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Reflexivity in qualitative research

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Reflexivity in Qualitative Research
The term reflexivity is widely used in organisational research. The concept of reflexivity has
been part of qualitative research methods in organisational research for a number of decades,
so it is not a new phenomenon. However, as qualitative methods have become more
prominent and more accepted within social science, reflexivity has increased in significance
and has become embedded in debates about the nature of knowledge.
But what does reflexivity actually mean? How does it affect the way we approach research?
How is it applied in practice? This chapter will address these questions with a discussion of
the meaning of reflexivity and its significance in organisational research, together with some
examples of reflexive research practice.
What is reflexivity?
In simple terms, reflexivity is an awareness of the researcher’s role in the practice of research
and the way this is influenced by the object of the research, enabling the researcher to
acknowledge the way in which he or she affects both the research processes and outcomes. It
is often termed as the process by which research turns back upon and takes account of itself
(Alvesson, Hardy, & Harley, 2008; Weick, 2002), described by Clegg and Hardy (1996, p. 4)
as ‘ways of seeing which act back on and reflect existing ways of seeing’. Reflexivity
involves awareness that the researcher and the object of study affect each other mutually and
continually in the research process (Alvesson & Skoldburg, 2000). In other words, researcher
reflexivity involves thinking about how our thinking came to be, how pre-existing
understanding is constantly revised in the light of new understandings, and how this in turn
affects our research.
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Some researchers may query the difference between reflection and reflexivity. Hibbert,
Coupland and MacIntosh (2010) provide a useful distinction between the two: that reflection
suggests a mirror image which affords the opportunity to engage in an observation or
examination of our ways of doing, or observing our own practice, whereas reflexivity is more
complex, involving thinking about our experiences and questioning our ways of doing.
Alvesson and Skoldburg (2000) suggest there are two key elements embedded within
reflexive research interpretation and reflection. The interpretive element recognises that
interpretation is not just based on a simple analysis of facts or data, which reflects some kind
of ‘reality’; instead it is aware that interpretation is influenced by the assumptions of the
researcher doing the research, their values, political position, use of language. They suggest
it calls for the utmost awareness of the theoretical assumptions, importance of language and
of pre-understandings brought to the research. The second element is reflection where the
researcher turns attention to themselves, their research community and their intellectual and
cultural conditions and traditions informing the research. Reflection becomes a form of
interpretation of the interpretation, and this is what makes the research reflexive. We reflect
on how our intellectual, perceptual, theoretical, ideological, cultural, textual, cognitive,
principles and assumptions inform the interpretation. For Cunliffe (2004) the distinction
between a reflective analysis and critical reflexive questioning relates to assumptions about
the nature of reality: ‘a reflective analysis draws on traditional assumptions that there is an
objective reality that we can analyse using logic and theory, whereas reflexivity draws on
social constructionist assumptions to highlight subjective, multiple constructed realities’
(Cunliffe, 2004, p. 414).
Hence, reflexivity goes beyond simple reflection on the research process and outcomes, to
incorporate multiple layers and levels of reflection within the research. These would include
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considering the complex relationships between the production of knowledge (epistemology),
the processes of knowledge production (methodology), and the involvement and impact of
the knowledge producer or researcher (ontology). Reflexivity enables the research processes
and outcomes to be open to change and adaptive in response to these multiple layers of
reflection.
Conceptualising reflexivity
Conceptualisations of reflexivity therefore vary according to the researcher’s own
epistemological and ontological assumptions:
An objectivist view assumes a form of pre-existing social reality which can be researched by
an independent researcher, where what is described exists independently of the researcher’s
description of it. An account of reality mirrors reality. Hence, reflexivity may be used as a
technique or tool for evaluating the role of the researcher in the research process, often with a
view to eradicating bias in research design and analysis, in order to maintain the objective
position of the researcher. Often, fieldwork confessions are utilised to account for the field
roles adopted by the researcher in the research, and the means of ensuring analytical distance
by avoiding over familiarity and maintaining sufficient detachment. The self (researcher)
and the other (researched) are considered as independent entities. However, this view might
be deemed to consider only the method and not the ontological and epistemological
assumptions which underlie it.
A subjectivist view questions the independent existence of reality and the researcher’s role in
researching it, suggesting that knowledge is socially constructed. The researcher’s
interpretation and representation of reality through their research therefore actively creates
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reality. Hence, reflexivity is used here to question knowledge claims and enhance
understanding by acknowledging the values and preconceptions the researcher brings to that
understanding. Within ethnomethodological approaches, such as interpretative research,
insights can be drawn from ‘pre-understanding’ i.e. ‘knowledge, insights, and experience
before [engaging in] a research program’, and ‘understanding’ i.e. ‘knowledge that develops
during the program’ (Gummeson, 1991, p. 50), such that prior-knowledge, experience, and
new knowledge interact. For post-modernists, the social construction of reality is constituted
within discursive and textual practices, where no fixed truths are privileged and a number of
fluid, emergent and multiple truths may emerge. Hence, reflexivity is often centred on the
process of writing and interpreting text, in all its various and multiple forms.
Cunliffe’s (2003) conceptualisation of ‘radical-reflexivity’ suggests that researchers ‘need to
go further than questioning the truth claims of others, to question how we as researchers (and
practitioners) also make truth claims and construct meaning’ (Cunliffe, 2003, p. 985). Such
a view of reflexivity goes beyond advocating reflexivity as a ‘tool’ for more effective
research and tends more towards a lived moral or ethical project (Cunliffe, 2003, 2004). So
for Cunliffe (2003, p. 991), a construction of radical-reflexivity comprises:
Questioning our intellectual suppositions;
Recognising research is a symmetrical and reflexive narrative, a number of
‘Participant’ stories which interconnect in some way;
Examining and exploring researcher/participant relationships and their impact on
knowledge
Acknowledging the constitutive nature of our research conversations;
Constructing ‘emerging practical theories’ rather than objective truths;
Exposing the situated nature of accounts through narrative circularity;
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Focusing on life and research as a process of becoming rather than an already
established truth”.
