Recognising reflexivity: 'Striking moments' in dialogue - Sandra Corlett

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This presentation formed part of the HEA-funded workshop 'Reflexive learning for the researching professional'. …

This presentation formed part of the HEA-funded workshop 'Reflexive learning for the researching professional'.

This workshop explored the importance of reflexivity in professional learning, particularly in the context of doctoral research. From an understanding of reflexivity as critical self-awareness of our ways of being, knowing and doing, concepts such as identity, reflexive dialogue, liminality and transformation will be explored. Reflexivity will be illustrated from practitioner perspectives.

This presentation forms part of a blog post which can be accessed via: http://bit.ly/K8twPT

For further details of HEA Social Sciences work relating to teaching research methods please see http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/disciplines/Soc_Sci/Strategic_2013/ResearchMethods

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  • We have been talking about the researcher engaging in self-reflexivity and building this into their research practice and/or research design. I am going to give a slightly different focus, and discuss the potential of research interviews as reflexive dialogue and as sites for research participant reflexivity. I’m also going to emphasize the value of participating in research for participant learning and highlight the importance of striking moments for reflexivity.
    This approach assumes a relational social constructionist perspective that learning is a reflexive dialogic process involving becoming aware of, and changing, the way we use language in making meaning of our experiences (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Watson, 1994; Fletcher and Watson, 2007). During the presentation I’ll briefly discuss this.
  • Who am I?
    Lecturer, teaching in areas such as Developing Self,, Qualitative Research Methods, including Reflexivity.
    Researcher, interested in identity at the individual level
    PhD completed in 2009 – Genesis of this paper – in follow interviews from PhD after submission but prior to viva, I was struck by the value of engaging in my research project for the participants’ management learning, through having conversations with me (as a colleague). Clearly related to notions of the value of coaching but there is little written about research participant’s experiences of reflexivity
  • A relational social constructionist perspective (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Watson, 2008; Ramsey, 2005; Watson and Harris, 1999; Dachler and Hosking, 1995) on research and learning means that we construct knowledge about the world, our experiences within it and our selves “in our everyday interactions and conversations” (Cunliffe, 2002, p.37). In other words, knowing is an emergent dialogic process of meaning making, performed in ongoing relations (Fletcher and Watson, 2007; Ramsey, 2005; Cunliffe, 2002; Dachler and Hosking, 1995).
    “there can be no meaning attached to anything [including reflecting and learning] that is not derived from aspects of dialogue and relationship” (Fletcher and Watson, 2007, p.13). Therefore, reflecting, learning and knowing are not, therefore, ‘mind stuff’ (Dachler and Hosking, 1995) or cognitive-only processes occurring ‘in the head’ (Fletcher and Watson, 2007) but rather are ever evolving outcomes of dialogic processes taking place in multiple, interwoven conversations with others and ourselves.
    The focus on dialogic meaning making in conversations emphasizes the process of narrating (Smith and Sparkes, 2008; Ramsey, 2005; Sims, 2003: Dachler and Hosking, 1995). For instance, rather than the realist perspective of ‘having’ a ‘concrete’ experience (Kolb, 1984), from a relational social constructionist perspective, we narrate a story of our experiences (Ramsey, 2005).
    The story of any given experience will change as we narrate it to different audiences (Ramsey, 2005; Riessman, 1993) or to the same audience in different settings or at different times.
  • Making meaning of experience, then, is a social act of telling stories and referencing these to ongoing narrative (Beech et al., 2010; Sims, 2003) or making text-running text relations (Ramsey, 2005; Dachler and Hosking, 1995).
    As well as cross-referencing stories to others, we make sense of our experiences by constructing ‘practical theories’ and applying explicit knowledge (Cunliffe, 2002, 2003) or concepts (Watson, 2006). These theories and concepts, as discursive resources, provide a ‘frame of reference’ (Watson, 2006) or context (Dachler and Hosking, 1995) for our meaning making.
  • If we accept meaning making as a social act of creating theorized stories, then how we use language in shaping our stories and in constructing and potentially limiting what we know becomes of central importance. We may fail to notice what we say or do in any given moment because our ways of speaking and acting are so central to who we are (Cunliffe, 2008). Also, because the discursive resources we use come from the particular social and cultural settings in which we interact, we may take for granted, and therefore limit, particular descriptions of realities (Hosking and Morley, 1991). In other words, we ‘bound’ our meaning making processes by co-constructing, with others, limits to what are alternative descriptions of realities and to the sense of order we create (Hosking and Morley, 1991, p.70). However, as these limits are discursively produced, they are potentially open to change (Hosking and Morley, 1991). Therefore, we create possibilities for change by becoming aware of how we use language to ‘constitute and maintain’ our realities (Cunliffe, 2002:38) and by exploring different ways of interpreting situations (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008). Becoming aware then involves engaging critically and reflexively (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Fletcher and Watson, 2007) with our stories and conversational practices to reveal and change how we use language to create particular ways of knowing (Cunliffe, 2008) and being.
