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`Symbolic Modelling’ as an innovative phenomenological method in HRD research: the work-life balance project

Tosey, PC `Symbolic Modelling’ as an innovative phenomenological method in HRD research: the work-life balance project In: 12th International Conference on HRD Research and Practice across Europe, 2011-05-25 - 2011-05-27, University of Gloucestershire.

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Gibson and Hanes (2003) argue that phenomenology can make a significant contribution to research in Human Resource Development (HRD). Conklin suggests that studies such as Gibson’s ( 2004) investigation of the experience of being mentored for women faculty provide support for the use of phenomenology to enquire into `organizational phenomena and managerial behavior’ and reports ( 2007:285) that Gibson and Hanes; `identify multiple outlets within human resource development research for the employment of this approach, including insights into the experience of working in human resource development and understanding the meaning of participants’ experiences of particular organizational phenomena.’ Conklin also identifies challenges to phenomenology, based for example on questions about the limitations of reflexivity (Alvesson, Hardy, & Harley 2008) and about the assumptions embedded in the transcendental approach taken by Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Among those challenges are concerns about: The tacit use of the authority of the phenomenological researcher to decide what is important or relevant in an interviewee’s account; The argument that the researcher creates, and does not just record, meaning; The difficulty of achieving epoche, a central feature of phenomenological research whereby `a researcher attempts to put in abeyance presuppositions and prejudices she may carry with her into the field.’ (Conklin 2007:277). This paper addresses these methodological problems by reporting on the application of an innovative, metaphor-based practice called `symbolic modelling’ (Lawley & Tompkins 2000) as a research method through a project that explored work-life balance as experienced by six managers. The paper argues that symbolic modelling is a method through which the above problems can be managed more systematically (though not removed). Specifically, symbolic modelling is able to: Distinguish clearly between metaphors introduced by a researcher into their questions or as an interpretive device, and those that originate in, belong to, and faithfully represent, interviewees’ subjective worlds. While the researcher still makes decisions about where to direct attention, the method increases confidence that the meaning being explored is that of the interviewee. Make the interviewee’s metaphor the focal criterion for the relevance or significance of interviewee data. Provide explicit and systematic principles and techniques that can be shared and discussed by researchers, thereby increasing the transparency of the process of interpretation. In order to explore the potential of symbolic modelling as a method of phenomenological interviewing, the author led an empirical project in collaboration with practitioners that explored managers’ experiences of `work-life balance’. Work-life balance was chosen because it is an issue of contemporary relevance to employers and employees, and because previous research had pinpointed and questioned the metaphor of `balance’ embedded in the notion of work-life balance (Cohen, Duberley, & Musson 2009); (Roberts 2008). The project, a collaboration between the University of Surrey and a practitioner organisation, the Clean Change Company, is believed to be the first to explore symbolic modelling through formal empirical research. This project applied symbolic modelling in order to elicit the naturally occurring metaphors of six mid-career managers in the UK, relating to the way they experienced work-life balance. The analysis yielded a unique metaphor landscape for each manager. A key finding is that, although the ‘work-life balance’ metaphor is widespread, not one of the interviewees’ main metaphors overtly involved ‘a balance’. However, a number of their metaphors implied some form of balancing, for example ‘juggling’, ‘surfing’, or being in ‘equality’. The follow-up interviews revealed that all of the interviewees had remembered their main metaphors, with some describing changes they had made after being facilitated to explore their metaphor landscapes. The study illustrates potential enhancements that symbolic modelling and its questioning techniques can bring to phenomenological interviewing and analysis in HRD research. The results also have implications for the understanding of work-life balance, and for managers and human resource professionals who are dealing with work-life balance issues in the workplace.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Conference Paper)
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Surrey Business School
Authors :
Tosey, PC
Uncontrolled Keywords : phenomenology, symbolic modelling, clean language, metaphor, work-life balance
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 21 Sep 2011 11:25
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 14:08

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