Processes of reflexivity
A number of researchers have considered the process of reflexivity. Hibbert et al (2010)
evaluate the importance of recursion, or a sense of return, in the process of reflexivity, where
through questioning the basis of our reflections, reflexivity necessarily brings about change in
the process of reflection and is therefore recursive. They describe four steps that collectively
encapsulate a meta-process of reflexivity, which integrates reflection and recursion. The
initial step is repetition in which an individual reflects in a relatively self-focussed manner
and recursivity occurs passively. This is followed by extension where there is ‘some building
of new principles or understandings that connect with well-known principles’ (Hibbert et al.,
2010, p. 53) with a conscious involvement in change. The follows disruption, which captures
the doubting, unsettling element of reflexive research, as opposed to the routine or
confirmatory modes of repletion and extension. Finally, participation describes ‘the situation
where the researcher engages with a particular community and be transformed by it’ (Hibbert
et al., 2010, p. 56). Not all conceptualisation of reflexive research would go so far as the
disruptive, but the notion of self-critique and an unsettling effect is common in many
reflexive accounts, as basic assumptions and values are challenged, and ultimately potentially
transformed. It is in such moments that ontology and epistemology interact, questioning both
self and knowledge. Reflexivity forces the researcher to re-examine his or her positioning in
relation to methodology, theory, participants and self. Moreover, in participatory research,
especially co-produced research between researchers and practitioners, the significance of
politics, hierarchy, and authority in co-production is central to reflexive understandings of
dynamics in play (Orr & Bennett, 2009).
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Tensions and limitations in reflexivity
Notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, the variety of approaches to conceptualising
reflexivity, there are tensions within and criticisms of reflexive research. Lynch (2000), for
example, argues against reflexivity as an academic virtue and source of privileged
knowledge, questioning the way reflexivity is used to promote theoretical and methodological
advantage. Others have noted the tendency for reflexivity to be perceived as narcissism or
navalgazing (Cunliffe, 2004; Tomkins & Eatough, 2010; Weick, 2002). In reflexive practice,
the occasional confessional nature of reflexivity may stand in tension with self-indulgence,
such that Fournier and Grey have argued that there is a tendency to privilege the voice of the
author, while the subjects of organizational life are effaced, or kept at a distance’ (Fournier &
Grey, 2000, p. 22). Similarly, the process of conducting reflexive research may become
more central than the content of the research itself. Cunliffe notes that the danger of ‘talking
about reflexivity while being unreflexive’ lies in not recognising the situatedness of our
position as researchers, an issue that she argues can be overcome through the use of radical
reflectivity which highlights the tentative nature of theories and explanations and surfaces our
fallibility as researchers (Cunliffe, 2003, p. 986).
Alvesson et al (2008) provide a comprehensive critique of four sets of reflexive practices that
they find commonly appear in organization and management literature, together with their
limitations. Firstly, multi-perspective practices occur when the researcher uses tensions
among different perspectives to expose assumptions and open up new ways of thinking, using
reflexivity to complement ‘incomplete’ research. However, the strategies for selecting
particular perspectives may be unclear, and the particular ways in which the perspectives are
juxtaposed remain contested. Secondly, multi-voicing practices focus on the authorial
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authority of the researcher and their relation to the ‘other’, the research subject, in the
interests of reflexivity being used to redress the balance between research and subject.
However, Alvesson et al (2008) suggest that there is a paradoxical danger that attempts to
‘downplay’ the researcher, actually draw all the attention to the researcher. Thirdly,
positioning practices draw attention to the various political, cultural and institutional
constraints embedded in the academic community, in the interest of using reflexivity to reveal
the role of institutional forces. However, in showing how reflexive researchers can navigate
supposedly inescapable social forces, Alvesson et al (2008) suggest that these practices help
construct the heroic researcher that they are trying to repudiate, which lead to highly
individualistic explanation of knowledge production. Fourthly, destabilising practices occur
when the researcher is ‘disruptive’, often using reflexivity to cross-examine or point out a
lack of reflexivity of the part of others, in order to unsettle or undermine the foundations of
research. However, such practices may be limited in their ability to generate new knowledge
(Alvesson et al., 2008). Nonetheless, in critiquing reflexivity, Alvesson et al (2008, p. 498)
call for its use in a ‘route to more thoughtful and interesting research’.
Hence, a researcher engaging in reflexive research may encounter tensions in the extent of
self-disclosure and focus on processes of research. Nevertheless, reflexivity enables research
to be insightful, questioning, inter-subjective and transparent on a number of different levels.
Having defined reflexivity, and discussed its conceptualisation, processes and tensions, the
next sections will put some of these ideas into focus through the use of examples drawn from
research practice. I draw upon my own research projects on the gendered experience and
embodiment of women in the accounting and professional services context, to illustrate some
of the ways of doing and writing reflexive qualitative research.
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Conducting reflexive research
While the importance of being reflexive is acknowledged, and indeed promoted, in
qualitative research in organisations and management, the actual practice of reflexive
research is less clear. How do we actually go about it in practice?
There are some choices to be made about how reflexivity is enacted in practice. We might,
for example, be aware of ‘seeing oneself in the data’ (Weick, 2002, p. 894) at a number of
different levels. As researchers we should try to be aware of how our ontological, social and
political positioning affects the work that we do by informing the choices we make about
research topics, questions, approaches, methodologies and outcomes. We might ask
ourselves:
What is the motivation for undertaking this research?
What underlying assumptions I am bringing to it?
How am I connected to the research, theoretically, experientially, emotionally? And
what effect will this have on my approach?
Example Motivations for research
My research project aimed to examine the identity politics of women accountants in the UK,
particularly the social organisation of the accounting profession and its interaction with their
experiences of motherhood (Haynes, 2005). It considered three interconnected areas,
identity, motherhood and accounting, to explore whether interrelations between them are
embedded within gendered processes, and the implications of this for women’s identity
construction. Accordingly, it aimed to contribute to theoretical understandings of personal
and professional identity, and the social structures of motherhood and accounting, with
potential implications for cultural and political practices within them.
