Specific research methodology


There are many ways of explaining reflexivity, which has been described as involving complex relationships between how we know, what we know and who we are (Rennie, 71998; Hertz, 1997).

Further understanding of the above definition as noted by Hertz (1997) is that the reflexive researcher does not merely report the 'facts' of the research but also actively constructs interpretations (What do I know), while at the same time questioning how those interpretations came about (How do I know what I know).

In this paper I have made an effort to understand reflexivity, its importance in research, certain foundations reflexivity, its origin , its purpose, practically applying being reflexive in research and some of its limitations. These are the board aspects covered in this paper. Reflexivity is an essential component of the qualitative method and is now advocated by those employing quantitative methods to underpin and counterbalance objectivity.

Understanding Reflexivity:

There are many ways of understanding and using reflexivity. It may be the primary methodological vehicle for an inquiry, as in research using autoenthnography, autobiography, heuristics and narrative inquiry or 'social poetics'. It may be a means of constructing a bridge between research and practice. It may be a means of checking against possible sources of subjective bias. So, reflexivity is again a subjective tool to check one's subjectivity in research. Now, does this add to the objectivity of the research work? Thus, reflexivity is a continued quest for objectivity in one's own work.

Reflexivity: (a) the process of critical self-reflection on one's biases, theoretical predispositions, preferences; (b) an acknowledgement of the inquirer's place in the setting, context, and social phenomenon he or she seeks to understand and a means for a critical examination of the entire research process. (Schwandt, 1997). In this definition, various aspects of reflexive process are identified and researchers place (positionality) in this process is acknowledged.

According to me Reflexivity is, a researcher reflecting on one's subjectivity in their study both in terms of research content and process. Reflexivity is all about being open to your research work including being open to oneself and representation that in your research work.

Reflexivity is not the same as subjectivity but rather it opens up a space between subjectivity and objectivity. Researchers "coproduce" the worlds of their research rather than simply "find" these worlds. (Frederick Steier; 1991)

Philosophical roots:

Research practice has been developing against a backdrop of changing traditions and trends in society as a whole: reflexivity needs to be understood as part of those changes.

The principle of reflexivity was perhaps first enunciated by the sociologist William Thomas (1923, 1928) as the Thomas theorem: that 'the situations that men define as true, become true for them.'

Positivist beliefs in a measurable reality that existed independently from subjectivity have been challenged by a growing recognition that even the most objective observers or interpreters bring themselves and their prior knowledge and personal and cultural histories into the equation.

Feminist research approaches emphasized equality in research relationships and encouraged transparency of the values and beliefs that lay behind researchers interpretations, thereby lowering the barriers between researcher and researched, allowing both sides to be seen and inviting researchers to take responsibility for their views by using the first person pronoun 'I', thus losing the security of the anonymous third person (the researcher), or 'the passive voice that distances subject from the object'(Crotty, 1998).

Social constructivism encouraged us to view the world and ourselves as embedded within historical and cultural stories, beliefs and practices, and reality and knowledge as depending upon socially defined stocks of knowledge available at the time. This brought greater focus on the relationship between the storyteller and the listener, and what each brings into the research relationship to create meaning and understanding of the topic.

Importance of Reflexivity in Research

By using reflexivity in our representation of research we gain and share with others 'reflexive knowledge' (Hertz, 1997): Knowledge not only about the topic of our inquiry but also about how we acquired that knowledge (epistemological aspect of research practice).

Issues of reflexivity in research are discussed in terms of:
  1. Power in Research
  2. Researcher subjectivity
  3. Interpretive process
  4. Representation in research texts.

Reflexivity in research is not a single or universal entity but a process and an active, ongoing process that saturates every stage of the research. Adopting a reflexive research process means a continuous process of critical scrutiny and interpretation, at different stages of research:

  1. The research methodology: Our choice of research design, the research methodology, and the theoretical framework that informs our research are governed by our values and reciprocally, help to shape these values.
  2. Interpretive process of the data: The methods of data analysis are not simply neutral techniques because they carry the epistemological, ontological and theoretical assumptions of the researcher who developed them (Alvesson and Skoldberg, 2000)
  3. Writing up of the research
  4. the research context, the planning, conduct and writing up of the research,
  5. The researcher: Attention is often drawn to the importance of recognizing the social location of the researcher as well as the ways in which our emotional responses to respondents can shape our interpretations of their accounts.
  6. participants and the ultimate purpose of the research.

Our research interests and the research questions we pose, as well as the questions we discard, reveal something about who we are. Our choice of research design, the research methodology, and the theoretical framework that informs our research are governed by our values and reciprocally, help to shape these values. Moreover, our interpretations and analyses, and how we choose to present our findings, together with whom we make our findings available to, are all constitutive of reflexive research. Reflexivity in research is thus a process of critical reflection both on the kind of knowledge produced from research and how that knowledge is generated.

A reflexive researcher is one who is aware these influences and is able to step back and take a critical look at his or her own role in the research process.

Goal of being Reflexive:
  • To provide information on what is known as well as how it is known.
  • To reduce the gap between the researcher and researched i.e. between the knower and what is known.
  • To eliminate researchers' impact on the research process except in controlled treatments.
  • To improve the quality and validity of the research.
  • To recognize the limitations of the knowledge that is produced.

