeblad and Bond describe, phenomenographic methodologies produce ‘the span of generative possibilities for relating with the phenomenon’ (Ekeblad & Bond 1994:155); they reflect a set of coding operations, presenting ‘a complex of aspects of the way that the experience of the phenomenon in question has been expressed’ (Marton & Booth 1997:125) or ‘the structures of awareness, which people constitute from the world of their experience’ (Entwistle 1997:127). In relation to the categories of description, where specific accounts of empiric encounters are allegedly reproduced (Dunkin 2000), the collation of potentially contradictory accounts and descriptions prohibit the emergence of a determinate object. Phenomenographic methodologies’ indirect objects are operationally-oriented simulations of what may happen during an empiric encounter between panoptic object and idealised subject, not a representation of a specific empiric encounter based in reality. As a result, the categories of description and outcome space ‘aim to be generalisable across individuals, time, space and psychological action’ (Burns 1994:72). In the context of postmodern attacks on metanarratives (Lyotard 1984 ), Butler’s previously-cited reading of hyperreality as a potentiality (1999:25) helps account for phenomenographic methodologies’ generation of operational models of empiric encounters, rather than representations of extant encounters, subjects, and objects. This understanding supports the reading of phenomenographic methodologies’ results as hyperreal.
Imitation, reduplication and parody
Baudrillard diagnoses operationality as an aspect of the contemporary empiric condition. He develops his reading of the condition when proposing that there ‘is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. [There] is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself’ (1988a :167). In relation to the demise of imitation and reduplication, this thesis has shown how subjects’ empiric records are not imitated or reduplicated in phenomenographic methodologies; instead, they are transformed into simulations of empiric encounters through being detached from the original context of subjects and their direct objects and attributed to the relationship between a pair of newly-constituted subject and object positions. In relation to the absence of parody, phenomenographic methodologies’ demonstrated failure to distinguish between subjects’ ‘true’ and ‘false’ accounts of empirical encounters extends to an inability to apprehend accounts of experience that parody empiric encounters. In Baudrillard’s example of a parodied bank robbery (1988a ), even if the subject performing the event announces that they are only acting out a parody, the contemporary order cannot distinguish between or moderate its responses to this parody and a ‘real’ bank robbery. Similarly, under phenomenographic methodologies’ variation-oriented interpretive processes, a subject who imitates or parodies an empiric encounter will be treated as through they are providing ‘true’ evidence of ways of experiencing. As has been shown, phenomenographic methodologies’ simulations, like Baudrillard’s reading of the contemporary empiric condition, are ‘beyond true and false, beyond equivalences, beyond the rational distinctions upon which function all power and the social stratum’ (1988a :178). They collocate data that indicates phenomena are, for example, both big and small, presenting results that cannot be proved, disproved, or replicated. The operationality of these results—effectively, their capacity to simulate empiric encounters—is described below.
Replacing the real
Baudrillard’s contention that signs of the real replace the real itself under contemporary empiric conditions may be applied literally to phenomenographic methodologies’ simulation develops the operational theme. Each way of experiencing is conceived as a sign for a qualitatively different operational aspect of an empiric encounter. In the sense that ‘representation starts from the principle that the sign and the real are equivalent’ (Baudrillard 1988a :170), phenomenographic methodologies assume that discursive representation functions as a series of signs that offer unmediated access to the reality of subjects’ empiric records (Hasselgren & Beach 1996; Säljö 1997). Interpreting this discursive representation through the research object substitutes the signs of an experience—the discursive formulations the methodologies assume reflects what has been experienced—for the real experience. In this way, the signs of the real replace the real itself as the focal point of attention. This understanding extends Säljö’s view that phenomenographic methodologies study what people say—the signs they employ to represent their experience under certain conditions—rather than what they experience (1997). Within the phenomenographic literature, arguments advanced in favour of constructing categories of description with exclusive attention to interview transcripts (Entwistle 1997; Barnacle 2005; Bowden 2005; Green 2005) compound the methodologies’ shift in focus from reality to sign. As shown above, the ways of experiencing and categories of description do not achieve or intend a representation of a specific real, but the identification of a set of signs that will allegedly vary when the real is encountered. Applying Baudrillard’s reading of the absence of reality to phenomenographic methodologies’ indirect object, these collated signs are tools used to simulate the presence of extant subjects, objects, and empiric encounters. They are an alibi for reality; signs that dissimulate that reality (the constituent parts of the assumed relational ontologic fields the phenomenographic methodologies’ indirect objects allegedly present) is absent.
Changing empiric conditions
Having raised the relationship between phenomenographic methodologies and contemporary empiric conditions, the final section of this chapter examines how the methodologies may be argued to contribute to, reflect, and ultimately create the possibility of changing those conditions. It demonstrates how phenomenographic methodologies’ simulations exhibit a capacity to influence reality through their substitution for and subsequent adoption in reality. An additional argument is advanced that while phenomenographic methodologies achieve simulation, they also provide a context in which the assumptions and processes that facilitate that simulation may be observed. An awareness that simulatory processes are operating destabilises them by undermining the illusion that they capture and reflect reality. Challenging the assumptions on which phenomenographic methodologies seek to access reality encourages them to evolve. If the ontological assumptions that underpin the method, and the processes that action them, are improved, phenomenographic methodologies’ potential capacity to engage reality will increase, limiting the proliferation of simulation. Increasing skepticism about phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes and their relation to reality will lead to increased skepticism about what is known of contemporary empiric conditions. This may be considered a precondition for achieving social change (Agger 1991) of the kind that the phenomenographic literature suggests its methodologies enable (Marton 1986; Booth 1997; Bowden 2000b; Dall’Alba 2000).