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Despite these theoretical, academic aims, I actually had some much more personal aims. I
wanted to try to understand, as part of a personal process of self-discovery, how I came to be
myself, as woman, mother, accountant, and academic, with the myriad sensibilities that all
these beings entail. The very nature of being human enables most of us at some time to
speculate about who and what we are. How did I become myself? Is what I take to be
myself my real self? Is there any such thing as a real self? What is the essence of my being,
and how has it been shaped by cultural and political forces? Why do I feel I want to be a
‘good’ mother? How important is my career to my sense of self? It was the desire to try to
gain a better understanding of myself, or rather all the selves described above, that was the
personal impetus behind the research.
In my project, the academic and the personal aims were very much inter-twined. Not all
research projects have such a personal motivation as this, nor do they need to have.
Reflexive research does not require a desire for personal or individual understanding, but it
does require sensitivity on the part of the researcher as to how their self, preconceptions and
sensibilities influence the research. It is important to acknowledge and articulate the varied
motivations, theoretical and/or personal, underpinning any research, as they are likely to
shape the way the research is conceived, carried out, interpreted and produced. Such issues
reflect the ontological position and identity of the researcher, which will influence the choice
of theoretical position, methodological approach and interpretive rationale.
Strategies for reflexive awareness
There are a number of strategies for enabling this process of reflection, which then becomes a
reflexive process, incorporating the reflections into reflexive knowledge production:
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Write down theoretical assumptions and presuppositions about the subject of the
research and revisit these throughout the research process, noting how they may have
shifted
Consider if or how this has revised the research question, focus or findings
Keep a research diary noting down thoughts and feelings about the research process
Keep fieldwork notes of observations, interactions, incidents, conversations, emotions
and responses
Listen to tape recordings, or watch video clips, of your qualitative data gathering
(interviews, focus groups, life histories etc) noting how your presence or interaction
as the researcher affected the process
Discuss and evaluate responses to the research subject, participants and process with
fellow researchers
The following example draws upon the use of fieldwork notes and a reflexive account of the
process of conducting a research interview.
Example Managing Oral History interviews
My research project used an oral history methodology to explore the detailed life experiences
of women accountants (Haynes, 2005). One of the participants, Deborah, was an audit
partner in an accounting firm, who initially gave me what seemed like some kind of sales
pitch about the value of accounting and the nature of her firm, such as might be given to a
prospective client. Deborah appeared to be reluctant to speak about herself in any depth and I
began to think that the meeting was not going to be particularly worthwhile for my research.
As I explained that I was interested in the experiences of women who, like myself, were
accountants and mothers, Deborah took a deep breath and interrupted me forcefully. The
tone and pace of the conversation changed dramatically, being much less measured and far
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more personal. Deborah then gave a frank and somewhat heart-rending account of her
experiences and her struggles managing her new identity as a mother and her pre-existing
identity as audit partner, between her unanticipated passion for caring for her child and her
loyalties to her clients. Deborah’s emotional account left us both moved and near to tears at
times. I felt that she saw me as another mother to whom she could unburden herself rather
than as a researcher. She appeared to value the opportunity to discuss some of her problems
with someone from outside the accounting firm or her family, all of whom appeared to be
implicated in any decisions about how she conducted her life and working arrangements. I
noted in my fieldwork diary immediately afterwards:
“Despite her apparent primness at first, I liked Deborah and genuinely wished her
well. This was much more like a conversation than an oral history interview and I
wonder whether she will regret saying any of this later. But she seemed to value the
opportunity to get it all off her chest…This was definitely a therapeutic opportunity
for her. She is so raw and emotional and needing to talk things through”.
Deborah also probed me quite hard about my own experiences, as if she were eager for
knowledge about ways of coping with what she saw as a problematic situation, being a
working mother, as this further extract from my fieldwork diary illustrates:
“Deborah wanted to know a lot about what I thought and how I coped, and what other
issues had derived from other women’s experiences… I felt guilty that I could not
help her more”
Deborah’s probing went on to feel more like an interrogation of me at one stage, to the extent
that she asked some deeply personal questions of me. For example, although she stated that
she did not intend to have any more children, she was very interested in my account of having
more than one child and whether I desired to have more, as if she were still affirming her own
decisions. As I was trying to follow a feminist research paradigm, in which it is often argued
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that self-disclosure during the research is good practice because it puts women participants at
their ease (Reinharz, 1992), and as she had been so open with me, I felt some sense of
obligation to respond and reciprocate. However, my disclosures here impinged on my
unresolved sense of self, and left me feeling emotionally vulnerable. I did not want to discuss
some of the issues she was confronting me with, as they left me feeling emotionally raw, just
as she was. I was concerned about the implications of becoming too self-analytical myself,
both from the perspective of how it made me feel on a personal level, but also in my role as a
researcher with the need to remain in control of myself and my conduct. Whereas Deborah
appeared to find the meeting therapeutic, contacting me afterwards to say how helpful she
had found it to talk through her life history, decisions and doubts, I found myself weeping
after leaving our meeting (extract from Haynes, 2006).
Given that reflexivity means interpreting one’s own interpretations, the field notes, diary,
observations and subsequent listening to tape recordings all facilitated this process.
Multiple levels of reflexivity
Reflexivity occurs on a number of levels and on several different themes, within, and arising
from, these two accounts.
Theoretical reflexivity
Theoretical assumptions may be revised as a result of research practice and engagement.
Reflexive research does not assume a social reality simply exists ‘out there’ waiting to be
discovered by the researcher; rather, it recognises that all research is affected by the
preconceptions, theoretical, methodological or ontological, which the researcher brings to the
research and its interpretation. More importantly, our theoretical assumptions and
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understandings will be revised by the new understandings gained during the process of
research, which then go on to inform new theoretical knowledge. This is what has been
termed a ‘double hermeneutic’ or the interpretation of interpreting subjects (Giddens, 1976
cited in Alvesson & Skoldburg, 2000, p. 247). In my example, engagement with theoretical
perspectives on identity, the politics of motherhood and the sociology of the accounting
profession gave me some new insights into my own identity and that of the research
participants, which in turn informed new theoretical understandings.
