Conducting Hermeneutic Research in International Settings: Philosophical, Practical, and Ethical Considerations


  • Charlene A. VanLeeuwen University of Prince Edward Island
  • Linyuan Guo-Brennan International, Comparative & Global Education Faculty of Education University of Prince Edward Island
  • Lori E. Weeks School of Nursing Dalhousie University



hermeneutics, interpretive research methodology, international research


Hermeneutics has been theorized and applied as a philosophical framework and interpretive research methodology which pays particular attention to linguistic, social, cultural, and historical contexts to understand the life world and human experiences. While adopted as a qualitative research approach in the fields of education, nursing, psychology, and legal studies, its use is emerging in other human service disciplines. The rich philosophical and theoretical legacy embedded in this research methodology often presents unique challenges and a steep learning curve for researchers, particularly when the research is conducted in international settings. Drawing from insights gained from two hermeneutic studies conducted in Kenya and China, this paper presents considerations for designing a hermeneutic research inquiry. In addition to philosophical, practical, and ethical issues researchers need to consider when designing and implementing hermeneutic studies in international settings, we examine factors and strategies to facilitate successful data collection and interpretation.  

Author Biography

Charlene A. VanLeeuwen, University of Prince Edward Island

PhD Candidate in Educational Studies 

Faculty of Education

University of Prince Edward Island


Apple, M. W. (1982/2011). Education and power (3rd ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.

Appleton, C. (2011). ‘Critical Friends’, feminism and integrity: A reflection on the use of critical friends as a research tool to support researcher integrity and reflexivity in qualitative research studies. Women in Welfare Education, 10, 1-13.

Baglin, M. R., & Rugg, S. (2010). Student nurses’ experiences of community-based practice placement learning: A qualitative exploration. Nurse Education in Practice, 10(3), 144-152.

Baskerville, D., & Goldblatt, H. (2009). Learning to be a critical friend: From professional indifference through challenge to unguarded conversations. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 205–221. doi: 10.1080/03057640902902260

Beeman-Cadwallader, N., Quigley, C., & Yazzie-Mintz. T. (2011). Enacting decolonized methodologies: The doing of research in educational communities. Qualitative Inquiry, 18(1), 3-15.

Caputo, J. D. (1987). Radical hermeneutics: Repetition, deconstruction and the hermeneutic project. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Carson, T. (1986). Closing the gap between research and practice: Conversation as a mode of doing research. Phenomenology & Pedagogy, 4(2), 3-85.

Chowdhury, T. (2016, June 17). Critical legal thinking - Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutics. Retrieved from

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (1993). Through the lens of a critical friend. Educational Leadership, 49-51.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Davey, N. (2006). Unquiet understanding: Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics. New York, NY: SUNY Press.

Davey, N. (2017). Philosophical hermeneutics and ontology. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 48(3), 179-185. doi:10.1080/00071773.2017.1303107

Dei, G. J. S. (2012). Indigenous anti-colonial knowledge as ‘heritage knowledge’ for promoting Black/African education in diasporic contexts. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 102-119. Retrieved from

Dei, G. J. S., & Asgharzadeh, A. (2001). The power of social theory: The anti-colonial discursive framework. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue De La Pensée Éducative, 35(3), 297-323. Retrieved from

Feldman, A. (1999). The role of conversation in collaborative action research. Educational Action Research, 7(1), 125-147. doi:10.1080/09650799900200076

Fleet, K., & Kitson, R. (2013). White women writing: Two teachers as orang puteh in complex borderlands. Reflective Practice, 14(2), 288-304, doi:10.1080/14623943.2012.749230

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gadamer, H-G. (1960/1975). Truth and method. New York, NY: Seabury Press.

Gadamer, H-G. (1976). Philosophical hermeneutics. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Gadamer, H-G. (2006). Classical and philosophical hermeneutics. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(1), 29 -56.

Giroux, H. (1983). Theory and resistance in education: A pedagogy for the opposition. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey.

Grondin, J. (2002). Gadamer’s basic understanding of understanding. In R. J. Dostal (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Gadamer (pp. 36-51). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Guo, L. (2010). The meaning of curriculum reform for Chinese teachers. Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP Publishing.

Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interests. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Hodge, P., & Lester, J. (2006). Indigenous research: Whose priority? Journeys and possibilities of cross-cultural research in geography. Geographical Research, 44(1), 41–51.

Jacobs, A. H. M. (2014). Critical hermeneutics and higher education: A perspective on texts, meaning and institutional culture. South African Journal of Philosophy, 33(3), 297-310. doi:10.1080/02580136.2014.948327

Jardine, D. W. (2006). On hermeneutics: Over and above our wanting and doing. In K. Tobin & J. Kincheloe (Eds.), Doing educational research - A handbook (pp. 261–288). Boston, MA: Sense.

Jardine, D. W. (2016, November, 22). The more intense the practice, the more intense the demons: A few hermeneutic caveats [Editorial]. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics. Retrieved from

Jardine, D. W., Graham, T., Clifford, P., & Friesen, S. (2002). In his own hand: Interpretation and the effacing of the scribe. Language and Literacy, 4(1), 1-33.