  • Engaging in critical self-reflexivity to become aware of our ways of talking, acting and being is central to learning (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Fletcher and Watson, 2007). Being self-reflexive is more than reflecting (Hibbert et al., 2010; Riach, 2009; Cunliffe, 2008) on an event or an experience; it involves ‘thinking more critically about ourselves, our actions, the types of conversations we engage in and the language we use’ (Cunliffe, 2008: 135). The critical self-reflexive process of questioning the bases of our interpretations, our ways of doing and, thus, of self (Hibbert et al., 2010) has ‘epistemological consequences’ (Riach, 2009: 358). In other words, through the process we construct different knowledge, different ways of knowing and change our selves or ‘“become otherwise” to some degree’ (Fletcher and Watson, 2007: 11).
    My understanding of dialogue, then, is not as a particular form of conversation (Raelin, 2001) or social process to be ‘applied’ to management learning (Gray, 2007) but rather as the social and relational processes through which learning occurs (Fletcher and Watson, 2007).
    When learning is reconstructed as a critical self-reflexive dialogic process, enacted in conversations with others (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008), then it can occur in any social interaction. Participant-focused learning through research-context social and relational processes has received limited attention
  • Riach’s (2009) research, on participant-centred reflexivity in the research interview, proposes that participant reflexivity occurs in an interview’s ‘sticky moments’, where the situatedness and assumptions of interview protocol and research context are actively questioned or broken down. (Riach’s research explored organizational age inequalities and ageing identities within the workplace. Upon analysing the interviews, possible reflexive moments were often signalled by participants ‘stepping outside’ traditional interview protocol (Mason, 2002). For Riach, it became apparent that the reflexive considerations were participant-led. Whilst the duration of such moments varied significantly, it appeared important that they were often accompanied by either long pauses or one person talking over the other. Riach (2009) used the term ‘sticky moments’, understood as participant-induced reflexivity, to represent the temporary suspension of conventional dialogues that affect the structure and subsequent production of data. In the context of Riach’s project, these were often triggered by the research theme itself or the embodied nature of the research interaction. CONFLATING THE RESEARCHER AND THE RESEARCH In Riach’s case participants commented on her (perceived) age as being unusual given the research topic of ageing identities - Comments ranged from ‘How old are you? I’m only asking as you look so young!’ to ‘Goodness, I was expecting someone much older’ – comments such as ‘it would be hard for you to understand …’ .
    Riach’s sticky moments are similar to Cunliffe’s (2002: 42) notion of ‘striking moments’ in which we are spontaneously ‘struck’ by an emotional, physiological or cognitive sense of ‘something important we cannot quite grasp in the moment’ (Cunliffe, 2002: 42). Like Weick’s (2002: 897) call for researcher ‘real-time reflexivity’ in a ‘moment when something unexpected occurs’, a striking moment may heighten awareness of learning because we are ‘moved to reflect on and/or reflexively question our ways of being and understanding’ (Cunliffe, 2002: 42).
  • There are two main aspects to the ‘research as learning’ dialogic process. First, as the researcher and participant interact and talk, learning evolves through multiple, interrelated dialogic processes. For analytical clarity I show these as discrete phases involving storying experience (Ramsey, 2005), making meaning (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Dachler and Hosking, 1995), creating order (Cunliffe, 2002), engaging in critical self-reflexivity (Cunliffe, 2002; Fletcher and Watson, 2007; Hibbert et al., 2010), becoming aware of and changing use of language (Cunliffe, 2002) and becoming otherwise (Fletcher and Watson, 2007). Second, the physiological, emotional, or cognitive sense of being ‘struck’ (Cunliffe, 2002) is key to critical self-reflexivity and learning because it moves us to question our ways of understanding and being (Cunliffe, 2002). ‘Striking’ (Cunliffe, 2002) moments, as potential triggers for critical self-reflexivity, are unpredictable and are shown in figure 1 as happening at different phases.
    To illustrate these emergent and mutually dependent processes and to provide further insight into the interplay of being struck, participant self-reflexivity and learning, I draw from an empirical study.