Methodological reflexivity
Methodological position and detailed methods may be revised as researchers engage
reflexively with the research process. By considering the effectiveness, conduct and process
of data collection, researchers may reinterpret and revise their methodological position to
take account of such issues as ethics, power relations, or use of language. In my example, if I
felt as if I were being interrogated, how does the participant in the research feel about the
process? What ethical issues arise from this situation, and how can they be dealt with? How
far is the research embedded in a series of complex power relations? Reflexivity enables the
power relations in the research process to be more explicit and the researcher to be more
aware of how he or she may be affecting or affected by the research process (Haynes, 2006).
In my case, a feminist perspective informed the research and its methodological approach
(Haynes, 2008). A theoretical position or paradigm may underpin the research, informing a
particular methodological approach, but a reflexive researcher will always reflect on the
interaction of theory and methodology to evaluate whether each should revise the other.
Ontological reflexivity
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All of us as researchers have our own ontological position, comprising our perception of the
nature of reality, our sense of reality, or the way we see the world. A reflexive research
approach engages with our ontological position, our values and choices. As Calás &
Smircich (1999, p. 664) argue:
“Whether we are involved in ethnography, or heavy statistics research, whether we
are writing about institutional theory, population ecology, organizational justice
corporate mergers whatever, no matter what topic or area or what methods we use
we are all… picking and choosing to pay attention and ignore … excluding,
including, concealing, favoring some people, some topics, some questions, some
forms of representation, some values. Can we do our writing in a way that is ‘self-
conscious’ of our choices?”
Being reflexive requires analysis of our ontological position, or view of reality, to make
explicit these choices and the researcher’s relationship with the research object. Hence, in
my example, through the empirical fieldwork and listening to the oral history narratives, I
came to know myself better by observing and reflecting on the experiences presented by
others, and by reflexively reviewing my own experiences in the light of other’s narratives.
My aim to come to a deeper understanding of myself through the project was informed by the
understandings I gained of others from the oral histories, and my greater understanding of
myself informed those understandings of others, in an inter-subjective analysis. The
researcher’s ontology links to, will influence, and is influenced by, theoretical positioning
and methodology as he or she both acts within the research and is acted upon by it.
Emotional reflexivity
Emotion is also a valuable source of reflexive insight. The emotionalization of reflexivity
refers to the process whereby individuals are increasingly drawing on emotions in assessing
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themselves and their lives, recognising that emotions are crucial to how the social is
reproduced and to enduring within a complex social world (Holmes, 2010). In my example, I
could not gather and analyse the oral histories, where participants are being asked not only to
relate facts about their lives but also explore the very essence of their being, without engaging
with emotional hurdles, whether my own or those of the participants. Not all research may
provoke such an emotional response as this, but all researchers will feel some kind of
response towards their research and/or their research participants. Whether it is frustration,
sadness, fear, liking or loathing, it is undeniable that the research process engenders
emotional responses. These can be used as a source of reflexive intellectual inquiry where
the emotional sensibilities of the researcher can be used creatively and analytically to
enhance the research process and outcomes. Thus, this methodological, reflexive approach
recognises the strong relationship between the process of research and the resultant product .
Cultural, social & political reflexivity
Reflexivity is also about understanding the relationship between individual practice and
social structure, not only relating selves to social collectivities, but also recognising the part
that selves play in constructing structures as well as being mediated by them (Stanley, 1993),
so that the researcher is aware of how she may ‘inadvertently realign the issues that concern
us with those of the relations of ruling’ (Smith, 1992, p. 96). In other words, the very
cultural, social and political discourse of the subject being researched, could affect the way
that the researcher treats and analyses the data derived on that subject. In my example, the
discourses and ideologies of being a ‘working mother’, both positive and negative, are
implicated in any interpretation I make of the oral history interview, which could either
challenge or maintain those discourses. Researchers, therefore, need to maintain a reflexive
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awareness of whether their research interpretations make use of dominant cultural, social and
political discourses, which in turn perpetuates those dominant discourses.
Subjective reflexivity
A final level of reflexivity is related to this point. In many qualitative research projects, the
researcher may effectively be both subject and object of the research. In my case, this was
explicitly expressed: I was a researcher investigating accountants who were mothers, and I
was both an accountant and a mother. In other research projects this may not be so explicit,
but organizational researchers may often research aspects of organizational life they have
experienced or observed. We may experience the tension of being both subject and object of
the research, and working between the dualities of public social knowledge and private lived
experience, by simultaneously serving an academic audience while also remaining faithful to
forms of knowledge gained in domestic, personal and intimate settings (Haynes, 2008). We
may find ourselves on the margins of academic discourse, as part of the ‘other’, the group we
want to explore, perhaps because of their under-representation in academic analysis, while at
the same time, we may be part of the academic social world that can potentially silence this
‘other’. Our research opens up, extends, limits or constrains understanding of particular
groups or particular forms of knowledge. Hence, we need to maintain a reflexive awareness
of our shifting sense of self as both subject and object of the research, of belonging to the
research and being outside it. We may even question whether this distinction between
subject and object is meaningful at all, given that it could be argued reality is constructed
inter-subjectively through the process of research and does not represent some pre-defined
existing reality or ‘truth’.
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So instead of discussing reflexivity, we might instead talk of ‘reflexivities’ as there may be
multiple forms of reflexivity. Of course, there may be additional reflexivities not noted here
in relation to my own project, and, in practice, all these various forms, levels and themes of
reflexivity are inter-connected and mutually related, not necessarily separate and discrete
facets of reflexivity. They may have different emphases depending on what the research
entails, includes, or questions. They all have a part to play in the relationship between
knowledge production, methodological processes and the role of the researcher, enabling the
research processes and outcomes to be open to change and adaptive in response to these
multiple layers of reflexivity.
Applying theoretical processes and perspectives to practicing reflexivity
In this section I make use of my example to return to some of the theoretical approaches to
reflexivity outlined earlier in this chapter to illustrate how the sometimes quite complex
concepts that are the focus of the literature can be operationalised and applied to our own
research practice.