Perfect descriptive machines
As a preliminary point, Baudrillard’s description of ‘present-day simulators’ in the essay “Simulation and simulacra” (1988a ) is notably similar to the function and goals the phenomenographic literature ascribes to phenomenographic methodologies. Baudrillard describes contemporary simulators as ‘perfect descriptive machine[s] which provide all the signs of the real and short-circuit all its vicissitudes’. He suggests that they ‘try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models’ (1988a :167), concluding that the empirical condition they produce will be ‘a programmed micro-cosm, where nothing can be left to chance…a universe purged of every threat to the senses’ (1983d :62). These descriptions exhibit a thematic similarity to phenomenographic methodologies’ characteristics and assumed goals; in particular, the aim of describing ‘the totality of ways in which people experience, or are capable of experiencing, the object of interest’ (Marton & Booth 1997:121) to produce a ‘synonym’ of some aspect of reality (Marton 2000), including the reality of the experienced world: the description of outcome spaces as synonyms connotes that they present a perfect sign, one that achieves a representation of all of the ways the phenomenon may be experienced. It implies a totalising—and, therefore, micro-cosmic and threat purging—simulation of reality.
For phenomenographic methodologies, the most significant element of Baudrillard’s description of modern day simulators is the suggestion that they try to make the real coincide with their simulation models (1988a ). This observation forms part of Baudrillard’s broader theme that images and simulations detach themselves from reality and seek to occlude or replace it. Baudrillard locates the manipulation of reality as part of his second phase of the image, where it masks and perverts its referents (1988a ). This manipulation exceeds the distorted representations of reality and the constitution of new subjects and objects charted earlier in this thesis, suggesting a direct capacity for simulatory machines to influence extant subjects and objects, in other words, to influence reality itself.
Eleanor Walsh’s exegesis of the construction/discovery dichotomy within phemenography (1994; Bruce 1997) suggests a need for two accounts of the ways that phenomenographic methodologies manipulate reality to coincide with their models. Walsh argues that a construction perspective attributes phenomenographic methodologies’ findings to the relationship between researchers and their data (1994). She suggests that ‘researcher[s] follows certain procedures, observe[s] certain principles, and ha[ve] a sense of control over the data…where the data conflicts with the expert’s or the researcher’s preferred framework, the framework, rather than the data, will take precedence in developing a description’ (1994:21). This description reflects Baudrillard’s belief that simulatory processes try to make the real (in this case, the data attended to as part of a phenomenographic study) conform to an extant framework or map. It suggests that phenomenographic methodologies allow aspects of reality to be selectively presented to accord with their models. A more nuanced approach to the construction perspective would still suggest that phenomenographic methodologies tend to identify and privilege aspects of the real that accord with pre-existing models of empiric encounters (Webb 1996; Sorva & Malmi 2007): methodological recommendations to define topic phenomena clearly (Bowden 2005) and ensure that all interviewees are describing the ‘same’ phenomenon (åkerlind 2005b:113) indicate that a pre-existing model of the direct object from the researcher’s perspective exists and that subjects are assumed to be referring to this object during the data-gathering phase. Neuman is most clear on this point, writing that, ‘a detailed analysis is presented of the phenomenon as it is experienced by the researcher…a clear definition of the phenomenon to be studied, as experienced by the researcher, is of great importance’ (1997:63-7). As has been shown, the problem with this approach is that the researcher’s preconceived object may not exist (or exist in substantially different forms) in subjects’ lifeworlds (Ashworth & Lucas 2000). Phenomenographic methodologies create the capacity for researchers to selectively determine relevant data from subjects’ accounts and privilege that data with the capacity to confer meaning upon their understanding of the topic phenomenon. This facilitates manipulation of the real by marginalising some aspects of the empiric accounts provided and selectively attributing the capacity to confer meanings to other aspects. It manipulates the ‘reality’—the subjects’ accounts of their empiric encounters—to which the methodologies attend. As a result, the reality that is constructed—constructed in much the same sense as Baudrillard’s reference to physicists ‘inventing a new particle each month’ (1990:13 in Genosko 1994:44)—and which the methodologies present as representing aspects of reality exhibits a tendency to coincide with the methodologies’ models of empiric encounters and the elements that constitute them. As Ashworth and Lucas note in a brief aside, those aspects of the accounts of empiric encounters that do not conform to the researcher’s preconceived model are not presented, obscuring their existence.
Walsh’s reading of the discovery perspective, which assumes that conceptions and ways of experiencing exist within the research object independently of the analytic framework that uncovers them (Walsh 1994; Bruce 1997) exhibits a similar, though less immediately-visible, capacity for selective attention to and manipulation of the real that phenomenographic methodologies present. Walsh’s discovery perspective assumes a capacity to bracket prior experience and achieve some atheoretical objective grasp of reality. This capacity is contested from poststructuralist and postmodern perspectives (Agger, 1991; Best & Kellner 1991) and suggests a degree of correspondence between phenomenographic methodologies and phenomenologic research orientations that has been rejected in the phenomenographic literature (Marton 1986; Uljens 1993; Hasselgren & Beach 1997). Suggesting that conceptions or ways of experiencing have an independent existence ignores the ontologic assumptions that frame and define the elements—subject and object—and the nature of the relationship between them as phenomenographic methodologies hypothesise it. The sense in which the accounts of empiric encounters are manipulated is based on an awareness of the discrepancy between the direct object that subjects experience and may describe and the attribution of the discovered conceptions to the newly-constituted object. As shown in the previous chapter’s discussion of the move from direct to panoptic objects, the data suggested to harbour objective and independent conceptions is subjected to a manipulative process that transfers the meaning it confers upon one object position to another. The conceptions may have an independent existence, however, they are expressed in relation to the subject’s direct object. Attributing them to the panoptic object manipulates their deployment in the ‘reality’ of the subjects’ accounts of their empiric encounters.
