Journal of Professional Nursing

Understanding Experience Through Gadamerian Hermeneutics: An Interview with Brian Phillips

Pamela J. Wood, RN, PhD, Associate Professor Graduate School of Nursing and Midwifery, Victoria University of Wellington
Lynne S. Giddings, RN, RM, PhD, Associate Professor School of Nursing and Midwifery, Auckland University of Technology

Reference:  Wood, P. J., & Giddings, L. S. (2005). Understanding experience through Gadamerian hermeneutics: An interview with Brian Phillips. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 21(2), 3-14.


Hermeneutic approaches to research focus on understanding and interpretation of experience but differ in process and emphasis. Gadamerian hermeneutics concentrates on expanding horizons of understanding through dialogue, between people or between a researcher and texts, in which taken-for-granted assumptions are examined and opinions willingly put at risk. This article is the fourteenth in a series of articles based on interviews with nursing and midwifery researchers, designed to offer the beginning researcher a first-hand account of the experience of using particular methodologies. It considers a Gadamerian hermeneutic research approach as interpreted by Brian Phillips (RN, PhD) in interview. Brian is Research Fellow in the Graduate School of Nursing and Midwifery at Victoria University of Wellington. For his PhD research Brian used Gadamerian hermeneutics to interpret four men’s experiences of suicidality and the ideas of masculinity that might have shaped their understandings.

Research, methodologies, Gadamerian hermeneutics, suicidality, masculinity

Hermeneutic approaches to research are frequently used by nurses and midwives in exploring and interpreting people’s experiences of health and illness events, and aspects of professional practice. Researchers using a hermeneutic approach hold to different philosophical positions, such as those of Husserl, Heidegger or Gadamer. The philosopher’s ideas shape the research process and often their name is attached to the description of the methodology; so we have ‘Heideggerian hermeneutics’ or ‘Gadamerian hermeneutics’. While the general intention of hermeneutic research is to gain new or deeper understanding and to interpret experience, each hermeneutic methodology differs to varying degrees in process and emphasis.

This article, the fourteenth in a series based on interviews with nursing and midwifery researchers, offers beginning researchers a brief introduction to a Gadamerian approach to hermeneutics (refer to Giddings & Wood, 2000, for background information on the series). This form of hermeneutics is based on the writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Previous articles in this series have described New Zealand nurses’ use of other forms of hermeneutic inquiry, namely phenomenology (Giddings & Wood, 2001b) and radical hermeneutics (Giddings & Wood, 2001a). A general introduction to hermeneutics is given in this latter article and a fuller description in Crotty (1998).

Subscribe for full access to Nursing Praxis