On context in phenomenographic research on understanding heat and temperature
Paper in proceedings, 2001
Starting from an empirical study of lay adults' everyday understanding of the scientific
concepts of heat and temperature, we have found it necessary to distinguish between
different meanings of the notion of context in phenomenographic research.
In order to reveal interesting and important differences in the ways in which a
phenomenon is experienced, the phenomenographic researcher relegates experience of
the context to the background. To confuse the variation in ways of experiencing the
context(s) of the study with the variation in ways of experiencing the phenomenon of
study is to risk losing fundamental insights.
This does not mean, however, that the researcher can neglect the context(s), even if it is
not of main interest. Since the research object of a phenomenographic study is "variation
in ways of experiencing something", we discuss context as experienced and interwoven
with the experience of the phenomenon. We argue that the experienced context, the
context as created and understood by the researcher, and the relation between these are
relevant to varying degrees and in varying ways at different stages of the research project.
In our paper we see the experienced context from the perspective of "who is
experiencing" the context: the individual, the collective, or the researcher (whether as
phenomenographer or as physicist). This will be illustrated from the empirical data.
The proposed distinctions provide a better ground for generalising the results of the
study, since they help us to understand the differences between the research situation(s)
and the research object(s).