Epoche, bracketing, and mind mapping

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    Good Afternoom and Greetings from America’s Paradise, Virgin Islands; I am new to this impressive body of scholars, academicians, and practitioners, so I attempted to send this earlier, somewhere?? I need to know how to apply any of the three techniques to achieve “interpretive legitimacy” (Creswell, 1998) as the researcher. I am soliciting participants in preparation for scheduling face to face interviews. Bednall (2006) states most succintly what I amtrying to find, and tht is a mechanism that will enable me to be aware of my own potential for bias, and how to suspend that bias at the startt of data collection and through analysis/interpretations. Epoche is defined by him, and a procedure he calls a Feelings Audit.I’m introduced to mind mapping (Tattersall, Watts, and Vernon, 2007) said to be able to aid the researche in the analysis of qualitative data by bracketing  the researcher’s own preconceptions stated as ‘fundamental in phenomenological research” (para. 1). These mind clearing activities are to be done prior to data collection!?  How? Loretta Carter-Miller, MA, RN  


    Hello Loretta,

    You might want to look at the work of Amedeo Giorgi for steps on how to achieve the phenomenological attitude. He’s written several books, articles and has a web site that I found helpful. The latest book, “The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology” spells out the steps the most clearly.


    Best wishes on your work,

    Karita Nussbaum



    Your response is timely and on point.

    Thank you!!! I have looked at Lincoln and Guba, finding them helpful also. Will pursue your suggestion ASAP.

    Loretta Carter-Miller

    Roger Gomm

    Hello Loretta

    If you are going to conduct interviews, then adopting epoche is impossible insofar as that means banishing preconceptions. In order to carry out an interview you have to preconceive what information will be relevant to your research topic, what kind of behaviour to adopt to create what kind of relationship with the people you interview, what kinds of people they are who will understand what you say in what kinds of ways – assumptions about these matters are necessary in order just to converse with your subjects, let alone converse with them to elicit what you want from them. You can have tentative preconceptions which you modify in the light of experience, but that’s not quite what is meant by bracketing to create an epoche.Some people think that under any circumstances what an epoche really is is the swapping of one set of preconceptions for another set insofar as consciousness is always intentional (has an object) and that intentionality always draws on previous experience – ie is shaped by preconceptions. Be that as it may, the epoche is not consistent with interviewing.Someone trying to conduct an interview from the standpoint of an epoche would come over as some kind of idiot, or as someone making fun of the subjects by being playfully naive about mundane matters or being rude and offensive. The effect would be very much like Garfinkel’s ‘breaching’ or ‘disruption’ experiments – designed to rupture ‘normal’ situations to show how they are constructed. I don’t advise this approach to interviews.


    An epoche might be consistent with analysing the results of interviews, but only with difficulty by the person who actually conducted the interviews – clearing the mind of that experience would be very difficult.The approach is usually attempted, if at all by participant observers or in the analysis of naturally occuring situations captured on audio or video .


    Rather than clearing the mind it would be better to clarify for yourself what your preconceptions and biases are, as you hint. You need to approach the interviews not with a cleared mind, but with a mind full of appropriate preconceptions A feelings audit and doing a mindmap are fine for this, but don’t forget that you are doing this research for some purpose – to answer a research question, so really you should be approaching the interviews not with an empty mind but with clear preconceptions of what you want to achieve by interviewing these people and what strategy you are going to use to do so. Plotting the strategy might be improved by prior investigation of your initial ideas and feelings (make a record of these): even better if you repeat this introspection and recording after the first interview and report how doing this informed your later behaviour in interview.


    Thank you Roger Gomm,

    I’ve done lots of related reading in the last week and only until your response did stuff make sense. Your final suggestion

    “… you should be approaching the interviews not with an empty mind but with clear preconceptions of what you want to achieve by interviewing these people and what strategy you are going to use to do so. Plotting the strategy might be improved by prior investigation of your initial ideas and feelings (make a record of these): even better if you repeat this introspection and recording after the first interview and report how doing this informed your later behaviour in interview”. Is what I needed.