Firstly I apply Hibbert et al’s (2010) conceptualisation of reflexive processes to my research
encounter with Deborah illustrated above. Hibbert et al (2010) suggest that recursion, or a
sense of return, occurs in a four-stage meta-process of reflexivity, which brings about change
in the process of reflection and is therefore recursive. The initial step of repetition occurs
when an individual reflects in a relatively self-focussed manner and recursivity occurs
passively, and benignly, so that individuals stay within the accepted boundaries of thought for
addressing a particular issue, or, in my case, role. In the case of Deborah, illustrated in the
example above, my attitude towards her as a research participant was limited by my initial
assumptions about her role as audit partner and her portrayal of herself as a spokesperson for
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the audit firm. During the first part of my meeting with Deborah, she treated me as if I were
a potential client, relating to me a promotional sales pitch on the attributes of her firm. I was
more closed than I should have been to more subtle alternative conceptions of her identity, to
the point where I had even wondered whether the research interview was going to yield any
useful information, as my processes of recursive change merely supported an initial
reinforcement of existing assumptions.
However, as Deborah unburdened herself in an emotive account, my processes of reflexivity
turned towards extension, and the building of new understandings. My initial conceptions
and transition to this mode of extension were overturned by failure or exogenous shock, with
a sensation that existing notions are inadequate, promoting a more active form of reflexive
engagement (Hibbert et al., 2010). Hence I was forced to engage in self-reflexivity to
question my own practices, assumptions and role in the creation of social life, though still on
my own terms (Cunliffe & Jun, 2005).
It was at the next stage in the recursive process that disruption occurred, leading to a more
critical reflexivity causing me to question my own ideologies and hidden assumptions, in
what was an unsettling and disorientating process. Hence at the time of the interview my
own emotional response challenged not only my sense of self as a researcher but also my
understanding of the research participant as ‘other’, as separate from and outside the research
process. Through this form of critical reflexivity, my understandings were problematised
through interaction with the inputs of others. This continued to a more disruptive form of
recursion leading me to evaluate and problematise some of my fundamental ideological and
methodological assumptions about ethical issues within an oral history methodology, arising
from power relations in the research, the interpretation and ownership of research, disclosure
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and reciprocity within the research relationship, and what can be avowed as a ‘feminist’
methodology (Haynes, 2010). While these were resolvable, they shifted my relationship with
the research participants and the research to a more nuanced reflexive level. Finally,
participation might be said to have occurred as a consequence of choosing to trust the other
and engage seriously with their view, to engage with a community and be transformed by it.
Hence, my example illustrates Hibbert et al’s (2010) call for consideration of reflexivity as
change in the researcher as well as in the research activities, demonstrating the temporal
dimension and transformative nature of the organisational researcher’s practice.
It also has resonance with some of Alvesson et al’s (2008) conceptualisation of reflexive
practices. I would position my example as partly reflexivity as a multi-voicing practice,
focusing on the relationship between the researcher and the ‘other’, which recognises how the
researcher forms part of the research project, and is actively constructed through the process
of research. In addition, as the research moved on it also became more embedded in
reflexivity as a positioning practice, emphasising how research takes place within an
academic field, within broader social processes that shape knowledge within a particular
community.
Summary and Conclusion
Reflexivity is an important and pervasive concept that permeates much organizational
research, enabling us to ‘think about thinking’. Reflexivity allows for a form of conversation
through which we come to know ourselves and others, the positions from which we speak,
and the political and social context in which the conversations take place. It questions the
relationship between knowledge and the production of that knowledge, problematising how
social, ethical, and political issues come to be embedded in the way that we produce and
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value knowledge, from defining research, data gathering, analysis, interpretation, and through
to writing up and publication. In doing so, reflexivity allows us to think ‘ through what one is
doing to encourage insights about the nature of social science, especially the role that
language, power/knowledge connections, social interests and ideologies, rhetorical moves
and maneuvering in the socio-political field play in producing particular accounts’ (Alvesson
et al., 2008, p. 497).
Reflexivity questions the processes and practice of research, in terms of how our
methodological conduct and theoretical pre-understandings as researchers transform and
influence new understandings. It also questions the product of that research, in terms of how
our philosophical or ontological positioning influences what counts as ‘knowledge’ or social
reality. When researching and writing reflexively, therefore, we need to be aware of how the
traditions of our particular field influence the way that research is carried out, by constraining
or enabling, valuing or rejecting, particular forms of knowledge. Reflexive methodologies
link with ontology and epistemology to integrate ethical, social and political judgements on
the research process and increase accountability for the knowledge that is produced.
Further reading:
The International Journal of Social Research Methodology and Qualitative Research in
Organizations and Management: An International Journal are both useful journals
containing a number of reflexive accounts using different research methodologies. In
addition the following additional reading provides a range of perspectives on reflexivity:
Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (1992), An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Chicago
University Press, Chicago.
Hines, R. D. (1988), "Financial Accounting: In Communicating Reality, We Construct
Reality", Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 251 - 261.
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Johnson, P. and Duberley, J. (2003), "Reflexivity in Management Research", Journal of
Management Studies, Vol. 40 No. 5, pp. 1279 - 1303.
Rhodes, C. (2009), "After Reflexivity: Ethics, Freedom and the Writing of Organization
Studies", Organization Studies, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 653-672.
Woolgar, S. (1988), "Reflexivity is the Ethnographer of the Text", in Woolgar, S. (Ed.),
Knowledge and Reflexivity. Sage, London, pp. 14 - 34.
References
Alvesson, M., Hardy, C. and Harley, B. (2008), "Reflecting on Reflexivity: Reflexive Textual
Practices in Organization and Management Theory", Journal of Management Studies,
Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 480-501.
Alvesson, M. and Skoldburg, K. (2000), Reflexive Methodology, Sage, London.
Calas, M. and Smircich, L. (1999), "Past Postmodernism? Reflections and Tentative
Directions", Academy of Management Review, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 649 - 671.
Clegg, S. and Hardy, C. (1996), "Introduction", in Clegg, S., Hardy, C. and Nord, W. (Eds.),
Handbook of Organizational Studies. Sage, London, pp. 1 - 28.