Following these observations, the argument advanced in this thesis is that, irrespective of whether researchers adopt a construction or discovery perspective, phenomenographic methodologies’ initial assumptions and one-sided meaning-making processes create the conditions under which data that coincides with their ontological models of subjectivity, objectivity, and the relationship between the two is gathered and presented. Phenomenographic methodologies’ processes exercise a manipulative effect from their earliest stages of attending to reality. From a practical perspective, the phenomenographic interview that generates the data assumed to exhibit aspects of reality is produced according to the methodologies’ model of a successful interview. It aims to elicit variation (Bruce 1994; Francis 1996; åkerlind 2005a), has specific characteristics that differentiate it from other interviews (Bruce 1994; Francis 1996), and is planned in advance (Bowden 2000b; Dunkin 2000; Dortins 2002). These factors shape the reality of the empiric encounter between researcher and subject with the intent of ensuring that the data it generates will coincide with phenomenographic methodologies’ models. The subsequent analysis phase deploys assumptions about what sort of data can confer meaning on the phenomenon. It identifies and attends to only that type of data—frequently that which is capable of being verbalised and transcribed (Hazel et al 1997; Barnacle 2005)—obscuring elements of reality that do not exhibit the desirable attributes. This delimits the reality to which phenomenographic methodologies attend: the data privileged with conferring meaning upon the topic phenomenon is preordained not to exceed the initial assumptions about what may be presented. Like the contemporary empiric conditions Baudrillard describes in “Simulacra and simulations”, the methodologies generate and present events and information that ‘are inscribed in advance in…decoding and orchestration rituals’ and that are ‘anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences’ (1988a :179). The object is defined as a function of the structured code—the methodologies’ signifying practices and ontologic assumptions—that precedes them (Grace 2000:8).
Phenomenographic methodologies’ shaping of the real to coincide with their models is indirectly evidenced by their tendency to produce similar number of ways of experiencing phenomena. Although åkerlind (2005a) suggests she has experienced phenomena of different degrees of complexity—as measured by number of categories of description—she notes that this ‘is an issue that [she] ha[s] not seen discussed elsewhere’ (2005a:67). Phenomenographic methodologies’ generally produce between three and five categories of description to represent the ways of experiencing they have identified (Hawke 1993:10; Säljö 1988). One way of interpreting this is to hypothesize that the presence of some moderating influence is encouraging uniformity. As William Macfie points out in relation to historical causality, despite the absence of a consensus model of causation that identifies some fundamental nature or principle, contemporary studies of historical events generally produce models of causation that are divided into similar numbers of strands (2006). This infers that different events in different époques and locations have causes that exhibit a uniform divisibility. The alternative hypothesis Macfie proposes is that this consistent number of causal strands reflects the framework of analysis and cultural/discursive parameters surrounding the analysis. Relating Macfie’s critique to phenomenographic methodologies contests the possibility that all phenomena may be experienced in a similar number of ways. Marton’s contention that, ‘when investigating people’s understanding of various phenomena, concepts, and principles, we repeatedly found that each phenomenon, concept, or principle can be understood in a limited number of qualitatively different ways’ (1986:30-31; Renström, Andersson, & Marton 1990; Burns 1994) potentially reflects the methodologies’ influence on the ways of experiencing identified rather than the ontologic relationship between subject and object. An alternative formulation of Marton’s hypothesis would be that using a phenomenographic methodology to investigate people’s understanding of various phenomena repeatedly identifies (or generates) a limited number of qualitatively different ways of experiencing. Considering this from a Baudrillarian perspective suggests that phenomenographic methodologies exhibit a tendency to manipulate the reality to which they attend and present so that it coincides with their models. Such manipulation reflects a constructive urge forming part of a broader drive to establish order from the disorder of contemporary empiric conditions (Rojek 1993:121) that may be argued to reflect phenomenographic methodologies’ needs for discrete subjects and objects more than an attempt to accurately represent reality.
Representation, reality, and maps
A significant implication of phenomenographic methodologies’ shaping of reality to coincide with their empiric models is that, as Baudrillard points out, ‘the sovereign difference’ between representation and reality disappears (1988a :166). This exceeds the collapse of meaning identified earlier in this thesis, as it marks what Baudrillard describes as the third phase of the image: the emergence of an entity that masks the absence of reality and its connection to the alleged representation. In relation to the metaphor Baudrillard invokes at the start of “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a ), and the terminology Marton adopts in the phenomenographic literature, the ‘map’ of ways of experiencing diverges from the empiric reality it originally sought to represent. Examining how this ‘map’ of reality begins to distort subjects’ apprehension of reality so that they perceive the map itself as reality demonstrates a practical way that phenomenographic methodologies’ simulations contribute to achieving and propagating the hyperreality they present through their results.
Baudrillard’s use of a cartographic metaphor parallels Marton’s description of phenomenographic methodologies ‘mapping the qualitatively different ways in which people experience, conceptualise, perceive, and understand various aspects of, and phenomena in, the world around them’ (1986:31). The reference to mapping is repeated within the phenomenographic literature (Säljö 1988; Dall’Alba 1997; Hasselgren and Beach 2000; åkerlind 2002; Bowden 2005) and, more broadly, has a history of usage in pedagogic theory (Dewey 1902). Baudrillard uses a Jorge Luis Borges fable to introduce his argument that simulation encourages subjects to apprehend models of reality rather than reality itself. In Baudrillard’s recounting of the tale, a map becomes so detailed that it covers the land it is intended to represent, obscuring the area beneath it. While Borges’s story eventually allows the topography to exceed the map, Baudrillard’s vision of the contemporary empirical condition sees the map successfully obscuring subjects’ view of the terrain, leading them along paths that increasingly deviate from reality. Eventually, there is nothing beneath the map; simulation has not only obscured but reshaped and ultimately replaced the empiric field. The territory that subjects are experiencing does not have a referential basis in reality; it has become reality.
