WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Applying the Phenomenological Approach in Researching Mindanao Issues – Parts 3 and 4 Gail Ilagan

Part 3

Phenomenology is concerned with studying the experience of the individual and representing it from the point of view of the researcher. It is about “the researcher trying to make sense of the participant trying to make sense” of his experience (Smith, 2009). In so doing, the researcher gains insights into the complexity of the participant’s motivation and the behavior is put in its subjective context. By highlighting the peculiarities of this chosen case, the findings often put to question our normative assumptions about the social behavior under study.

Going back to the rebels of the 1980s, conventional wisdom had many of us attributing their rebellion to our exaggerated idea of the charismatic influence Gringo Honasan had over these soldiers. Many of those I interviewed did not like Honasan. They said they took part in those coup attempts 1) in defense of the military establishment and 2) in defense of the people.

We believe that RA 9262 is for the protection of women and children. I talked to women who hesitated to invoke the law when they could and I found that it was because they perceived it to work against protecting their children from hunger during the ten days when the husband was legally removed from the home. Instead of helping them resolve family disagreements, the BPO brought to them a whole new slew of hardships to contend with.

We assume that soldiers love war and actually go out looking for it. I found out the soldiers I talked to do not seek war. They go to war when they have to, but they would rather not.

We look at the IDPs as helpless victims. I found that at the height of their crisis, they drew on inner strength to actively hasten a return to stability and normalcy. They were victims, yes, but far from helpless.

Where then do these findings lead to, flying as they do in the face of what we have for so long believed? It would be imprudent to generalize the surprising experience of a few to be a pervading reality of the many. For surely, Honasan must have had fans among the 19802 rebels; some women must have had RA 9262 working in their favor; some soldiers probably seek combat situations; and some evacuees have committed suicide.

So why do this kind of research then when it would not lead to the discovery of the universal truth about human behavior?

We do it because the experience of one is no less valid and true than the experience of most others.  These findings make the reader think again. The experience of a few can exponentially increase our understanding of the collective circumstance, and within limits of reason, allow us to explore ways to alleviate personal distress and help our organizations and communities respond more appropriately to the needs of its members. Surfacing the marginal voices can bring renewed attention to the social behavior and open up questions on the appropriateness of the existing policy.

Part 4

Phenomenological research involves interviews, narratives, naturally occurring conversations, focus group discussions, written works, or participant observation, often in various combinations. In my practice, I use torya-torya, a culturally-appropriate method that allows me to draw information respectfully and with great ease following the principle of minimum structure and maximum depth. Questions are framed to be nonjudgmental, open-ended. Minimal prompts invite spontaneous narration, but this could only be possible when good rapport and a high degree of trust had been established.

Once you have the data from transcripts of interviews, conversations, and focus discussions, the fun begins. Add your own research log, audio recordings, and process observation notes. Triangulate with archival data, news reports, emails, letters, phone conversations and even text messages. Minimum structure and maximum depth at data gathering yields heaps of raw data. The job of the phenomenological researcher is to make sense of all of these.

Here’s what you do:

Read through the transcripts. In psychology, we mark by meaning units – that is, every time the flow of words shifts to another idea, we bracket that portion of the transcript. Assign tentative codes for remarkable meanings.

Once you have identified the key themes, write them down and post as headings on the wall. Now go back to the transcripts and pull out those statements that would fall under each theme. Copy them out, be sure to attribute its source, then post them directly under the appropriate heading. Keep trawling the transcripts until you would have exhausted these for exact quotes under each theme. When you would have completed your thematic sort, capture the resulting listing through a more permanent means of recording, like a word file in your computer.

Or you can go directly to your computer for this process. The cut-and-paste command comes most handy. You would in most likelihood end up with the same listings as when you followed the directions above.

My personal preference is still to go manual at this stage. Writing it out and locating them on the wall where I can see them gives me the luxury of immersing myself in the data, seeing the excerpt in relation to what was said before and after, and reflecting on the nuances of the articulation of the same idea by different voices.

Findings are reported according to the themes drawn, with direct quotes emphasizing points brought out in the respondents’ answers during the interview. Or the report could be vignettes of individual cases, such as a recent study done by Randolph Reserva on the heroes of Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro. In the MRCP terminal report, I began this section with the participants’ narration of their community experience of war, lifted from the transcript of their workshop reporting.

