A few Fridays back, I attended a BSA Postgraduate Regional Event on the complexities of reflexivity in social research. It was a really good day, full of a series of interconnected and flowing discussions about power relations in research, the subjectivities of research practice, managing complicated ethical landscapes, and, generally, the tortured nature of doing postgraduate research which doesn’t always fit into existing rules and structures.
Organised with care and warmth by Nell Beecham and Carli Ria Rowell, two PhD students at the LSE, it was a warm and forgiving event, where the process of research, so often smoothed over as researchers like Shane Blackman and Anne Oakley have written, was laid bare. There was some challenge to individual’s chosen research practices, but also a lot of understanding, of the difficult choices that have to be made and the recognition that this is a learning process, for all of us, not just postgraduate students.
I went to try and get a handle on what postgraduate students in the social sciences are still asking about when it comes to reflexivity. The conclusions to draw are that the R word still causes a hell of lot of frustration and confusion, but does provide some room for joy and love at both the singularity of experience, and the knowingness of recognition. The key questions that dominated attendee’s discussions over the day seemed to be:
- What is ‘right’ when it comes to reflexivity?
- How much reflexivity is too much?
- How do you write it?
- Will I look self-obsessed or narcissistic?
- Are ethics committees and processes flexible enough to understand the concept?
- How is the researcher’s emotional labour accounted for, and what support/protection is there for this?
ALL THESE QUESTIONS AND MORE will (probably fail to) be tackled in my forthcoming book, Doing Reflexivity: An Introduction, to be published in January 2017 by Policy Press. Here are the prospective cover and blurb:
Reflexivity is vital in social research projects, but there remains relatively little advice on how to execute it in practice. This book provides social science researchers with both a strong rationale for the importance of thinking reflexively and a practical guide to doing reflexivity within their research. The first book on the subject to build primarily on the theoretical and empirical contributions of Pierre Bourdieu’s reflexive work, it combines academic analysis with practical examples and case studies, drawing both on recent reflexive research projects and original empirical data from new projects conducted by the author. Written in an engaging and accessible style, the book will be of interest to researchers from all career stages and disciplinary backgrounds, but especially early-career researchers and students who are struggling with subjectivity, positionality, and the realities of being reflexive.
As I work on editing it, and getting the final manuscript in place, I’ll probably be posting cuts and ideas on here, so the three of you who read this blog can find out what’ll be in it.
At the day conference a few weeks ago, it was clear that there are so many people much smarter than me who struggle with this side of collecting data, analysing it, and communicating it. Hopefully this can be my small contribution to offering some guidance; and reassurance, that doing reflexive work is enjoyable, vital, a scientific necessity, and about so much more than self-importance masquerading as investigation.