Kinsella, E. A. (2006). Hermeneutics and critical hermeneutics: Exploring possibilities within the art of interpretation. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(3). Retrieved from 19.

Kinsella, E. A., Bossers, A., & Ferreira, D. (2008). Enablers and challenges to international practice education: A case study. Learning in Health & Social Care, 7(2), 79–92. doi:10.1111/j.1473-6861.2008.00178.x

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Toronto, ON, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Kovach, M. (2010). Conversational method in Indigenous research. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 5(1), 40–48.

Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Laing, C. M. (2012). In play, at play. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, Article 6. Retrieved from

Laing, C. M., & Moules, N. J. (2013). The island of misfit toys. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, Article 8. Retrieved from

MacQuarrie, C. (2005). Experiences in early stage Alzheimer’s disease: Understanding the paradox of acceptance and denial. Aging and Mental Health: An International Journal, 9(05), 1–12. 

McCaffrey, G., Raffin-Bouchal, S., & Moules, N. J. (2012). Hermeneutics as research approach: A reappraisal. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 11(3), 214–229.

McCaffery, G., & Moules, N. (2016). Encountering the great problems in the street: Enacting hermeneutic philosophy as research in practice disciplines. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, article 1. Retrieved from

Malpas, J. (2014). Hans-Georg Gadamer. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2014 ed.). Retrieved from

Moules, N. J. (2002). Hermeneutic inquiry: Paying heed to history and Hermes. An ancestral, substantive, and methodological tale. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(3), 1–21.

Moules, N. J., Field, J. C., McCaffrey, J. P., & Laing, C.M. (2014). Conducting hermeneutic research: The address of the topic. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, Article 7. Retrieved from

Moules, N. J., McCaffrey, J. P., Field, J. C., & Laing, C. M. (2015). Conducting hermeneutic research: From philosophy to practice. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Ndimande, B.S. (2012). Decolonizing research in post-apartheid South Africa: The politics of methodology. Qualitative Inquiry, 18(3), 215–226.

Newberry, M. A. (2012). Social work and hermeneutic phenomenology. Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, Article 14. Retrieved from

Ovens, M. (2014). The use of hermeneutics in the criminological interpretation of forensic documents: A case study. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 23(4), 661–667.

Paterson, M., & Higgs, J. (2005). Using hermeneutics as a qualitative research approach in professional practice. Qualitative Report, 10(2), 339–357.

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Porter, S., & Robinson, J. C. (2011). Hermeneutics: An introduction to interpretive theory. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing.

Ramberg, B., & Gjesdal, K. (2013). Hermeneutics. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013). Retrieved from

Ricoeur, P. (1981). Hermeneutics and the human sciences: Essays on language, action and interpretation (J.B. Thompson, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Simmons, M., & Dei, J. S. (2012). Reframing anti-colonial theory for the diasporic context. Postcolonial Directions in Education, 1(1), 67–99.

Smith, D. G. (2003). The mission of the hermeneutic scholar. In M. Wolfe, & C. Pryor (Eds.), The mission of the scholar - research and practice: A tribute to Nelson Haggerson (pp. 183 – 200). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. Dunedin, New Zealand: Zed Books.

Smithers Graeme, C. (2013). Indigenous health research and the non-Indigenous researcher: A proposed framework for the autoethnographic methodological approach. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 11(3), 513-520.

Smithers Graeme, C., & Mandawe, E. (2017). Indigenous geographies: Research as reconciliation. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 8(2), Article 2. doi: 10.18584/iipj.2017.8.2.2

Stelmach, B. (2009). Research or in-search? A non-Aboriginal researcher’s retrospective of a study on Aboriginal parent involvement. First Nations Perspectives, 2(1), 35-56.

Stephens, D. (2009). Qualitative research in international settings. London, UK: Routledge/Falmer.

Stephens, D. (2012). The role of culture in interpreting and conducting research. In A. R. J. Briggs, M. Coleman, & M. Morrison (Eds.) Research methods in educational leadership & management (pp 46-60). London, UK: Sage.

Tan, H., Wilson, A., & Olver, I. (2009). Ricoeur's theory of interpretation: An instrument for data interpretation in hermeneutic phenomenology. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(4), 1–15.

VanLeeuwen, C. A., Guo-Brennan, L., & Weeks, L.E. (2017, June). What learning in the community means for Kenyan university students: A hermeneutic inquiry into international community service-learning. Graduate Research Recognition Day, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PE.

van Manen, M. (2006). Writing qualitatively, or the demands of writing. Qualitative Health Research, 16(5), 713–722.

van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

van Manen, M., & Adams, C. A. (2010). Phenomenology. In P. Peterson, E. Baker, & B. McGaw (Eds.) International Encyclopedia of Education. Vol. 6 (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

von Zweck, C., Paterson, M., & Pentland, W. (2008). The use of hermeneutics in a mixed methods design. The Qualitative Report, 13(1), 116–134.

wa Thiong’o, N. (1986). Decolonizing the mind: The politics of language in African literature. Portsmouth, UK: Heinemann Educational.

Wang, C. C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education and Behaviour, 24(3) 369–387.

Wang, C. C. (1999). Photovoice: A participatory action research strategy applied to women’s health. Journal of Women’s Health, 8(2), 185–192.