    I’m going in to this study having experienced the phenomenon under investigation. I’ve been the daughter to a dying Medicare paient in a major medical center. I’ve done hospice with patients who chose to die at home. I’ve been on duty when patients admitted for medical management died on medical units, or were transferred to ICU.

    The topic of my study is Quality of Care Provided Hospitalized Medicare Decedents at End-of-Life from Families’ Perspective.I am working on taking stock of my biases and preconceptions.Just yesterday after acknowledging a bad experience I began a search for Hospitalists, who they are and why they are part of the scene. Thanks for the time and quality of your response.


    Loretta Carter-Miller, MA, RN

    Doctoral Candidate, University of Phoenix, School of Advanced Studies

    Roger Gomm

    You’re welcome. Good luck with your research

    khalid jamil rawat

    Epoche essentially means to bracket your judgments. The most fundamental belief to be bracketed is the belief in existence. So the first thing you have to do is to suspend your belief that there is a world of matter outside in which things exist. This will allow you to receive any data from your respondent regardless of the fact whether or not what he or she is talking about is a reality . 

    If I interview a person about angels, a person who believes in angels, I have to suspend my judgment regarding the existence or non existence of angels, otherwise I will not be able to share that persons experiences . If I have to discuss a value that I do not cherish, and if I don’t suspend my value judgment I will be involved in a debate and not in observation or research.


    Epoche, furthermore, allows you “to see things as they are”, not as you or your respondent is accustomed to see them. What you are accustomed to see is an old ideality that has to be replaced or reconstructed(though not necessarily) through research. This reconstruction of new idealities and notions and objects is the sole purpose of phenomenological research.

    So, whatever phenomenon you have chosen to study, you have to learn how you can see it as it is given in the consciousness of others, not as either they or you are accustomed to see it, but as it is given in the experiences of your respondents.


    Phenomenology comes up with information that may or may not have been intended by your respondents when they experienced the incident. If I participate in an activity, I do not focus on each and every detail of that activity, and this hides even from me certain parts of the experience I had undergone. The task of a phenomenologist is to bring to fore the whole content of consciousness, even that which was not properly intended or remembered(although consciousness is always intentional).


    So, a phenomenological research breaks the established way of looking at things and construct a new vision and way to view things. The fire that I see daily in my oven is not ‘ the fire’ , it is an ideality, a perception metaphor, what I want to do with phenomenology is to see this object through its various phenomenon to know how it is given to my consciousness, and to find out its essence and reconstruct it.


    Karen Argus

    Thanks Roger. This helped me too. Most appreciative.

    bernard smith

    Loretta, You state that “I’m going in to this study having experienced the phenomenon under investigation”, and of course I don’t doubt what you say but epoche, as I undertand it would require you to ask yourself such fundamental questions as “how do I know (ie what allows me to assert) that what the interviewee says is an answer to my question? How does the interview know (ie what enables this person) to know that what I am doing is asking a question? It might require you to ask yourself what enables you to claim that you have indeed experienced the phenomenon or phenomena you are investigating (what counts as a valid experience? What is involved in such “experiencing”? What is involved in such claim making about such experiencing?). I would think that epoche in your case would not involve abstract thinking about phenomena but would involve an analysis of how your subjects concretely make sense of the phenomenon you are investigating in ways that enable them to offer you the answers they provide. In other words, how must they make sense of the world they encounter in order for them to provide you with the accounts of the world that they offer by way of explanations  of the phenomena in which you are interested.      

