interpretative phenomenological analysis rachel shaw aston university r l shaw@aston ac uk n.
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Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis Rachel Shaw Aston University Objectives. To introduce the theoretical underpinnings of IPA To outline the relationship between IPA in Psychology To describe the appropriate research questions, sampling & data collection methods

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  • To introduce the theoretical underpinnings of IPA
  • To outline the relationship between IPA in Psychology
  • To describe the appropriate research questions, sampling & data collection methods
  • To describe analytic process
  • To offer the opportunity to do some IPA
  • To offer some suggestions for emphasis in teaching
  • To offer some suggestions for supervising IPA projects
assumptions aims of ipa
Assumptions & aims of IPA
  • People are “self-interpreting beings” (Taylor, 1985)
  • Interpretative activity - “sense-making” – is central to human experience & action
  • Central concern: how do people make sense of their experiences?
  • Dual Aim - To provide:
    • an in-depth exploration of people’s lived experiences
    • a close examination of how people make sense

of these experiences

theoretical underpinnings of ipa
Theoretical underpinnings of IPA
  • Phenomenology
    • Concerned with how things appear to us in experience
    • As individuals, how do we perceive & talk about objects & events
    • This is in contrast with:
      • The attempt to produce an objective statement about the object or event in itself
      • Examining the event or object in terms of pre-existing conceptual or scientific criteria
theoretical underpinnings of ipa1
Theoretical underpinnings of IPA
  • Hermeneutic inquiry
    • Concerned with people as interpreting and sense-making individuals
    • IPA’s aim is achieved through interpretative activity on the part of the researcher
    • Research is a dynamic process & the researcher has an active role
    • Researcher aims to assume an insider perspective (Conrad, 1987) – to stand in the shoes of the participant
theoretical underpinnings of ipa2
Theoretical underpinnings of IPA
  • Double hermeneutic (dual interpretation process)
    • Access to the participant’s experience depends on, & is complicated by, the researcher’s own conceptions
    • These processes are necessary in order to make sense of that other personal world through a process of interpretative activity
    • “the participants are tying to make sense of their world; the researcher is trying to make sense of the participants trying to make sense of their world.”

(Smith & Osborn, 2003: 51)

theoretical underpinnings of ipa3
Theoretical underpinnings of IPA
  • Idiography
    • Focusing on the particular rather than the universal
    • Nomothetic studies work at the group/population level to make probabilistic claims/predictions
    • Idiographic studies work at the individual level to make specific statements about those individuals
    • NOT either/or, rather we argue for: “(a) the intensive examination of the individual in her or his own right as an intrinsic part of psychology’s remit, and (b) that the logical route to universal laws & structures is an idiographic-nomothetic one”

(Harré, 1979 cited in Smith & Eatough, 2006: 326)

basic principles of ipa
Basic principles of IPA
  • Inductive – rejects the hypothesis in favour of open-ended questions
  • Idiographic – works at the individual level
  • Assumes agency to the individual
  • Individuals actively interpret their experiences & their world (in fact we can’t not interpret)
  • It is concerned with understanding individuals’ lived experiences & how they make sense of those experiences
  • It is data-driven (bottom-up) – prioritises participants’ accounts
  • Research is a dynamic process – the researcher is active in the research
ipa and psychology
IPA and Psychology
  • Cognition is a central analytic concern
  • Social cognition: “a concern with unravelling the relationship between what people think (cognition), say (account) and do (behaviour)” (Smith & Eatough, 2006:325)
  • IPA method is in contrast to cognitive psychology:
    • Cognitive psychology as a science of meaning-making rather than information processing (Bruner, 1990)
research questions in ipa
Research questions in IPA
  • Open-ended questions (rather than hypotheses) to gain rich & detailed descriptions of the phenomenon being studied
    • How do people make the decision whether or not to have a genetic test?
    • What does jealousy feel like?
    • How do people view voluntary childlessness?
  • Focus – significant issues either ongoing or at a critical juncture in life:
    • Identity, sense of self
    • Hot cognition – current issues, emotive, dilemmatic
    • Cool cognition – longer term, reflection across life course
  • Key – meticulous exploration of lived experience of the participant
sampling data collection
Sampling & data collection
  • Small sample sizes because of the case-by-case, idiographic approach to analysis
  • How many? It depends on:
    • One’s commitment to the case study level of analysis
    • The richness of the individual cases
    • How one wants to compare or contrast cases
    • The pragmatic restrictions one is working under
  • Data collection needs to focus on experience & recognise multiple influences on that experience
    • Semi-structured interviews
doing the analysis identifying themes
Doing the analysisIdentifying Themes
  • Identify themes in the first case
  • This involves lots of reading & re-reading
  • Write comments in the left margin: summaries, associations, connections, preliminary interpretations
  • Document emerging theme titles in the right margin: these need not be definitive but should enable you to articulate something about the concept identified
theme clusters
Theme Clusters
  • Looking for connections: list the emerging themes & look for connections between them
  • Cluster themes together into super-ordinate themes made up of subordinate themes
  • Create a table of master themes
  • Ensure each theme is represented by data in the transcript to avoid researcher bias
continuing with other cases
Continuing with Other Cases
  • Continue with other cases
  • Start with the master themes from case 1 & look for further evidence in case 2
  • Be ready for new themes to emerge in case 2
  • The process is cyclical: go back case 1 to see if they are represented there also
  • Be prepared to go over the phases of analysis several times, going back over transcripts & rethinking theme clusters
writing up
Writing Up
  • This is the final stage of analysis
  • The aim is to translate your themes into a narrative account
  • Deciding which themes to focus on requires you to be selective
  • The choice is not purely based on prevalence but also on the richness of particular passages that highlight the theme & how the theme illuminates other aspects of the account
tips for emphasis in teaching
Tips for emphasis in teaching
  • IPA is about individuals’ experiences
  • IPA is interpretative –we want participants to reflect on & interpret their experiences in the interview & we want to interpret them in the analysis
  • Interviews are analysed on a case-by-case basis (there may only one case – a case study)
  • Doing IPA is a creative process – the active interpretative role of the researcher is valued
  • An IPA analysis usually reveals something about participants’ meaning-making processes & how an event or state impacts on identity
tips for supervision
Tips for supervision
  • IPA involves in-depth & systematic exploration of lived experiences
  • Homogeneous sample – people who have had the same experience
  • Interviews need to focus on concrete experiences & participants’ reflections on those experiences
  • Detailed transcription coding is not always necessary
  • Analysis is time consuming – don’t leave it too late
key references
Key references
  • Smith, J.A. & Eatough, V. (2006) Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In G.M. Breakwell, S. Hammond, C. Fife-Schaw & J.A. Smith (Eds) Research Methods in Psychology (3rd edition). London: Sage.
  • Smith, J.A. & Osborn, M. (2003) Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J.A. Smith (Ed) Qualitative Psychology: a practical guide to research methods. London: Sage.[A 2nd edition is available published 2008.]
  • Smith, J.A. & Osborn, M. (2004) Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In G.M. Breakwell (Ed)

Doing social psychology research. Oxford: BPS Blackwell.