  • I’m going to illustrate the interplay of ‘being struck’ (Cunliffe, 2002) and participant self-reflexivity and management learning, through examples from the data. In particular, the research will explore what the research participant is struck by, and how the researcher and participant may recognize a ‘striking’ moment.
  • The data for this study are drawn from a wider empirical study of eight public-sector professionals’ experiences of becoming managers. The participants were selected because they had significant professional and managerial experience, with some ‘first’ becoming manager around twenty years before the first interview with them. The original project’s research design comprised two stages of semi-structured interviews, with the second interview taking place approximately 12-15 months after the first one. Both interview stages involved using critical incident technique (Chell, 2004) to prompt the telling and re-telling of significant events or issues identified by the participant. The first interviews included: the individuals’ professional backgrounds and how they had ‘ended up’ in their current managerial roles; what ‘being’ a professional and a manager meant to them, and examples of dealing with professional and managerial ‘challenges’ they had faced. In the second interviews, participants gave accounts of managerial incidents which had happened after the first interview, were reminded of the ‘incidents’ discussed in the first interview and were asked to select and elaborate upon one incident.
    The research report, in the form of a doctoral thesis (Corlett, 2009), included the researcher’s interpretations of selected narratives from the two interviews with the eight research participants. In the spirit of giving the research participants ‘something in return’ (Essers, 2009: 167), all were offered the final research report and invited to take part in a third interview. This interview aimed to seek participants’ views on the resonance (Ellis and Bochner, 2000) of the researcher’s interpretations and the practical utility (Potter and Wetherell, 1987; Riessman, 1993; Watson, 1995) of the findings. Five participants took part in a third interview, held in 2009. Although undertaken before the development of this paper, a key guiding question in this third interview was ‘what struck you as you read and reflected on the report?’.
  • Being reminded of earlier stories of incidents and experiences, by discussing them in the research interviews and/or by reading about them in the research report, encouraged participant reflexivity.
    The longitudinal dimension of the research design, with participants giving accounts of both their early and contemporary experiences of managing, meant that some of the incidents they had discussed in the first interview had occurred a long time ago. John reflected on his personal changes over a managerial career of over 20 years
    READ QUOTE
    Reading the research report reminded John of experiences from when he was ‘a very young manager’. John seemed to be struck by the passing of time and conveyed this through juxtaposing the past and the present (‘an awful long time ago now’). Furthermore, John’s impersonal storying (‘they were the experiences of a very young manager...of a guy in his 20s and 30s) conveys dramatically the comparison of past and present selves. The implied distancing of self from past experiences and selves suggests John’s awareness of becoming otherwise.
  • In the first part of the second interview, Wendy talked about an incident involving a member of staff who had just resigned unexpectedly. Later in the same interview, when reminded of the incidents narrated in the first interview, Wendy was REMINDED OF A CURRENT SIMILAR EVENT
    Wendy’s slight laughter, on three separate occasions in this extract, seems to indicate that she was ‘struck’ by the connection between the two incidents and the lack, in her view, of becoming otherwise. This is supported by Matoesian’s (2005: 184) observation that laughter may accomplish an array of actions, including ‘affiliat[ion] with or disaffiliat[ion] from a position’. Wendy engaged the researcher in making meaning: ‘I’ve done the same with [him] in a way, haven’t I?’. Following my probing, Wendy drew on practical theories, for instance relating to listening to people and reading body language and drew on cognitive concepts of learning (‘in my head I’ve learnt nothing’) in reaching her conclusion.
  • THE RECALL OF STRONGLY FELT EMOTIONS seemed to create a heightened sense of being ‘struck’.
    Edward indicated being struck through his use of language, such as ‘it’s funny ... it’s bizarre’ and more dramatically through his repetition of exclamations of surprise with an intensive adjective - ‘bloody hell’ which is reiterated in the next extract as ‘blinking heck’. Like John, and Wendy he commented on the extent to which he had ‘forgotten about the thing’. Through the retelling, he is reliving the painful memories of the incident. This alternative interpretation fits with the way Edward challenged, in the third interview after reading the research report, my interpretations of his forgetting the incident
  • Edward’s challenge of my interpretation (‘you talked about me having said I’d forgotten about the coroner, I hadn’t forgotten about it’) supports Riach’s (2009) finding that participant-induced moments of reflexivity occurred when a research participant challenged her. The final sentence includes a pause, which also supports Riach’s (2009: 361) finding that striking moments were ‘often accompanied by long pauses’.
     