Discussion of the themes follows. In interpreting what was said, the researcher points out associations of thought and sentiment. The findings are put in dialogue with related literature – citing comparisons and contrasts or merely exemplifying. Insights inspired by the information, tentative theories and logical inferences are spelled out. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, FamilySociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also editor of Tambara, the university journal. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)

MINDAVIEWS
WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Applying the Phenomenological Approach in Researching Mindanao Issues – Parts 3 and 4
Gail Ilagan

Part 3

Phenomenology is concerned with studying the experience of the individual and representing it from the point of view of the researcher. It is about “the researcher trying to make sense of the participant trying to make sense” of his experience (Smith, 2009). In so doing, the researcher gains insights into the complexity of the participant’s motivation and the behavior is put in its subjective context. By highlighting the peculiarities of this chosen case, the findings often put to question our normative assumptions about the social behavior under study.

Going back to the rebels of the 1980s, conventional wisdom had many of us attributing their rebellion to our exaggerated idea of the charismatic influence Gringo Honasan had over these soldiers. Many of those I interviewed did not like Honasan. They said they took part in those coup attempts 1) in defense of the military establishment and 2) in defense of the people.

We believe that RA 9262 is for the protection of women and children. I talked to women who hesitated to invoke the law when they could and I found that it was because they perceived it to work against protecting their children from hunger during the ten days when the husband was legally removed from the home. Instead of helping them resolve family disagreements, the BPO brought to them a whole new slew of hardships to contend with.

We assume that soldiers love war and actually go out looking for it. I found out the soldiers I talked to do not seek war. They go to war when they have to, but they would rather not.

We look at the IDPs as helpless victims. I found that at the height of their crisis, they drew on inner strength to actively hasten a return to stability and normalcy. They were victims, yes, but far from helpless.

Where then do these findings lead to, flying as they do in the face of what we have for so long believed? It would be imprudent to generalize the surprising experience of a few to be a pervading reality of the many. For surely, Honasan must have had fans among the 19802 rebels; some women must have had RA 9262 working in their favor; some soldiers probably seek combat situations; and some evacuees have committed suicide.

So why do this kind of research then when it would not lead to the discovery of the universal truth about human behavior?

We do it because the experience of one is no less valid and true than the experience of most others.  These findings make the reader think again. The experience of a few can exponentially increase our understanding of the collective circumstance, and within limits of reason, allow us to explore ways to alleviate personal distress and help our organizations and communities respond more appropriately to the needs of its members. Surfacing the marginal voices can bring renewed attention to the social behavior and open up questions on the appropriateness of the existing policy.

Part 4

Phenomenological research involves interviews, narratives, naturally occurring conversations, focus group discussions, written works, or participant observation, often in various combinations. In my practice, I use torya-torya, a culturally-appropriate method that allows me to draw information respectfully and with great ease following the principle of minimum structure and maximum depth. Questions are framed to be nonjudgmental, open-ended. Minimal prompts invite spontaneous narration, but this could only be possible when good rapport and a high degree of trust had been established.

Once you have the data from transcripts of interviews, conversations, and focus discussions, the fun begins. Add your own research log, audio recordings, and process observation notes. Triangulate with archival data, news reports, emails, letters, phone conversations and even text messages. Minimum structure and maximum depth at data gathering yields heaps of raw data. The job of the phenomenological researcher is to make sense of all of these.

Here’s what you do:

Read through the transcripts. In psychology, we mark by meaning units – that is, every time the flow of words shifts to another idea, we bracket that portion of the transcript. Assign tentative codes for remarkable meanings.

Once you have identified the key themes, write them down and post as headings on the wall. Now go back to the transcripts and pull out those statements that would fall under each theme. Copy them out, be sure to attribute its source, then post them directly under the appropriate heading. Keep trawling the transcripts until you would have exhausted these for exact quotes under each theme. When you would have completed your thematic sort, capture the resulting listing through a more permanent means of recording, like a word file in your computer.

Or you can go directly to your computer for this process. The cut-and-paste command comes most handy. You would in most likelihood end up with the same listings as when you followed the directions above.

My personal preference is still to go manual at this stage. Writing it out and locating them on the wall where I can see them gives me the luxury of immersing myself in the data, seeing the excerpt in relation to what was said before and after, and reflecting on the nuances of the articulation of the same idea by different voices.

Findings are reported according to the themes drawn, with direct quotes emphasizing points brought out in the respondents’ answers during the interview. Or the report could be vignettes of individual cases, such as a recent study done by Randolph Reserva on the heroes of Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro. In the MRCP terminal report, I began this section with the participants’ narration of their community experience of war, lifted from the transcript of their workshop reporting.

Discussion of the themes follows. In interpreting what was said, the researcher points out associations of thought and sentiment. The findings are put in dialogue with related literature – citing comparisons and contrasts or merely exemplifying. Insights inspired by the information, tentative theories and logical inferences are spelled out. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, FamilySociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also editor of Tambara, the university journal. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)

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