The normative structure of science, hermeneutics, and leisure experience

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Virginia Tech


Since Thomas Kuhn's (1962) discussion of scientific revolutions, philosophers of science have defined the appropriate unit of analysis for exploring a research tradition as its macrostructure (Anderson, 1986). This macrostructure is composed of the normative philosophical commitments that are accepted in a research tradition without direct empirical support (Hudson and Ozanne, 1988). While a discussion concerning the normative philosophy of scientific paradigms has been opened in leisure research, the discipline has not yet explored models for making paradigmatic commitments explicit. The primary goal of this dissertation is to illustrate how one such model can be applied to wildland recreation research. Secondary goals are to introduce the normative commitments of an interpretive paradigm (productive hermeneutics) and to outline a hermeneutic research program for exploring leisure experience and relationship to resource.

The core of the model of the macrostructure of science is Laudan's (1984) Reticulated Model of Scientific Rationality. This model describes scientific paradigms in terms of three interdependent sets of normative commitments: ontology (assumptions about reality and human nature), epistemology (assumptions about the nature, methods, and limits of knowledge), and axiology (the over-riding goals of a paradi~m). This model can be used to evaluate the "internal consistency" of the various commitments adopted by research programs and to match assumptions about the phenomena being studied to appropriate paradigms.

The productive hermeneutic paradigm maintains that studying human action is more similar to interpreting texts than to gaining empirical knowledge of objects in nature. It is best described as a meaning-based model which: portrays humans as actively engaged in the construction of meaning as opposed to sin1ply responding to information that exists in the environment; focuses on idiosyncratic meaning rather than generic personality variables (e.g., past experience); and views experience as an emergent narrative rather than a predictable outcome. Its philosophical commitments are suited for studying phenomena that are unstructured, highly contextual, unpredictable, and characterized by meaning that changes across time and individuals (e.g., behavior linked to expressive, spiritual, and symbolic issues).