Studies employing phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to evidence practical examples of the capacity to produce simulations that distort and replace reality in this way. Seeking to justify phenomenographic methodologies’ focus upon ways of experiencing, Marton suggests that, ‘for a teacher who is dealing with the power aspect of society in the classroom it might, for instance, be useful…to know the possible ways in which his or her students think about power’ (1981:168; see also Booth 1997). Marton is proposing the use of a phenomenographic methodology-produced map of the ways of experiencing ‘power’ as a pedagogic resource. Potentially, teachers will ‘believe’ or endorse the phenomenographic methodology’s definition of ‘power’ and the ways students may experience it by designing their teaching activities and strategies based upon the simulations the methodologies present. In turn, the teacher’s students will assimilate the lessons, learning to distinguish between the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of experiencing power but also assimilating the entire simulation because even the ‘wrong’ ways of experiencing are conceived as ‘real’ possibilities. As a result, the simulated ways of experiencing ‘power’ become manifested by real subjects; Baudrillard’s vision of the map preceding the territory has been achieved through structuration. Although phenomenographic methodologies’ pedagogic domain heightens the pertinence of this example, the principle extends to all fields of sociological enquiry. Using phenomenographic methodologies to generate simulations of phenomena and ways of experiencing them accelerates progress towards hyperreality by influencing subjects’ understanding of reality’s empiric possibilities.
Context as counter-argument
A more optimistic way of reading phenomenographic methodologies is to consider that they provide a context in which simulation and hyperreality may be observed to occur. Unlike Baudrillard’s reading of the media’s operations (1981b ; see also Merrin 2005), phenomenographic methodologies do not seek to obscure their simulatory assumptions and processes. They are necessarily specific about the steps involved in generating what they present, addressing assumptions directly, as may be seen when Marton and Neuman commence a chapter on phenomenography by stating that their aim is to ‘make the ontological assumptions underlying phenomenography explicit’ (1996:315). Employing Marton’s gloss of variation theory—that there is no discernment without variation (Marton & Booth 1997; Pang 2003)—it may be said that identifying these ontological assumptions infers their capacity to vary. This establishes their contestability: ‘assumptions can be articulated and subjected to criticism from the scientific community, they can be defended modified, or abandoned, in response to criticism’ (Longino 1989:266 cited in Burns 1994:74). Where ontological assumptions are contestable, it follows that understandings of the contemporary empiric condition derived from them may also be challenged. In this sense, phenomenographic methodologies may be said to combat the proliferation of hyperreality by increasing the capacity to observe and contest the assumptions that enable simulation and extending the grounds for skepticism about the empiric encounters they portray.
In a similar vein, phenomenographic methodologies’ descriptions of their processes for minimising bias and interpretive influence (Sandberg 1997; Dunkin 2000; Patrick 2000) may be read as further revealing the mechanisms that facilitate their simulations. They may be described as ‘the representational devices used by society and the sociologist to convey the image of objective (or subjective) reality’ (Gubrium & Holstein 1997:76). In highlighting the use of these devices, phenomenographic methodologies evidence the interpretive gap, the potential difference between the accounts of experience they gather and the abstractions they provide. In addition to the effect described in the previous paragraph, this removes simulations’ constitutive illusion that they are representing reality. Extrapolating from Baudrillard’s discussion of illusion in The Perfect Crime (1996), a simulation recognised as such is no longer a simulation. In failing to give the appearance of producing a ‘real’, the attempted simulation cannot achieve its goal of replacing reality; it is understood to produce only an abstraction. As a result, the simulation can no longer exist. This reasoning accords with Butler’s (1999:23) contention that simulation is a way of removing illusions about the world. It reinforces the sense that by providing a context in which simulation may be observed to occur, phenomenographic methodologies help to limit the proliferation of hyperreality.
Coding representation and creating change
Another way of optimistically framing phenomenographic methodologies’ simulation and hyperreality-enabling characteristics is to suggest that the methodologies, like Baudrillard’s early work (Poster 1981), attempt to provide access to the codes governing representations of empirical encounters for the purpose of achieving beneficial social outcomes. As Mark Poster suggests, once a structured code of representation has been revealed, ‘an argument could be developed that radical change must focus on the code, develop a practice to dismantle it and a strategy to create a new order’ (1981:468). The phenomenographic literature evidences an apposite theme of identifying the variables structuring accounts of empirical encounters as a prerequisite to achieving change. Marton explains phenomenographic methodologies’ utility on the basis that ‘a careful account of the different ways people think about phenomena may help uncover conditions that facilitate the transition from one way of thinking to a qualitatively “better” perception of reality’ (1986:33). He goes on to suggest that, ‘if we understand the relationship that exists between an individual and what he or she is trying to learn, our pedagogical opportunities are greatly expanded’ (1986:43-44). Similarly, Bowden advocates a form of ‘developmental phenomenography’, which ‘seeks to find out how people experience some aspect of their world, and then to enable them or others to change they way their world operates’ (2000:3). Booth (1997) and Dall’Alba (2000) emphasise that understanding others’ ways of experiencing phenomena creates the possibility of change, either for oneself or others.
