BSP Podcast: Michael Fitzgerald on Husserl & patient engagement in research

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Michael Fitzgerald present a co-authored paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’.

Season 5 episode 114: 22 May 2021

Season five of our podcast continues with another presentation from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online. This episode features Michael Fitzgerald, Bruyère Research Institute. Fitzgerald’s co-authors are Esther Shoemaker, Simon Fraser University; Lisa Boucher, University of Ottawa; Claire Kendall, Bruyère Research Institute.

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Michael Fitzgerald
‘Phenomenological interpretations of patient engagement in research’

ABSTRACT: This paper draws on Husserl’s notions of epoché and phenomenological reduction to interpret patient engagement in research. The epoché suspends or bracket naturalistic assumptions about the existence of the world, so as to allow phenomenological inquiry to focus on meaning or significance. Phenomenological reduction to the life-world, in turn, functions to restore the significance of the concrete world of basic life, i.e., to allow the phenomenologist access to the structures of meaning that are the basis for all inquiry (Luft 2004). In particular, it suspends the assumptions of the positive sciences. Patient engagement in research is an approach that includes patients and caregivers as partners on the research team. Arguably, this approach has become the standard for a wide variety, if not all, types of health research, driven in part by funding agency imperatives. Studies of this approach have argued that the significance of and motivation for engaging patients can be understood in terms of three sets of values: “moral or normative (e.g., empowerment and rights), instrumental or substantive (e.g., improving research quality), and process (e.g., having to do with research conduct)” (Kendall et al. 2018). However, further investigation is needed into the impact of patient engagement in research, and in particular how it affects health researchers’ own understanding of their research activities, exploration of which has so far been limited (Staley 2015; 2017). This paper proposes a phenomenological approach, in which patient engagement is seen as a transformation of research. We suggest that patient engagement in research can function as an epoché or even a type of reduction, by challenging researchers’ assumptions about the process of research. As with the life-world reduction, this can be seen as a way of resituating health research in the life-world, so as to expand and deepen its meaning and significance.


Michael Fitzgerald, Research Associate, Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada, is a social phenomenologist with expertise in the phenomenology of international development. He works on projects on patient engagement, intersectionality and social accountability.

Esther Shoemaker, Postdoctoral Fellow, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, and Affiliated Scientist, Bruyère Research Institute, is a medical sociologist and early career researcher with sex- and gender-based mixed methods expertise in health services delivery for marginalized populations.

Lisa Boucher, PhD candidate in Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, has expertise in participatory research approaches and both quantitative and qualitative methods. Her projects focus on highly marginalized populations, especially people who use illicit drugs.

Claire Kendall, a primary care physician and Clinical Scientist, Bruyère Research Institute and Associate Professor, University of Ottawa, where she is also Assistant Dean, Social Accountability, has expertise in health services research, cohort and administrative data linkages, systematic reviews, participatory approaches, qualitative research and practice-based interventions, with strong links to policy makers in primary care of marginalized populations.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?