Turley, Emma L., Monro, Surya and King, Nigel (2016) Doing it differently: Engaging interview participants with imaginative variation. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, 16 (1-2). pp. 153-162. ISSN 1445-7377

Imaginative variation was identified by Husserl (1936/1970) as a phenomenological technique for the purpose of elucidating the manner in which phenomena appear to consciousness. Briefly, by engaging in the phenomenological reduction and using imaginative variation, phenomenologists are able to describe the experience of consciousness, having stepped outside of the natural attitude through the epochē. Imaginative variation is a stage aimed at explicating the structures of experience, and is best described as a mental experiment. Features of the experience are imaginatively altered in order to view the phenomenon under investigation from varying perspectives. Husserl argued that this process will reveal the essences of an experience, as only those aspects that are invariant to the experience of the phenomenon will not be able to change through the variation.

Often in qualitative research interviews, participants struggle to articulate or verbalise their experiences. The purpose of this article is to detail a radical and novel way of using imaginative variation with interview participants, by asking the participants to engage with imaginative variation, in order to produce a rich and insightful experiential account of a phenomenon. We will discuss how the first author successfully used imaginative variation in this way in her study of the erotic experience of bondage, discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism (BDSM), before considering the usefulness of this technique when applied to areas of study beyond sexuality.

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