ISSN: 1705-6411
Volume 8, Number 1 (January 2011)

Thesis Deploying Baudrillard's Thought

Phenomenographic Hyperreality: Jean Baudrillard's Methodological Implications for Phenomenography

Steven Farry
(Master’s Thesis, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)

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 [1978]), “The precession of simulacra” (1983d [1981]), and “Simulacra and simulations” (1988a [1981]), 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.

Thesis structure

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 [1981]: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 [1978]: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 [1981]) 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 [1981]: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.

Chapter one
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 ([1859] 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).

Generating data
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).

Collating data

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.

Temporal issues

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.


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.

© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2011)

[Main Page]   [Contents]   [Editorial Board]   [Submissions]