What if we were floral stars in the sky, what kind of constellations would we make?

Phenomenological research, for me, is like stargazing with human stories. Each of us carries stories that may seem like mere specks of dust in the dark night of human existence, but together in our glimmering starlight, these stories become meaningful constellations.

person staring at a colourful starry sky

Hermeneutic phenomenology: Shifting paradigms through research

If our social goal is to bring healing to the world, then research at the collective level involves going back to the roots of why we desire knowledge. The ultimate reason: to know more about who we are (as human beings) and why we exist in this world. Therefore, at its core, re-search is the pursuit to re-discover what we already know but have forgotten as human beings. But since we can never truly share our personal experiences with each other, we can only learn about each other through the narratives of our experiences. Thus, to learn about humanity, we go through a process of storytelling and storylistening.

Traditional research, particularly approaches based on the scientific method, assumes that knowledge is objective, and researchers must remain unbiased. But human experiences can never exist in physical or psychological vacuums. We can communicate with each other and make sense of the world only because we already have preconceptions of the world within us (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1960). Therefore, research, inevitably, is biased because human experience is biased. These biases are not flaws in the research process, but rather, they are the steppingstones to making paradigm shifts. To create new knowledge means to disturb old biases and re-establish new agreements of understanding.

Landscape as the mediator between our inner and outer worlds

Human experiences are always emplaced in a landscape. Therefore, to me, studying landscapes is also a part of disturbing existing narratives about our human existence. Through landscapes, we can evaluate our interpretations of nature and culture, consider the effect and limitations of language, acknowledge the reciprocity of life, and choose how to participate in the world. 

If the world was metaphorically a garden landscape, we would be the soil, the seeds, the plants, the designers, and the gardeners. We each play roles in all the processes of making the landscape a place we come to belong to. Our predicament: knowing when to take on a role, when to work with each other, and when to support another.

We can only clarify our ever-evolving roles by evaluating our past, present, and future participation in this landscape, individually and collectively. Our reflections are our stories: we can give space for more individual stories, especially our own, so that more of our collective narratives can be broken open.

Knowledge from the fringes

Destructive paradigms are perpetuated by our society and our mind’s need to create knowledge hierarchies. That means, some forms of knowledge are validated and institutionalized, some forms of knowledge survive through resistance in mainstream culture or along the sidelines, while some forms of knowledge are ridiculed and maybe even persecuted out of existence. To see our lives beyond specks of dust in the matrix of these old paradigms and to turn them into glimmering starlight, we must learn to respect our own individual way of knowing and being in the world.

For example, I speak “academia” and “social politics” as much as I speak “New Age.” Decolonisation, neoliberalism, marginalisation, assimilation, crystal healing, law of attraction, twin flames, and chakras…these are all valid ways of seeing the world. I had once been afraid of revealing my affinity to different knowledge structures—afraid of what others would think of me if I didn’t stay in an “approved” box of knowledge—but we can’t flourish, individually and collectively if we deny our own knowingness.

Admittedly, some of these ways of seeing the world are more nurturing than others. So, at the end of the day, the way we want to see (and know) the world is still a choice—to see ourselves and others blooming and glimmering in an expansive universe or see ourselves and others as mere dust fading away into nothingness.