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Keywords:

  • caring;
  • hermeneutics;
  • narrative;
  • suffering

Hermeneutics and narration: a way to deal with qualitative data

This article focuses a hermeneutic approach on the interpretation of narratives. It is based on the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur's theory of interpretation but modified and used within a caring science paradigm. The article begins with a presentation of the theoretical underpinnings of hermeneutic philosophy and narration, as well as Ricoeur's theory of interpretation, before going on to describe the interpretation process as modified by the authors. The interpretation process, which consists of several stages, is exemplified and discussed using a single case from a larger study on suffering. The results of that study indicate that the struggle of suffering is perceived as a struggle formed between shame and dignity, and that nurses must engage in the process of preserving and restoring the dignity of their suffering patients. The authors suggest that Ricoeur's theory of interpretation is useful when trying to understand narrative data if the researcher realises that the process of distanciation, although central in Ricoeur's thinking, is not the goal of the process but rather a means to deal with the researcher's pre-understandings. According to Ricoeur, distanciation is accomplished by putting the context aside and dealing with the text ‘as text’ and thereby explaining its meaning. Explanation thus becomes the dialectic counterpart to understanding in the interpretation process. The researchers further argue that distanciation must be followed by reflection, where the interpretations are linked back to the empirical context.