This book offers an account of contemplative reflection in qualitative social research. Focusing on the experiences of the researcher – including sensory and emotional experiences – and the work of the mind in the investigative process, it considers the means by which the researcher’s basic assumptions can be analyzed and bracketed, so as to shed light on the process by which knowledge is produced. Through an exploration of the methods of meditation, auto-observation and self-reports, epoché, “contemplative memoing,” and the contemplative diary, the author explores the essential role of subjectivity in qualitative research, providing inspiration for more mindful research. As such, it will appeal to scholars of sociology, anthropology, and geography with interests in phenomenology, research methods, and the role of the mind in the research process.
Contemplation is an essential part of social research. We researchers are not always aware of the importance of contemplation in developing our innovative ideas on topics, research methods, and analysis techniques. It sometimes happens that we contemplate and see what happens between thoughts that are trying to cling to abstract concepts and categories. Researchers want to be conceptual as much as possible. This is science. Generalizations and distance from the researched reality are imprinted in the gene of the scientific attitude and the perspective of each scientist. However, there is something beyond the concepts that we experience, and we are aware that we experience it. Even when we know about the experiences, we do not usually testify about them in our books and papers. They are lived experiences that sometimes give joy and surprise but also anger, sadness, or fear when we, as social scientists, observe the social phenomena that influence individual and collective activities and attitudes.
During our scientific proceedings, the everyday life attitude is bracketed. It does not belong to the scientific repertoire of methods or perspectives that we should assume while observing social reality according to the defined research goals, procedures of collecting data, and procedures of analysis. We divide, a priori, our process into research stages, and we pretend to think differently than in everyday life and use different procedures during the various stages of the research. However, in the dynamic of field study, we can observe that the stages are mixed, and our mind also mixes the sequences of the stages of collecting data and analyzing them. It also mixes the kinds of knowledge – commonsense and scientific. We even state new research goals during an already planned schedule of investigation. We often experience a serendipitous effect that is difficult to include in the already planned and structured goals of our research. We figure out how to get around the methods, the schedules, and the plans of strictly planned research. We experience wars or pandemics, which change the plans of our research and our perspectives completely. Moreover, we can also experience many emotions during our research process, while applying the conceptual and theoretical filters to our observation or refusing serendipity as a gift of fate. During our research, we should keep the rational mind on alert at all times. But it often is blurred with emotions and body feelings. We experience the liquid fear, which is difficult to control because of its unknown reasons (Bauman 2006).