Reflexivity: One Step Up

  • Pels D
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Abstract

Reflexivity, or the systematic attempt to include the spokesperson in accounts of the social world, is a magnetic signature and inherent riddle of all modern thinking about knowledge and science. Turning the narrative back upon the narrator may sharpen our critical wits about the `inescapable perspectivity' (Mannheim) of human knowledge; but self-referential accounts may also trigger endless loops of meta-theorizing and lose track of the object itself. Negotiating the twin pitfalls of spiralling meta-reflexivity and flat naturalistic accounts, I argue for a reflexive `one step up', which adds one storey to the story (no more, no less). It explores, through critical discussions of the work of Harding and Bourdieu, how reflexivity may promiscuously combine with conflicting objectivist and constructivist epistemologies, and how reflexive accounts invariably appear to run in a circle. This performative circularity, it is argued, does not invalidate the reflexive effort but defines its major strength (-in-weakness). Constitutive circularity graces both world-accounts and self-accounts with a radical uncertainty and incompleteness; which implies, among other things, that we must shift part of the burden of reflexive work to our friends, or rather: to our best enemies.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Bourdieu
  • Latour
  • circularity
  • performativity
  • spokespersons

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Authors

  • Dick Pels

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