Noting Noel Entwistle’s contention that phenomenographic methodologies produce ‘analyses [that] are readable and accessible to non-specialists’ (Entwistle 1997:129), it may be argued that revealing the codes that govern the representation of empiric encounters reflects a strategy of encouraging subjects to comprehend and access meaning making processes themselves. This argument extends Säljö’s emphasis upon phenomenographic methodologies’ discursive basis, which identifies experience as a function of internalising shared criteria for codifying events in particular contexts (1997). From this perspective, separating and defining the variables according to which empirical encounters are encoded may be seen as a preliminary step towards manipulating them. Although Baudrillard disagrees with the value of this approach, providing subjects with access to this knowledge potentially redistributes the capacity to determine meaning from traditional custodians—institutions, the media, and political parties—to a broader demographic. For phenomenographic methodologies, the value of this reading is that it suggests their effects are paralleling the development of contemporary empiric conditions, particularly those related to the effect of information communication technologies and the media on subjects’ capacity to engage with and shape discursive practices (McLuhan 1962, 1967). In the context of Baudrillard’s suggestion that the media produce ‘speech without response’ and reduce subjects to passive receivers of information through an implicitly value-laden structure (1981 :173), phenomenographic methodologies’ results—if not their analytic processes—may be read as attempting to provide a way to redress the exclusion from the meaning-making processes that subjects experience. Giving subjects access to the codes that govern simulation exceeds attempts to simply democratise the dissemination function.
In the context of Baudrillard’s later work concerning subjects’ occupation of a media-defined reality (1995)—the implications of which he sees as more serious than occupying a media-dominated one (Turner 1993:81)—phenomenographic methodologies’ treatment of the subject and their relationship to the object may be read as imbricating the possibilities that hyperreality offers. Experiences that may ordinarily be unavailable to subjects for social reasons are made available in hyperreality (King 2000); the proliferation and proximity of these experiences and images influence subjects’ perceptions of the world (Crocket 2005) and potentially create freer subjects (Kellner 1989:165). In a similar sense, phenomenographic methodologies constitute an idealised subject, one that exhibits the capacity to experience objects in all the ways the methodologies identify, challenging restrictive readings of the subject’s empiric possibilities. In this sense, they may be interpreted as adapting themselves to the hyperreal empiric condition. Less optimistically, emphasising the benefits of increased access to diverse perspectives may be understood to occlude a broader awareness of the limitations applied to the diversity being made available. As Säljö points out, ‘the prime interest of phenomenographic research (in Marton’s interpretation) is in finding and delimiting the variation in ways of experiencing reality’ (1997:175). This assumes that there are a limited number of ways of experiencing reality. The potential ramifications, as Denzin describes in a separate context, is that the ‘the field… [is] viewed as residing within the prevalent social images that mediate lived experience’ (1991:80). It suggests that phenomenographic methodologies may not only reproduce the discourse they study (Webb 1996), but establish it as a totalising set of empiric possibilities that are ultimately restrictive rather than empowering.
One way of resolving this problem is to suggest that, in proposing a finite set of ways of experiencing, phenomenographic methodologies create the possibility for change by providing a ‘map’ of reality that may be exceeded. As argued earlier in this thesis, under phenomenographic methodologies’ ontological assumptions, if a subject expresses a new way of experiencing a phenomenon, they are constituting a new phenomenon (Dahlin 2007) and becoming a new subject (in the sense that they are distinguishable from their previous incarnation) (Taylor 1993). As a result, a successful attempt to exceed the ways of experiencing proposed means that reality changes: the constituted record of assumed empiric possibilities is manipulated. This possibility grants subjects the capacity to achieve change, although it should be noted that the power to recognise the new way of experiencing remains in the hands of the persons or entities operating the phenomenographic methodologies.
The arguments made in this chapter demonstrate how Baudrillard’s theorising and analysis of contemporary empiric conditions may be used to refine and extend phenomenographic methodologies. Identifying that phenomenographic methodologies are engaged in a process of simulation refines them by accounting for many of the issues raised during the first chapter of this thesis. Applying Baudrillard’s definition of simulation, ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’(1988a :166), presents the move from direct to panoptic and indirect object as part of a process of generating a new ‘reality’. This acknowledges phenomenographic methodologies’ lack of external referents and accommodates the awareness that their results are not demonstrably empiric. It links the distinction between indirect objects’ idealised subject and object positions and the reality of individual subjects’ empiric encounters to a broader process where the new entities are detached from the reality they were initially constituted to represent. In this way, the reading encompasses phenomenographic methodologies’ focus on identifying potentialities and helps to account for related issues such as the absence of accepted reliability and validity measures.
In a similar sense, applying Baudrillard’s diagnosis of the precession of simulacra (1988a ) helps explain the temporal issues that problematise phenomenographic methodologies’ ability to achieve an experiential focus. It frames the issue as an effect of the simulation in which phenomenographic methodologies are engaged. This evades the difficulties of trying to achieve full phenomenological bracketing that Ashworth and Lucas (2000) and Dortins (2002) identify. It also informs discussions of the construction-discovery dichotomy that Walsh proposes (1994), revealing that both perspectives involve a model-oriented analytic phase that manipulates the reality allegedly being measured. Proposing a new function—simulation—and suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies have entered the age of precession removes the grounds for critiquing their results on the basis of flawed representation. The awareness that phenomenographic methodologies are simulating reality migrates discussion of their validity to a new dimension.
The chapter extends phenomenographic methodologies’ function by exploring the possibilities that simulation, and the provision of a context in which it may be observed to occur, creates. It argues that constituting new subject and object positions affords the methodologies a capacity to create and disseminate change. The idealised subject and panoptic object that phenomenographic methodologies generate are shown to exhibit increased empiric possibilities. This awareness exceeds the methodologies’ existing capacity to achieve change through the application of their results (Marton 1986). It shows that operating phenomenographic methodologies exerts an intrinsic capacity to manipulate the reality of subject-object relations. This advances the developmental and interventionist perspectives that Bowden (2000b, 2005) and Nita Cherry (2005) describe, enhancing phenomenographic methodologies’ capacity for political intervention. As the chapter explains, the benefit is an egalitarian assumption of mutual empiric capacity; the danger identified is that empiric possibilities are attributed to subjects who may not exhibit the capacity to experience them.
