Reflections on the Use of Object Elicitation

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This paper reflects on the use of object elicitation in a phenomenological study of the experience of living with advanced cancer. Object elicitation was used to assist data collection by facilitating participants’ reflections on the quality and texture of their lived experience. Participants were invited to select objects that held special meaning for them during the current phase of their lives and to reflect on their relationship with these objects during a research interview. This paper reflects upon the opportunities and challenges inherent in the use of object elicitation. These include the method’s ability to prompt unrehearsed, in-the-moment reflections about what it means to be “living with dying” as well as to shed light on participants’ sense of who they can be during this final phase of their lives. At the same time, the focus on objects can result in the imposition of an object-led structure on the interviews and a consequent failure to follow up on aspects of participants’ accounts that transcend their relationship with the objects they brought. A further challenge resides in the temptation to look for meaning in the objects themselves rather than in the participants’ use of, and relationship with, the objects. The paper formulates guidance on the use of object elicitation.

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