Exploring Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory of interpretation as a method of analysing research texts
Increasingly, researchers use hermeneutic philosophy to inform the conduct of interpretive research. Congruence between the philosophical foundations of a study, and the methodological processes through which study findings are actualised, obliges hermeneutic researchers to use (or develop) hermeneutic approaches to research interviewing and textual analysis. Paul Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation provides one approach through which researchers using hermeneutics can achieve congruence between philosophy, methodology and method.
Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation acknowledges the interrelationship between epistemology (interpretation) and ontology (interpreter). Also, Ricoeur notes the way interpretation moves forward from naive understanding, where the interpreter has a superficial grasp of the whole of the text, to deeper understanding, where the interpreter understands the parts of the text in relation to the whole and the whole of the text in relation to its parts (the hermeneutic circle). In this way, Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation provides researchers with a method of developing intersubjective knowledge.
Through exposition of the concepts of Ricoeur’s theory, which include distanciation, appropriation, explanation and understanding, guess, and validation, a hermeneutic approach to textual analysis is presented, discussed and critiqued. Examples from nursing research are also used to demonstrate points under discussion. It is suggested that, in conjunction with Gadamer’s hermeneutic of understanding, Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation warrants consideration as a method of textual analysis.