Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)

As an approach to qualitative research, the aim of IPA is to provide information about how individuals make sense of a certain phenomenon. In most cases, this phenomenon is a significant, life-changing event that the individual has a personal connection with. Although this approach can be used in many academic disciplines, it is mainly utilized in psychology.

First, let’s look at the definition of the word “phenomenology” as described by Mariam-Webster dictionary:

“The study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to or a part of philosophy.”

According to APA’s (American Psychological Association) dictionary of psychology, IPA is:

“A qualitative approach in which a researcher explores how a participant understands his or her personal and social worlds and gives meaning to particular experiences, events, and states. For example, the strategy might be used to understand how a person comes to terms with the death of a spouse. IPA uses structured interviews to gather verbal and nonverbal information, which is then analyzed to uncover and describe underlying themes.”

IPA is concerned with how people experience the phenomenon, how it is perceived by them - their account of it. Of course, researchers can’t fully understand participants’ feelings, behavior, so they rely on interpreting them. In other words, they try to make sense of participants’ actions, perceptions related to the phenomenon. Therefore, there is a double interpretation process. The researcher tries to make sense of a participant making sense of a phenomenon. The interpretative nature of IPA draws it closer to hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation. The data is open to new interpretation, revision, insights.

Interpretative phenomenological analysis advantages

  •     It provides a chance to examine more personal perspectives on the issue than other research approaches.
  •     It doesn’t look at the phenomenon on a surface level; instead, it seeks a way to understand how it is experienced by the individuals.
  •     It can provide the researcher with rich as well as unique data.

Interpretative phenomenological analysis disadvantages

  •     IPA involves interpreting individual experiences, opinions, etc.; therefore, researchers can’t generalize the results.
  •     Even though the approach can be beneficial in acquiring a large amount of data, the qualitative nature of IPA makes it difficult to analyze a particular piece of information.

Some scholars state that, as with other phenomenological research approaches, IPA tries to understand the experiences but doesn’t explain why certain experiences happen.