Cunliffe, A. (2003), "Reflexive Inquiry in Organizational Research: Questions and
Possibilities", Human Relations, Vol. 56 No. 8, pp. 983 - 1003.
Cunliffe, A. (2004), "On Becoming a Critically Reflexive Practitioner", Journal of
Management Education, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 407 - 426.
Cunliffe, A. and Jun, J. S. (2005), "The Need for Reflexivity in Public Administration",
Administration and Society, Vol. 37, pp. 225 - 242.
Fournier, V. and Grey, C. (2000), "At the Critical Moment: Conditions and Prospects for
Critical Management Studies", Human Relations, Vol. 53 No. 1 pp. 7 - 32.
Gummeson, E. (1991), Qualitative Methods in Management Research, Sage, Beverly Hills.
Haynes, K. (2005), "(Sm)othering the Self: An Analysis of the Politics of Identity of Women
Accountants in the UK", Unpublished PhD thesis, School of Management, University
of St Andrews.
Haynes, K. (2006), "A Therapeutic Journey?: Reflections on the Impact of Research on
Researcher and Participant", Qualitative Research in Organizations and
Management: An International Journal, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 204 - 221.
Haynes, K. (2008), "Moving the Gender Agenda or Stirring Chicken's Entrails?: Where Next
for Feminist Methodologies in Accounting?" Accounting, Auditing and Accountability
Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 539 - 555.
Haynes, K. (2010), "Other Lives in Accounting: Critical Reflections on Oral History
Methodology in Action", Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 221
- 231.
Hibbert, P., Coupland, C. and MacIntosh, R. (2010), "Reflexivity: recursion and relationality
in organizational research processes", Qualitative Research in Organizations and
Management: An International Journal, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 47 - 62.
Holmes, M. (2010), "The Emotionalization of Reflexivity", Sociology, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 139
- 154.
Lynch, M. (2000), "Against Reflexivity as an Academic Virtue and Source of Privileged
Knowledge", Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 26 - 54.
Orr, K. and Bennett, M. (2009), "Reflexivity in the co-production of academic-practitioner
research", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International
Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 85 - 102.
Reinharz, S. (1992), Feminist Methods in Social Research, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
22
Smith, D. E. (1992), "Sociology from Women's Experience: A Reaffirmation", Sociological
Theory, Vol. 10, pp. 88 - 98.
Stanley, L. (1993), "On Auto/Biography in Sociology", Sociology, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 47 - 52.
Tomkins, L. and Eatough, V. (2010), "Towards an integrative reflexivity in organisational
research", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International
Journal, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 162 - 181.
Weick, K. (2002), "Real-time reflexivity: Prods to reflection", Organization Studies, Vol. 23
No. 6, pp. 893 - 898.
... As in all qualitative studies, researchers must reflect on the research and how their roles could have potentially influenced the outcome (Haynes, 2012). To this end, we approached the study and our participants with empathy and respect. ...
... The co-author is a registered psychologist who understands the power dynamics in research with adolescents. Throughout the research process, we engaged in self-reflection, carefully chose our words in reporting, and were cognizant of how we positioned our participants and their experiences (Haynes, 2012). ...
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Positive student–teacher engagement that fosters independent and supported learning is the fulcrum for academic success. This paper investigates stakeholder opinions on the intrinsic importance of a democratic student–teacher relationship and autonomous learning in mediating students’ academic progress in Zimbabwean secondary schools. This case study’s qualitative data was gathered through interviews and focus groups. We used Foucault’s theory of power relations and the self-determination theory of motivation to frame our findings. The 40 participants from two secondary schools were general teachers (n = 12), guidance and counseling teachers (n = 2), educational psychologists (n = 2), and form 5 students (n = 24), selected through purposive sampling techniques. The data were analyzed using the thematic content analysis approach. Findings revealed participants’ perceptions that democratic student–teacher relationships and autonomous learning opportunities may serve as a panacea to enhance students’ participation, motivation, and overall academic performance. The study recommends in-service training to teachers regarding policies, directives, and public acts that inform and educate on how student–teacher relationships may be enhanced to foster autonomous learning. Future longitudinal studies could investigate the long-term effects of positive student–teacher engagement and teacher-supported autonomous learning on student academic achievement.
... Although the term reflexivity is widely used in organizational research, the significance of reflexivity has increased as qualitative research methods in social science have become more prominent (Haynes 2012). For example, although Gold (1958) believed that 'every field role is at once a social interaction device for securing information for scientific purposes and a set of behaviours in which an observer's self is involved' (p218), Gold stopped short of presenting this as a matter for undue concern. ...
... For example, although Gold (1958) believed that 'every field role is at once a social interaction device for securing information for scientific purposes and a set of behaviours in which an observer's self is involved' (p218), Gold stopped short of presenting this as a matter for undue concern. According to Weick (1999), it was not until the 1970's that management researchers started to think about their thinking, and reflexivity is often considered as a process by which research turns back and takes account of itself (Weick 2002;Alvesson et al 2008;Haynes 2012). ...
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This study examines the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in a UK fresh food factory. The UK food supply chain, like other lower paid and lower skilled sectors, is heavily reliant on this precarious form of employment and the voice of these workers has not been adequately heard. Whilst temporary agency work has been subject to extensive research, few accounts take into consideration the view from below to consider the overall lived experiences of these workers. This is surprising and, given the significance of this form of employment, warrants further examination. In this study I give an ethnographic account of the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in a salad processing factory, focusing on three aspects. The first aspect considers precarious work and employment insecurity and explores the experiences of temporary agency workers as they seek work and then aim to maintain work, whilst the second aspect examines these agency workers as they undertake work. These temporary agency workers experience multi-faceted relationships whilst at work - which is the third aspect of their lived experiences that this study examines. The ethnographic approach that I adopted for this study combined participant observations and semi structured interviews to provide valuable insights into the work experiences of temporary agency workers. As the motivation for this study was to further understand the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in the food supply chain, an ethnographic approach was necessary as we cannot really learn a great deal about what actually happens or about how things work in organizations without undertaking the intensive and close-up participative research that is central to an ethnographic approach. By examining the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in this way, this thesis makes an important contribution to the literature in the following areas. First, I add to our knowledge of temporary agency work by highlighting and explaining how temporary agency workers exhibit individual agency to lessen the effects of precarious work and employment insecurity. Second, many temporary agency workers carry out intense work and this thesis contributes to the literature on temporary agency work by examining how the combined effect of temporality and hard work intensifies their workplace experiences. Third, the relationships experienced by temporary agency workers from within a blended workforce have not been adequately examined from their perspective and this thesis contributes to the literature in this area. Whilst blending suggests a workplace which is smooth and homogenous, I introduce the concept of the mixed-up organisation to appropriately reflect that life on the diverse factory shop floor is far more complicated. Finally, this study reveals how discreet acts of resistance are enacted by temporary agency workers, and in doing so further highlights that these workers possess a surprising degree of individual agency.
