Supervising for Robust Hermeneutic Phenomenology: Reflexive Engagement Within Horizons of Understanding

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Undertaking philosophically hermeneutic research requires embodying the fundamental hermeneutic notions espoused by Heidegger, Gadamer, and other related philosophers. For both supervisors and students, there is “a way” of working that infuses a hermeneutic project with a particular kind of contemplative openness. In this article, I will draw from my own experience of coming to appreciate the nature of this approach. Reading Gadamer challenged me to see that, before interpreting the meanings inherent in research data, I first needed to grapple with the fact that I brought ready-made prejudices to the interpretation. Further, and perhaps more importantly, was the recognition that while prejudices may have a negative influence, they could also bring a positive view. Just as I needed to understand key Gadamerian notions to shed light on the interpretive nature of philosophical hermeneutics, I will unpack these to underpin the ongoing discussion of hermeneutic research strategies. In articulating “how” to be hermeneutic, I explain how I guide students embarking on hermeneutic research. Discussion centres on surfacing and engaging with preunderstandings through ‘presuppositions interviewing‘, journalling and the careful selection of words that refine and crystallise meanings in ways that reflectively and reflexively engage and expand horizons of understanding. In this article, I use examples from my own experience as a doctoral student and supervisor of doctoral students to assist other supervisors and students understand both the importance of “being hermeneutic” and ways of achieving robust and philosophically congruent hermeneutic research.

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