    Edward’s repetition of ‘I suppose’ might be a speaking mannerism or might indicate his questioning of the bases of his interpretations (Hibbert et al., 2010) and his tentative sense-making. Edward switched pronoun use from ‘I’ to ‘you’, for instance ‘sometimes you can kid yourself on’ and ‘you push some things to the back of your mind’ indicating practical theories for explaining his forgetting about the incident. The final switch to ‘you’ in the last sentence shows Edward engaging in critical self-reflexivity by questioning his ways of doing, of self (Hibbert et al., 2010).
     
  • There is a temporal dimension of being struck. This is to be expected given the connection between time and reflexivity (Antonacopoulou and Tsoukas, 2002). The temporal dimension, and its relationship to self-reflexivity, is conveyed by the way in which participants narrate experience. In some storying, the juxtapositioning of the past and the present, as in John’s acknowledgement of his experiences as ‘an awful long time ago now’, supports Worthington’s (1996: 14) view that ‘historical narrative contextualisation is crucial to human understanding’. The comparison of experiences and selves over time also provides a ‘long view’ (McLeod, 2003) sense of ‘becoming otherwise’ (Watson and Fletcher, 2007). However, as well as supporting notions of the ‘temporal disjuncture of the self’ and ‘contrasting epistemological standpoints’ (Riach, 2009: 365) at different life points, as in John’s case, this research also found participants were struck by similarities of self narrated over time. For instance, Wendy was struck by the lack of learning and becoming otherwise when comparing a previously narrated incident with a current similar one.
    Being taken back to (and aback by) a previously narrated experience encourages critical self-reflexivity. There are three dimensions to this recall: the extent of remembering an incident; being reminded of something similar; and bringing back thoughts and emotions relating to the incident. For all these dimensions, it is important to appreciate that we remember in narrative (Hardy, 1968) and make memorable our experiences by transforming them into stories told over time (Kearney, 2002). Furthermore, when telling stories about experiences, we reference to a limited number of past, present and future happenings in our life (Harré and van Langenhove, 1999: Golden-Biddle and Locke, 2007). Therefore, it may seem likely that the participants may have ‘almost ... forgotten’ them (John and Edward). However, this may have ‘nothing to do with ‘memory’’ (Harré and van Langenhove, 1999: 72). Rather, what is interesting is why people draw on the particular experiences they do as part of their storytelling in any given situation (Harré and van Langenhove, 1999) and how they tell the story. Therefore, the ‘almost forgotten’ or newly ‘remembered’ events are part of the performative effect of the storying, for the audience and the self, which allow the individual to form connections and construct meanings in particular ways. The performance of recall could be said to heighten the sense of ‘being struck’ and may stimulate critical self-reflexivity or make more apparent one’s becoming (or, in some participants’ view, not becoming) otherwise.
    Making a connection between two similar incidents enables research participants to reflect on incidents and to engage in critical self-reflexivity. The third aspect of recall, of thoughts and feelings evoked, contrasts with McLeod’s (2003) view that the passing of time between research interviews encouraged reflexivity through an ‘emotional distance’ from previously narrated events. Rather, this research has illustrated the recall of previously narrated events and emotional closeness, in this case of pain as expressed by Edward.
  • Engaging reflexive dialogue requires both the participant and researcher to be sensitive to their ways of talking, acting and responding in-the-moment of being ‘struck’. As one of the participants not cited (Barbara) observed, engaging in critical self-reflexivity is difficult ‘when you’re in it’, that is the incident or moment. Acknowledging and responding to ‘being struck’ moments in the course of research relations and dialogue might be challenging but this research has extended understanding of how to recognize these. This research has illustrated direct and indirect ways of talking and acting in which the participant may demonstrate being struck. Complementing Riach’s (2009: 361) finding that these moments were ‘often accompanied by long pauses or one person talking over the other’, this research suggests striking moments may be indicated by challenging or engaging directly with the researcher, using rhetorical questions, switching pronoun use and slightly laughing.
  • Implications for our research practice include understanding storying as both an interview technique and the dialogic process of making meaning of experiences, and providing direct and indirect opportunities for participants to reengage in the research process, for instance through designing individual or group conversations over time or by involving participants as co-producers of data interpretation. As this research has illustrated, these research practices also create opportunities in which participants may be struck and engage in critical self-reflexivity and learning.
    For Teaching:
    for instance by designing opportunities for reflexive dialogue, particularly in striking moments. Dialogue may include with self, for instance through reengaging with written stories of experiences; with another, for instance through supervision, coaching and mentoring conversations; and with others, for instance, in action learning groups. In addition to these special forms of conversation, we need to appreciate that dialogical opportunities for learning are present in any context and may be seized if we are able to recognize and respond to striking moments.

