International Human Science Research Conference

Phenomenology and Dialogue:

Exploring questions of language, inclusivity, and accessibility


Spartenburg, South Carolina

June 24-28, 2018

Phenomenology and Dialogue: Exploring questions of language, inclusivity, and accessibility, June 24-28, 2018 – At the International Human Science Research Conference each year, scholars from diverse countries, languages, disciplines, and backgrounds come together to share their research and discuss matters of phenomenology. They come together in dialogue, engaging across commonalities and differences.


from the Transdisciplinary Phenomenological Research Group

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Sandra P. Thomas, John Smith, Lauren Moret, Deborah Henry
(with Brian Sohn, Katherine Greenberg, Neil Greenberg, Howard Pollio)

A Different Way of Engaging in Dialogue, as Researchers and Teachers Inspired by Merleau-Ponty

In this panel, we share an overview of our scholarship as a transdisciplinary phenomenological research group (TPRG) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), which has been in existence for more than 25 years. The TPRG features a team approach in exploring the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty as applied in higher education as well as in our hermeneutic analysis of phenomenological research interviews. Although we immerse ourselves in his multi-faceted philosophy, here we focus on Merleau-Ponty’s concept of dialogue and the inspiration it provided in 4 particular research projects.
Dialogue plays a unique and critical role in our method. An open-ended, respectful question begins the dialogue in a researcher bracketing interview. This builds commitment to a dialogical encounter in the phenomenological interview. The stance of the researcher is humble: We cannot claim to know what will stand out to the participant as figural. In analysis, our group interpretation of interview transcripts relies on dialogue among the TPRG members about the meaning of the text before us. Our diverse perspectives enrich the researcher’s understanding of the phenomenon.
Research projects showcased in this presentation involved dialogue with often-disrespected populations such as low socioeconomic status community college students, convicted sex offenders, registered nurses, and novice graduate researchers. The first presenter will describe his dissertation study on the transformative learning experiences of community college students. This study features a unique approach to reporting findings using the universal narrative framework of the hero’s journey as identified in the work of Joseph Campbell. Another presenter studied the childhood experiences of convicted sexual abusers of children. She will share how she entered the childhood world of the sex offenders in a nonjudgmental way, discovering abuse by parents, peers, siblings, and other adults. Psychotherapy, which was never provided until these men and women were convicted of crime as adults, accomplished a radical transformation for individuals who had spent their lives as misfits and pariahs. A third presenter’s research, which sought to capture the elusive meaning of the “art” of nursing, revealed themes of deeply connecting, intuitive caring, staying with patients “above and beyond,” and thereby making a profound difference in lives of patients and their families. The fourth presenter will discuss her experiences as a teacher of graduate students and novice researchers dialoguing about theoretical and practical considerations of conducting research, examining subjectivity, and locating positionality.
This presentation will conclude with a preview of our forthcoming book about higher education pedagogy, based on phenomenological research of the lived experience of teachers and students. Dialogue in the college classroom is facilitated in the same manner as in the research interview encounter: by inviting the students to describe and share their experiences in a safe space free of judgment. In both types of dialogical encounter, we await the Other, as Merleau-Ponty encouraged, to “teach me something…surprise [me]…and allow a transformation in both of us

Howard Pollio (selected publications)