... This section aims to clarify the potential impact of this research in the accounting literature and outline its significance on the research choices made. Self-reflexivity is the process of managing the interaction between the researcher's perceived experience and post-understanding of social objects (Haynes, 2012). It refers to the processes of understanding new ways of thinking as indicated in the following quote: 'Reflexivity is an awareness of the researcher's role in the practice of research and the way this is influenced by the object of the research, enabling the researcher to acknowledge the way in which he or she affects both the research process and outcomes… In other words, researcher reflexivity involves thinking about how our thinking came to be, how a pre-existing understanding is constantly revised in the light of new understandings and how this, in turn, affects our research'. ...
... It refers to the processes of understanding new ways of thinking as indicated in the following quote: 'Reflexivity is an awareness of the researcher's role in the practice of research and the way this is influenced by the object of the research, enabling the researcher to acknowledge the way in which he or she affects both the research process and outcomes… In other words, researcher reflexivity involves thinking about how our thinking came to be, how a pre-existing understanding is constantly revised in the light of new understandings and how this, in turn, affects our research'. (Haynes, 2012;PP 72-73) The pre-existing experience represents a rich source of knowledge that could be used to create a specific kind of understanding. Indeed, assessing the role of the researcher's experience in creating or interpreting any new form of knowledge needs to be reflected upon. ...
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... According to Denzin and Lincoln (2018), exploratory qualitative research is often related to an interpretive approach and philosophy. Subsequently, reflexivity involves the process of interpreting the role of researchers, which influence the methods and outcomes of qualitative research (Haynes, 2012). It should be highlighted that the reflexivity of this study's analysis was guided interpretively by the fact that the principal researcher has been a social entrepreneur of a sustainable social enterprise for more than twelve years. ...
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In the emerging field of academic research on social entrepreneurship, studies on social entrepreneurial motivation and sustainability are largely underexplored due to the complexity of understanding the connection between these two constructs. This study aimed to provide theoretical, practical, and empirical evidence of how social entrepreneurs are motivated to operate their social ventures structured in an entrepreneurial and business-like manner to achieve sustainability. This study employed an exploratory qualitative approach based on case studies of social enterprises operating in Malaysia and the United States. This study explored the motivational factors related to critical dimensions such as social, economic, behaviour, and governance that influenced the CEOs and founders of social enterprises operating their unique entities to attain sustainability for their ventures. The theory of change and the logic model are business processes that were investigated and extended into the social impact measurement using the social return on investment or the balanced scorecard approach. The empirical findings indicate motivational factors that drove the studied social entrepreneurs to pivot, forge new partnerships, and create social and technical innovation to ensure continued sustainability for their social enterprises. The cross-comparison study revealed similarities and differences between these two countries. The development of a new concept termed ‘mission agility’ is another pivotal contribution that will benefit academicians worldwide. Hence, this study provided pioneering work in the theoretical development of linking motivation to sustainability in social entrepreneurship. Practitioners and policymakers will be able to utilise the conceptual framework established by this study to navigate through the current economic landscape that will enable social enterprises to be sustainable in facing the post-pandemic era. This study delivered invaluable theoretical, practical, and empirical contributions to social entrepreneurship and sustainability.
... This means that the authors were actively involved in the research process, and that results are not entirely free from potential bias associated with researcher input [38,43]. In line with previous studies using a similar approach [44,45], it is then acknowledged that as authors of this work, we have a general interest in assisting the development of successful and sustainable dietary alternatives to animal-based proteins that may contribute to our interpretation of themes and focus group discussions. ...
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Overconsumption of meat has been recognised as a key contributing factor to the climate emergency. Algae (including macroalgae and microalgae) are a nutritious and sustainable food source that may be utilised as an alternative to animal-based proteins. However, little is known about the consumer awareness and acceptance of algae as a protein alternative. The aim of this qualitative study was to develop a rich and contextualised understanding of consumer beliefs about the use of algae in novel and innovative food products. A total of 34 participants from the UK assisted with our study. Each participant engaged in one focus group, with six focus groups conducted in total. Existing consumer knowledge of algae was discussed before participants explored the idea of algae-based food products. Reflexive (inductive) thematic analysis was used to analyse these data. Results showed that consumers have limited pre-existing knowledge of algae as a food source; however, participants were open to the idea of trying to consume algae. This anticipated acceptance of algae was influenced by several product attributes, including perceived novelty, edibility, healthiness, sustainability, and affordability. These findings highlight algae as a promising protein alternative to support plant-forward diets in the UK and identify key attributes to consider in future product development and marketing strategies.
... During data collection, the researchers of this study considered themselves, and the participants included in the study as mutually and continually inclusive, therefore all researchers have acknowledged any preconceived assumptions that may have occurred in relation to the topic under investigation in order to reduce the influence of bias in the study [25]. With respect to trustworthiness, this study adopted Guba's (1981) elements of quality criteria for naturalistic inquiry to assess the transparency and reliability of qualitative research. ...