In advancing these points, the chapter achieves the thesis’s secondary goal of demonstrating how Baudrillard’s theorising and reading of contemporary empiric conditions can help to refine and extend qualitative research methods such as phenomenographic methodologies. While the first chapter’s reflexive examination is conducted without reference to a broader set of theoretic tools, the second chapter evidences the further insights that a Baudrillarian field of reference can inspire. Characterising phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces as hyperreal demonstrates how Baudrillard’s work provides a useful vocabulary for describing their characteristics. The discussion of phenomenographic methodologically-produced results’ lack of calibration, polarity, rationality, and ideal or negative instances uses Baudrillard’s reading of contemporary empiric conditions to offer a framework for exploring the effects of the assumptions and processes that generated them. As argued throughout the thesis, the improved understanding of phenomenographic methodologies’ function this yields increases their validity and helps to perpetuate their ongoing use: the new vocabulary and epistemologic framework locate and organise the strands of phenomenographic methodologies’ assumptions and processes into a cohesive whole that increases the communicability of their results and findings.
The chapter’s deployment of Baudrillard’s analysis of contemporary empiric conditions in “The system of objects” (1988b ) demonstrates another potential contribution by evidencing the need to update phenomenographic methodologies’ empiric model. Following Baudrillard, the chapter highlights the potential for independent contextual entities to confer meaning upon objects or phenomena. This is argued to problematise phenomenographic methodologies’ attribution of ways of experiencing to subject-object relations within a context (Marton & Booth 1997). The examples given demonstrate the difficulty of determining the parameters of phenomena under investigation, suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies afford researchers a unilateral capacity to determine phenomena’s external horizons in a way that is incompatible with the precepts of an experiential focus. The discussion is argued to reveal the instability of the meanings that phenomenographic methodologies generate and the fluidity of the subject-object relationships they present. The chapter complements this point by applying Baudrillard’s insights concerning the language of desire (1988b ) to demonstrate the potential meaninglessness of the language used to present the methodologies’ results as well as subjects’ records of their empiric encounters. This advances Säljö’s (1997) arguments concerning linguistic and social influence on phenomenographic methodologies’ data collection and analysis.
In these ways, Baudrillard’s concepts and theories are shown to provide a set of tools that can be used to refine and extend phenomenographic methodologies by proposing a new function and relationship with contemporary empiric conditions. Baudrillard’s work enhances phenomenographic methodologies’ epistemological bases by juxtaposing their assumptions and processes with a reflexively-analysed vision of contemporary empiric conditions. The avenues explored—that phenomenographic methodologies function to generate simulations and provide a context in which those simulations may be observed to occur—show that Baudrillard’s theories do not herald the end of qualitative and sociologically-oriented research tools, but facilitate their extension and persistence.
Conclusion And Bibliography
This thesis’s introduction cites Denzin: ‘we do not know how the meaning structures which are arising in the postmodern age find verification…how this information then enters and circulates within the real of the taken-for-granted’ (1986:202). The citation encapsulates much of the discussion that follows it. During the first chapter, the thesis provides an overview of the assumptions and processes according to which phenomenographic methodologies attempt to verify the meaning structures that arise from subjects’ empiric encounters. Reflexively examining the application of those assumptions and processes demonstrates that they create new meaning structures instead of verifying extant ones: as has been shown, new subject and object positions are established, between which new sets of relationships—meaning structures—are proposed. These elements are described as new because no instance of them may be found in the data from which they are constituted.
The logical and temporal problems that phenomenographic methodologies exhibit in their attempts to achieve an experiential focus would seem to affirm Denzin’s assessment that ‘we’ do not know how meaning structures are verified under contemporary conditions. They would also seem to match Baudrillard’s contention that sociological tools can never access the masses‘ understanding (1983b ). An important difference between the two perspectives prefaces the arguments this thesis makes concerning phenomenographic methodologies’ focus and function. Baudrillard’s reference restricts itself to knowledge of the meaning structures that the masses exhibit. His subsequent work goes on to make bolder claims concerning the nature or ‘reality’ of contemporary empiric conditions, but, in this instance, Denzin’s claim, which concerns all meaning structures arising in the postmodern age, appears the more expansive.
The observation is relevant to phenomenographic methodologies’ inability to achieve an experiential focus and identify subjects’ ways of experiencing phenomena. The main contention advanced during this thesis is that phenomenographic methodologies generate simulations; however, an alternative interpretation, canvassed early in the second chapter, is that operators of phenomenographic methodologies construct their own understanding, their own meaning structures, in relation to the phenomena they wish to investigate. From this perspective, the possibility of identifying the way meaning structures are verified is achievable. As the thesis points out, observing phenomenographic methodologies’ operation and the presentation of their findings in accordance with academic or sociologic convention demonstrates how meaning structures are circulated, verified, and made ‘real’. While phenomenographic methodologies’ narration is unreliable—they are presented as tools for examining others’ experiences and meaning structures, when this is not the case—the revision of their focus and function proposed in this thesis may be argued to address Denzin’s concerns, albeit as a byproduct of the argument that phenomenographic methodologies achieve simulation.
Denzin’s reference to verification organises a significant aspect of this thesis’s extension and revision of phenomenographic methodologies and their function. Phenomenographic methodologies—indeed, most sociologic tools (Savage & Burrows 2007)—do not exhibit a predictive capacity. The phenomenographic literature accounts for this on the grounds that the methodologies aim to generate a record of all the ways something may be experienced rather than a set of causal relationships between extant subjects and objects (Marton & Booth 1997; åkerlind 2002). This contention, as Dahlin (2007) shows, is largely unsupportable. As I have suggested, it also problematises the subject’s role within the methodologies’ analysis. Exacerbating the lack of predictive capacity, which would potentially create an opportunity for external verification, is the absence of consensus within the phenomenographic literature upon appropriate validity measures. These issues problematise phenomenographic methodologies’ function and pragmatic value, creating the impetus for the revised role proposed in this thesis.
