Echoes of Experience: An Exploration of Reflexivity in Retirement Research

Let’s take a break from the practical articles I’ve been sharing, and dive into the contemplative side of my research, particularly focusing on reflexivity. Whether you’re in the midst of considering retirement, already enjoying your retired life, or assisting clients in this transition, it’s crucial to ponder over our biases and how external influences can sway our perspectives.

Consider these questions:

  1. Set Views on Later Life:

Do we carry predetermined notions about how people should approach later life?

  • Subconscious Biases:

Could our desires be subtly guiding others to adopt a particular stance without us even realizing it?

  • Extreme Thoughts Impact:

How do extremes of positivity or negativity about retirement influence our outlook?

  • Personal Fears and Concerns:

When discussing job loss or health problems, do these topics trigger our own fears and concerns?

  • Clarity in Our Direction:

Have we defined our later life direction? Who are the individuals shaping our views?

  • Learning from Interactions:

As we engage more with individuals facing retirement, what aspects intrigue us to explore further?

  • Defining a Successful Retirement:

Do we hold a specific opinion about what constitutes a successful retirement? How do we perceive those with differing views?

  • Handling Differences:

When encountering people vastly different from us, how do we respond? Do we reflect on their unique perspectives later on?

In my recent exploration of reflexivity, I revisited a section of my thesis that emphasized its importance. I employed Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to delve into the lived experiences of seven individuals. Recognizing that my role as a researcher is inseparable from my role as a practitioner and my broader life, I embraced reflexivity.

Hermeneutics taught me that as a researcher, I am an integral part of the methodology, bringing my thoughts, biases, and experiences into the mix. Goldspink & Engward (2019) describe this interaction as “echoes,” where the words and experiences of participants and researchers resonate during the research process.

For me, tuning into these ‘echoes’ became crucial. It meant paying attention to the vibrations within me and acknowledging the reciprocity between researcher and participant. Journaling emerged as a valuable tool to capture these reflexive thoughts, incorporating doodles, images, and snippets of poetry alongside words.

IPA, being a personal methodology, demands a conscious acknowledgment of the researcher’s influence on data interpretation. By jotting down personal reflections, I brought my authentic self into the researcher role. The use of pen pictures added depth, focusing not only on the factual but also on the emotional nuances of the interaction with participants.

Reflecting on my journey, I found that the deeper the personal reflexivity, the richer the data analysis. It required me to allow thoughts and feelings to surface, capturing them to enrich the overall understanding.

Stepping into someone’s shoes becomes more natural when there’s a connection. The closer the resemblance between the researcher and the participant, the easier it is to understand their point of view. However, Gadamer’s wisdom reminds us to be aware of our biases, recognizing that our interpretation of data is shaped by our attitudes, values, beliefs, and life experiences.

So, as we navigate the intricate dance of research and personal reflections, let’s not forget to embrace the echoes, explore the resonances, and allow our humanity to enrich the understanding of others’ experiences. After all, the closer we come to understanding, the more meaningful our research becomes.

Goldspink, S., & Engward H. (2019). Booming clangs and whispering ghosts: Attending to the reflexive echoes in IPA research, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 16:2, 291-304, DOI: 10.1080/14780887.2018.1543111

Gadamer, H.G. (1975). Truth and method. London, Sheed and Ward.