Doing it Differently: Engaging Interview Participants with Imaginative Variation

Emma L. Turley, Surya Monro, Nigel King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The phenomenological technique of imaginative variation was identified by Husserl (1936/1970) as conducive to elucidating the manner in which phenomena appear to consciousness. In brief, 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 epoché. Imaginative variation is a stage aimed at explicating the structures of experience more distinctively, 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 envisaged this process as ultimately definitive of the essential elements 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 paper is to present a radically novel way of using imaginative variation as an interview technique by engaging the participants in imaginative variation in order to elicit a richly detailed 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 and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM), before considering the usefulness of this technique when applied to areas of study beyond human sexuality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-162
Number of pages10
JournalIndo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology
Issue number1-2
Early online date7 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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