Rather than proposing a predictive framework or validity measure that could be said to verify phenomenographic methodologies’ results, the thesis demonstrates how the methodologies’ assumptions and processes prohibit both. It offers a structural account, exceeding the phenomenographic literature’s account of the issue, which relates difficulties in establishing validity to the methodologies’ interpretive nature (Marton 1981, 1986; Svennson & Theman, 1983; Entwistle 1997). The distinction between phenomenographic methodologies’ idealised subjects and panoptic objects and extant subjects and their direct objects is shown to confirm and justify Marton and Booth’s contention that determining whether subjects actually exhibit the ways of experiencing those methodologies identify exceeds their remit (1997:136). The thesis points out that contrasting the properties of the methodologies’ subject and object positions with those of extant subjects and objects destabilises the relationship between the two: given that their properties are demonstrably different, on what grounds may conclusions drawn from one set be argued to represent or be attributable to the other? This issue suggests that phenomenographic methodologies are unable to perform their alleged function and produce communicably or demonstrably valid results within or beyond the parameters of their operations.
To account for this, the methodologies’ assumptions and processes are juxtaposed with Baudrillard’s analytic concepts and reading of contemporary empiric conditions. This develops a new perspective from which to assess the methodologies’ function and relation to the empiric encounters they allegedly represent. In the first instance, this is achieved by characterising phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces as hyperreal. The thesis shows how phenomenographic methodologies achieve this condition by isolating their data from external referents and removing the capacity for calibration, negative instances, polarity, and rationality from their processes and results. This revises phenomenographic methodologies’ claims to being empirically based (Marton 1986, 2000; Sandberg 1997; Svensson 1997; åkerlind 2002) showing instead how they achieve Baudrillard’s definition of simulation: ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (1988a :166). Evidencing the hyperreal nature of phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces, and the simulatory effect of their assumptions and processes, is one of the thesis’s key contributions. It provides a clearer understanding of the methodologies’ results and validity, presaging the direction of the revisions proposed to their function.
Denzin’s reference to the ‘real of the taken-for-granted’ may be said to orient a complementary strand of the thesis’s efforts to extend and revise phenomenographic methodologies’ focus and function. Applying Baudrillard’s concepts and analytic strategies, the thesis draws attention to the empiric model that phenomenographic methodologies may be said to ‘take for granted’ as the basis of their analysis. In the same sense that Baudrillard’s “The system of objects” (1988b ) challenges Marxist doctrine by showing how it cannot engage contemporary conditions of production and distribution, the thesis shows how phenomenographic methodologies’ analytic model, which identifies and attributes ways of experiencing a phenomenon based on an assumption that they are the result of a relationship between subject and object within a context, cannot adequately grasp and attribute the meaning structures arising under contemporary empiric conditions. As the thesis demonstrates, meaning may be attributed to an object by other elements within a context. It may also be expressed by subjects who may not have experienced—or be capable of experiencing—the object in that way. These issues problematise phenomenographic methodologies’ ability to delineate between the phenomena that subjects experience and the context in which meaning structures arise. The thesis draws particular attention to instances where agents may be shown to inculcate and attribute symbolic values to other phenomena within a context. The question raised is, on what grounds may it be said that a subject is experiencing one object or phenomena rather than another? The subsequent discussion supports the thesis’s contention that the parameters of phenomenographic methodologies’ panoptic objects are identified based upon researchers’ preconceived notions instead of an experiential focus. The point is also used to confirm the hyperreality of phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces, demonstrating how the symbolic values they incorporate exist independently of the empiric encounters that allegedly produce them. As the thesis illustrates, this creates the capacity for an absence of rationality within phenomenographic methodologies’ results.
The thesis uses Baudrillard’s insights to demonstrate how phenomenographic methodologies’ tendency to use subjects’ accounts of phenomena to access meaning structures creates the potential to develop analyses and attempted experiential foci using language that has no meaning. This contests the validity of a specific methodological practice—the use of ‘subjects’’ language in constructing categories of description—while querying whether, in reproducing meaningless language, phenomenographic methodologies may be argued to identify and verify exogenous meaning structures. Extending the previous paragraph’s attendance to the ‘real of the taken-for-granted’, this argument draws attention to the relationship between phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces and the empiric encounters they simulate.
Invoking Baudrillard’s reading of contemporary empiric conditions (1983d , 1998b ), the thesis develops the point by suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies’ simulations reproduce the meaninglessness of contemporary empiric encounters. Following Baudrillard’s analysis, this indicates that phenomenographic methodologies have collapsed into the social, manifesting rather than providing a means of grasping or observing contemporary empiric conditions. To support this argument, the thesis illustrates phenomenographic methodologies’ lack of critical distance, demonstrating how their assumptions and processes prohibit the meaning structures they identify from being verified within or between the methodologies. In this way, the methodologies’ findings are again shown to exhibit the characteristics of hyperreality: the absence of external referents, and a lack of capacity for calibration, negative instances, polarity, and rationality. This perspective complements the thesis’s proposal that phenomenographic methodologies be considered tools for facilitating simulations and understanding the conditions that encourage them to develop.