    Roger Gomm

    Bernard is right of course when he says that a phenomenological approach would entail asking:


    ‘how your subjects concretely make sense of the phenomenon…. in ways that enable them to offer you the answers they provide. In other words, how must they make sense of the world they encounter in order for them to provide you with the accounts of the world that they offer by way of explanations  of the phenomena in which you are interested‘   


    Except that the phenomenon they will be experiencing will be you interviewing them. A phenomenological approach should make you very sceptical about the validity of people’s accounts in interview of their experiences at other times and places.

    bernard smith

    Roger, I agree with you completely, which is why I began by talking about how epoche would require that an interviewer question even how their utterances are heard as questions and how the subjects’ utterances are heard as answers to those questions. I would say though, that a skeptical.stance about reports of experiences might be necessary for different reasons and that phenomenologically speaking one might want to adopt an approach quite different from skepticism – one that might be cast as a search for the good sense of such accounts – how does the subject understand and make sense of the world for their accounts to be offered as explanations of the world? Pollner’s account of Evans Pritchard’s account of the Nuers’ accounts of witchcraft or Castaneda’s struggles over trying to understand Don Juan’s account of his ability to fly (like a bird?) would seem to highlight this. 

    Where I would argue that one needs to adopt a skeptical approach to accounts is when accounts are offered as explanations  for one’s own or another’s actions. Such accounts tend to come from a repertoire of accounts that one’s culture or subcultures make available. Competent membership of a group means that one knows how and when to use the group’s repertoire of accounts in ad hoc and accomplished ways. The veracity and veridicality of such accounts would seem to have no basis in any reality independent of the group and its ways of accounting for its experiences.  

    Roger Gomm

    I don’t really disagree with anything Bernard says here, except to re-iterate the likely difference between the experience someone had in the past, shaped as it will be by selections from a cultural repertoire of interpretive devices, and the account people will give of that experience in an interview, shaped as it will be by a probably different set of  interpretive devices selected (from the same cultural repertoire), to be relevant to an interview, a perception of an interviewer, a reworking of memories, a preference for appearing to be this kind of person rather than that kind of person and so on.

    This is not a case for writing off interviewing as a method entirely, but it is a case for being circumspect about the inferences drawn from interview data about subjects’ doings and understandings at other times and in other places.


    bernard smith

    David Silverman has on different occasions questioned the value of interviews over other kinds of data assembly. The interview, after all, results in a fundamentally artificial corpus of data that would not exist in the world except for the fact that the interviewer has gone about interviewing subjects. Naturally occurring data – where subjects engage one another in talk and action – might seem to offer the researcher more significant data. After all, if I set the agenda by asking specific questions and I then receive answers to my questions in what way can we suggest that the answers I get are independent of the agenda I set? In some ways, although I as researcher may not fully understand this, the responses offered by subjects would seem to be tied to the assumptions that undergird my questions. I then reify responses as if they are accounts that are (as it were) all but written by the world itself independent of the researcher and the respondent. Seems to me that the only substantive value that iinterviews have for the social scientist is in looking at how talk is organized and understood.

    I am not sure if this is helpfful to you, Loretta or simply adds layers of possible problems and questions but it strikes me that if what I am suggesting is valid then tackling those questions and perhaps either answering them or being able to bracket them off “in the meantime”, “for all intents and purposes” “with all this being understood” etc might allow you to deal with the accounts you will get from your respondents.

    Pat Bazeley

    To comment on a rather different twist of this discussion – Loretta you have framed your question as an evaluation question rather than a phenomenological one by prefacing it with “Quality of”. You might want to amend that for your dissertation. (That doesn’t mean you won’t comment on quality, and perhaps eventually even on implications for how it might be improved, but it is likely to influence the way you ask questions about these patients’ experience of care.)

    On your epoche issue – Colaizzi suggests you begin by asking why you are involved with this phenomenon (which you have answered) and then by interviewing yourself before you interview others as that helps you work out your presuppositions and refine your questions.

    Colaizzi, P. F. (1978). Psychological research as the phenomenologist sees it. In R. S. Valle & M. King (Eds.), Existential phenomenological alternatives for psychology (pp. 48-71). NY: Oxford University Press.


    Thanks Pat. You would have been a good instructor for me in the years leading to selection of dissertation topic and method. I have completed a first interview and learned from that. I will open the next ones with “What was it like to be with a relative who died in hospital” and continue any prompts along those lines…the experience.

    I did interview myself without realizing the why. It allowed me to recall, vent, let go of biases (toward physicians) just remembering the events and impact on me.

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