Reflexivity also encourages researchers to develop the skills to respond appropriately in relation to interpersonal and ethical aspects of research practice.

How to practice reflexivity in research?

Acknowledging that there are problems with prescriptions regarding how to approach reflexivity in qualitative research, this section looks into the practical implementation of reflexive process.

The Research Diary: A Place for Recording Reflections: Keeping a research diary is an essential part of undertaking qualitative research. It is useful to separate this into four sections in order that you are prompted to reflect on different aspects of doing research and your role within the construction of research knowledge (Blaxter, Hughes and Tight, 2001):

  1. Observational Note: This is a descriptive note of an event such as an interview, chance encounter, and observation. They contain as little interpretation as possible and are as reliable as you can construct them.
  2. Methodological Note: This is the place where you reflect on the methodological aspects of research and your actions in undertaking an interview, observation and so forth. How did the interview go? What was your role within it?
  3. Theoretical Note: It is here that you begin to make meaning about your data. What are your initial explanations? What is your data telling you?
  4. Analytic Memo: This is the place where you are trying to bring several inferences together. You might, for example, review your theoretical notes and begin to see patterns or recurrent themes in your data. You would also attempt to link your analysis to the literature in your field.

Some forms of researcher reflexivity are obvious, clearly labled, and stand alone, i.e., a researche reflexivity section within a manuscript or an appendix positioned outside of the formal research report but part of the research account.

Others are simultaneously bold and subtle, woven seamlessly throughout the text by a researcher who claims neither invisibility nor objective detachment. First person voice signals the reader that the researcher views her or himself integral to the research, just as Schwandt's definition suggests.

To a certain extent the above addresses the question of how researchers can incorporate their reflexive observations into actual analysis of their data.

Reflexivity and Ethics in Practice

Reflexivity enables the researcher to explore ethical entanglements before, during and after the research. Although, research ethics committees do play an important role in highlighting ethical principles that are relevant to, and important for, social research, their role is necessarily limited. They cannot help when the researchers are in the field and difficult, unexpected situations arise, when they are forced to make immediate decisions about ethical concerns.

Guillemin and Gillam (2004) suggested that microethics might provide a discursive tool to articulate and to validate the kinds of ethical issues that confront researchers on a day-to-day basis. However, micro ethics is no helpful in addressing and dealing with these issues when they arise. There is a need for a process and a way of thinking that will actually lead to ethical research practice. This is where the role for reflexivity is seen.

Limits of Reflexivity/ Dilemmas using reflexivity:

Is there a limit to how reflexive we can be, and how far we can know and understand what shapes our research at the time of conducting it, given that these influences may only become apparent once we have left the research behind and moved on in our personal and academic lives (Daucet, 1998; Mauthner et al., 1998). Flanagan (1981) and others have argued that reflexivity complicates all three of the traditional roles that are typically played by a classical science: explanation, prediction and control

  • Accusations: the judicious use of our selves needs to be essential to the topic, not just a 'decorative flourish' if is to called reflexivity.
  • Lack of awareness: Researchers may lack the necessary level of self-awareness required to use reflexivity.
  • Lack of confidence: Researchers may be anxious about exposure, fearful of judgment or wish to retain their personal privacy.
  • Crisis of representation: People 'struggle with how to locate themselves and their subjects in reflexive texts' that are complex and multilayered and therefore sometimes difficult to manage (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000)

No matter how aware and reflexive we try to be, as Grosz (1995) points out, 'the author's intentions, emotions, psyche, and interiority are not only inaccessible to readers, they are likely to be inaccessible to the author herself'. There are many limits to reflexivity, and to the extent to which we can be aware of the influences on our research both at the time of conducting it and in the years that follow. It may be more useful to think in terms of 'degrees of reflexivity', with some influences being easier to identify and articulate at the time of our work while others may take time, distance and detachment from the research.


  • K Etherington 'Research Methods: reflexivities - roots, meanings, dilemmas'; Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 2004, Vol 4, No 2.
  • M Guillemin and L Gillan 'Ethics, Reflexivity and Ethically important moments in research'; Qualitative Inquiry, Vol 10, 2004
  • B Bolam, K Gleeson, S Murphy 'Lay person or Health Expert? Exploring Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Reflexivity in Qualitative Health Research'. Forum: Qualitative Social research; Vol 4, No 2 (2003) http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/699.
  • N.S. Mauthner and A. Doucet 'Reflexive Accounts and Accounts of reflexivity in qualitative data analysis'; Sociology, Vol 37 (2003).
  • http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/academicstaff/chughes/hughesc_index/teachingresearchprocess/reflexivity/
Reflexivity in various fields:
  • Social psychology
  • Educational research
  • Intervention Research- therapeutic
  • Epistemic Reflexivity
  • Ethnographic Research
  • Action Research
  • Theoretical issues in reflexivity constructionism
  • Reflexivity in the practice of developing constructionist research methodologies;
  • research experiences to emergent theoretical issues tied to reflexivity.
Criteria for an excellent critical paper:
  • Readings of at least 5 journal papers on the topic.
  • Refer- Articles, books, magazine.
  • Critical comments of the writer- your understanding
  • Citation
  • Writing style
  • Presentation - well edited

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