The identified lack of meaning and hyperreal characteristics of phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces is problematic in-so-far as it contests their original focus and function. The thesis offers one avenue for resolving the issue by invoking Baudrillard’s hypothesis that hyperreality is replacing reality (1983d ). This revises phenomenographic methodologies’ empiric model, removing the structural possibility of identifying discrepancies between the methodologies’ simulations and the contemporary empiric encounters of which they aim to provide knowledge. In hyperreality, there are potentially no fixed meaning structures attached to empiric encounters, and a limited relationship between ‘real’ empiric encounters and those that occur under hyperreal conditions. This highlights the assumption according to which significance is attributed to the discrepancies between phenomenographic methodologies’ categories of description and outcome spaces and what are thought to be extant meaning structures: the expectation that subject-object relations under contemporary empiric conditions are or should exhibit a set of meaning structures that is replicable and verifiable. The links Marton draws between phenomenographic methodologies and variation theory, in which he suggests that subjects attend only to aspects of experience that exhibit the capacity to vary (Marton & Pang 2002; Marton, Runesson, & Tsui 2004), is a useful tool for elaborating this perspective’s implications. Positioning subjects in an empiric environment where meaning structures are uniformly variant removes the possibility of establishing aspects of reality that are constant. The variation in meaning structures’ variability,in other words,the potential for them to vary or not to vary, is removed. Following Marton’s premise, this suggests the meaning structures themselves exceed subjects’ capacity for attendance. Where all meaning structures are detached from external referents, there will be no expectation—or possibility—of establishing a finite and totalising record of subject-object relations. As a result, the possibility of phenomenographic methodologies’ original focus and function is removed. The basic assumption concerning meaning structures and their relation to empiric encounters is problematised.
The further problem this line of argument creates is that the meaninglessness Baudrillard diagnoses as the contemporary empiric condition’s dominant characteristic extends to phenomenographic methodologies. Having proposed that the methodologies confirm Baudrillard’s reading of contemporary empiric conditions and generate simulations that are independent of their external referents, is there a point to their persistence? Have they, in Baudrillard’s parlance, imploded? One answer is that locating phenomenographic methodologies within Baudrillard’s reading of contemporary empiric conditions serves to illustrate a quandary in his theorising and its application to sociologic tools. Rather than using Baudrillard’s work to extend understandings of phenomenographic methodologies, the reverse may be practiced: the methodologies’ suggested function is to extend understandings of Baudrillard’s work. From this perspective, documents such as this thesis perform dual roles: advancing and evidencing phenomenographic methodologies’ revised function as well as advancing and evidencing Baudrillard’s theories.
The quandary that phenomenographic methodologies propose for Baudrillard’s theorising is linked to the broader question of their focus and function. In one sense, demonstrating the potential invalidity of phenomenographic methodologies’ results limits the proliferation of simulation and hyperreality. Following Butler’s reading (1999), in demonstrating the falsity of attempted representations and showing that they are simulations, ‘the real’ is defended because the erroneous assumption that it is being grasped and presented is removed. Maintaining a distinction between the methodologies’ results and reality prevents confusion between the map and its referents. At the same time, however, demonstrating that phenomenographic methodologies generate simulations asserts what Baudrillard terms the reality principle (1988a :171-2): highlighting false or flawed attempts at representation reinforces the belief that ‘reality’ exists, disguising the hyperreality of contemporary empiric conditions. Determining which of these possibilities to endorse would appear to hinge upon one’s assumptions about contemporary empiric conditions, assumptions that sociologic tools such as phenomenographic methodologies may have been expected to inform.
Without attempting to impose a conclusive reading of this issue—the indecidability of Baudrillard’s theories being part of their charm and, as shown in this discussion, their persistence-value—it may be noted that both perspectives retain a place for phenomenographic methodologies. Suggesting that phenomenographic methodologies are simulators assigns them a structural position within Baudrillard’s view of contemporary empiric conditions: they accelerate the proliferation of hyperreality, hastening the pace at which ‘the map’ detaches itself from reality. Observed as simulators, their role is to halt that proliferation. The nihilistic view that phenomenographic methodologies’ demonstrated inability to grasp extant subjects and objects renders them meaningless is accommodated by showing how evidencing false representation asserts the reality principle, disguising the hyperreal nature of contemporary empiric conditions and allowing those conditions to persist. At the same time, as manifestations of the social, phenomenographic methodologies help reveal some of the codes arising from or governing empiric encounters, even though their attachment to extant subjects and objects is transient. From each perspective, it may be argued that Baudrillard’s work facilitates phenomenographic methodologies’ extension, revision, and persistence. Contradicting assessments of his ‘nihilistic’ contribution, Baudrillard’s theorising contributes to an awareness of the context in which phenomenographic methodologies operate, to enhance the understanding that may be brought to bear upon the implications and applications of their methodological assumptions and processes, and to provide a vocabulary that can describe and help explain their results’ characteristics. Most importantly, engaging Baudrillard’s work helps phenomenographic methodologies shed light on empiric encounters by improving the awareness of meaning structures’ transience. This contradicts Denzin’s assertion that nothing is known of the meaning structures arising under contemporary empiric conditions. It presents an optimistic view of phenomenographic methodologies’, and Jean Baudrillard’s, future applications.
About the Author
Steven Farry has lived and worked in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France. He is currently based in Wellington, Australia, where he is researching the simulation and the functions of food in indigenous life writing. The author expresses his gratitude to Dr. Ian Woodward (Principal Supervisor of this thesis)
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1 – A decision has been made to pluralise the term ‘phenomenographic methodologies’ throughout this thesis because of the absence of an exclusive set of methodological practices (Ashworth & Lucas 2000; Green & Bowden 2005). Biörn Hasselgren and Dennis Beach (1997) identify five different context-based approaches to phenomenographic enquiry, concluding that no genuine consensus model of phenomenography exists. Other researchers distinguish between developmental and non-developmental phenomenography (Bowden 2000b) and between phenomenography as a research tool and as a research program (Svensson 1997). In addition to these divergent perspectives, phenomenographic methodologies are sometimes argued to imbricate other modes of qualitative investigation. Gloria Dall’Alba (2000) suggests that studies conducted with varying purposes and methods may be based upon phenomenographic principles, while Ruth Dunkin (2000) describes how adopting a phenomenographic research model does not preclude researchers from incorporating supplementary approaches into their analysis and interpretation.