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... Despite its limitations, practicing reflexivity is now a common component to qualitative research and can consist of either personal reflexivity and/or epistemological reflexivity. Personal reflexivity can be described as a process by which researchers explore how their own involvement influences, acts upon and informs their research (Haynes 2012). Positional reflexivity acts as a further form of selfreflexivity which encourages researchers to recognise themselves as an integral part of the research project (Alvesson and Skőldberg 2009). ...
Thesis
Background: Urinary tract infection is a leading cause of healthcare associated infection in hospitals with around half of these being attributable to indwelling urinary catheters. Overuse of urinary catheters in healthcare settings is a known problem yet the extent to which it is possible to avoid catheter use is unclear. Urine output monitoring is one of the main indications for short-term catheter use, with acute kidney injury (AKI) and sepsis as key drivers to detect oliguria (low urine output). However, published guidance lacks clarity on when a catheter is needed for urine output monitoring, fueling uncertainty and potential for overuse in clinical practice. Aim: The aim of this research is to explore how and why urine output is monitored in acute medical environments. Methods: A sequential, explanatory mixed methods study was designed. Two approaches to data collection were used: a point prevalence survey of 17 medical wards, using the whole source population as the sample and analysed using descriptive statistics, followed by a focused ethnography in an acute medical unit and a medicine for older people ward using a purposive sample and reflexive thematic analysis. Findings: The prevalence survey identified 107/389 (27.5%) patients had an indwelling urinary catheter. Almost half (n=49/107; 46%) were placed solely for the purpose of urine output monitoring. Most (n=87/107; 81%) catheters had a urine meter attached to enable 1-2 hourly measurements, but only 12% (n=7/60) were utilised for this purpose outside of critical care. The focused ethnography revealed how clinicians were influenced both by clinical and non-clinical rationales when justifying the need for a urinary catheter to monitor urine output. Distrust in the use of non-invasive collection methods was a significant contributing factor to catheter use. Conclusion: Urinary catheters are thought to champion the accuracy of urine output monitoring, but it is debatable whether the drive for accuracy is jeopardising rather than improving patient safety. The redundancy of most urine meters outside of critical care in one hospital reveals considerable potential for reduction in urinary catheters and thereby in catheter-associated infections. However, uncertainty about the reliability and practical application of non-invasive approaches for urine output monitoring is likely to hinder such reduction and requires further investigation.
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Thesis
Despite decades of research and investment, low enrollments and a lack of diversity in undergraduate physics programs remain problematic (American Institute of Physics, 2020; Merner & Tyler, 2017; Porter & Ivie, 2019). For example, Laurentian University closed its physics department in 2021, due primarily to low undergraduate enrollments (Schwabe, 2021). Many scholars have indicated that the traditional physics culture is a key barrier that prevents students from pursuing physics degrees (Eran-Jona & Nir, 2020; Hyater-Adams et al., 2019; Seyranian et al., 2018). Detailed studies of how to shift this traditional culture toward student engagement, success, and inclusion have been missing from the literature (Corbo et al., 2016; Strubbe et al., 2020). This dissertation is a qualitative, instrumental case study (Stake, 2005) of one university physics department in Canada where a group of concerned faculty members worked with the author to make changes that would benefit students, with the eventual goal to increase enrollments and diversity. Data collection lasted 17 months and included 37 interviews, 345 pages of field notes, and 424 student survey responses. The qualitative data was processed using qualitative thematic analysis. The analysis showed that a spectrum of views were held during the research by the various participants, and some movement away from traditional views and toward progressive ones was observed. Three common threads were produced in the qualitative analysis: Building Skills and Changing Mindsets, From Teacher Centered to Student Centered, and Building Community. These threads respectively represented changes that took place within the participants’ own minds, within their classrooms, and across the whole department. Taken together, the threads and their sub-themes present a roadmap for a cultural change that could lead to increased enrollments and diversity in physics. The collaboration between an educator and the group of faculty members was highly valued by the study participants, as was the individual, context-based nature of the assistance they were offered. Several participants indicated that, because they were participating in the study, they made pedagogical changes that they would otherwise not have attempted. Simultaneously, other participants did not make any observable changes during the research. This study contributes to the physics education literature by illuminating the complex process of shifting culture toward inclusion, student success, diversity, and belonging. Educators can play a crucial role in this process because it requires expertise in building supportive classrooms, adopting the growth mindset, and fostering cultures of inclusion.
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Growing attention to self-as-theorist threatens to shift reflexivity from a means to improve theory to an end in itself. Such a shift both muddles observations and conceals the possibility that reflexive liabilities are present-at-hand reconstructions of dissimilar ready-to-hand moments of data collection. Reflexivity lived forward differs, from reflexive threats to validity understood backward. This difference is illustrated through an analysis of Wicklund's theory of multiple perspectives. It is concluded that current renderings of reflexivity may have focused on the wrong categories.
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Over the last 20 years, social science scholars have challenged conventional conceptions of social reality, knowledge, and the validity of our methods of inquiry. Many have criticized the aim of mainstream social science to provide an absolute, objective view of the world and have called for a reflexive stance in which we recognize all social activity, including research itself, as an ongoing endogenous accomplishment. Three main themes have emerged: a crisis of representation, an emphasis on the constitutive nature of language, and a call for reflexive approaches to research. Contemporary organizational theorists have found themselves drawn into the debate and struggling with a number of questions around how to carry out reflexive research. I examine those questions and explore the implications for organizational research. In doing so, I attempt to enact reflexivity through one layer of narrative circularity.
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We have recently witnessed a growing, if still arguably marginal, interest in `Critical Management Studies' (CMS). Our aim in this paper is to reflect upon the popularization of CMS; more specifically, we propose to examine the various factors that have contributed to its emergence, and to review the significance of its project. We start by exploring the conditions of possibility for CMS and point to a combination of political, institutional and epistemological trends. In the second part of the paper, we consider what constitutes `CMS' and suggest that whilst it draws upon a plurality of intellectual traditions, CMS is unified by an anti performative stance, and a commitment to (some form of) denaturalization and reflexivity. Finally, we articulate the polemics around which CMS politics have been contested, in particular we review the debates between neo-Marxism and post-structuralism, and discuss the issue of engagement with management practice.