Transcript

  • 1. Recognising reflexivity: ‘Striking Click to edit Master title style moments’ in dialogue Click to edit Master subtitle style Dr Sandra Corlett 01/09/14 1
  • 2. Who am I? ... becoming The context of this presentation in relation to my main teaching, learning and research interests Processes of learning and research, e.g. social learning, reflexivity Identity – at the individual level Managers and professionals, and manager development
  • 3. Key premises of relational social constructionism We construct knowledge about the world, our experiences within it and our selves “in our everyday interactions and conversations” (Cunliffe, 2002, p.37) Therefore, “there can be no meaning attached to anything [including reflecting and learning] that is not derived from aspects of dialogue and relationship” (Fletcher and Watson, 2007, p.13) The importance of narratives/narrating, stories/ storying, dialogue
  • 4. Making meaning of experience is a social act of telling stories and referencing these • to ongoing narrative (Beech et al., 2010; Sims, 2003) to make text-running text relations (Ramsey, 2005; Dachler and Hosking, 1995). • to ‘practical theories’ and explicit knowledge (Cunliffe, 2002, 2003) or concepts (Watson, 2006), to provide a ‘frame of reference’ (Watson, 2006) or to make text-context relations (Dachler and Hosking, 1995)
  • 5. Challenging ‘bounded’ meaning making We take for granted and, therefore, limit particular descriptions of realities (Hosking and Morley, 1991) Need to be aware of how we use language to ‘constitute and maintain’ our realities (Cunliffe, 2002:38) Engaging critically and reflexively (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Fletcher and Watson, 2007) with our stories and conversational practices
  • 6. Learning as a critical self-reflexive dialogic process becoming aware of our ways of talking, acting and being (Cunliffe, 2002, 2008; Fletcher and Watson, 2007) questioning the bases of our interpretations, our ways of doing and, thus, of self (Hibbert et al., 2010) ‘“becoming otherwise” to some degree’ (Fletcher and Watson, 2007: 11) by constructing different knowledge, different ways of knowing
  • 7. ‘Real-time’ reflexivity in dialogue: ‘Sticky’ and ‘Striking’ moments participant-centred reflexivity in the research interview (Riach, 2009) – ‘sticky moments’ similar to Cunliffe’s (2002: 42) notion of ‘striking moments’ and being ‘struck’ by ‘something important we cannot quite grasp in the moment’ (Cunliffe, 2002: 42)
  • 8. Research as a dialogic process of learning Creating order Engaging in critical selfreflexivity Making meaning Being struck Storying experience Becoming aware of and changing use of language Becoming otherwise
  • 9. Research Questions What is the research participant ‘struck’ by? How may the researcher and participant recognize a ‘striking’ moment?
  • 10. Research Design Original study: Data from PhD study of eight public-sector professionals’ experiences of becoming managers The PhD project comprised two stages of semistructured interviews (in 2005, and 2006), using critical incident technique This study: Five participants took part in a third interview (in 2009) and asked ‘what struck you as you read and reflected on the report?’
  • 11. Referencing time: Changes in past and present selves John: some of the examples that you were drawing from was when I used to work in the libraries and that seems so many years ago now, and they were the experiences of a very young manager Interviewer: yea they were because they were those early career transitions, weren’t they and first becoming manager experiences John: which seem an awful long time ago now, and have I changed in that time? Well yea, absolutely, so when I was looking at that I was thinking yea I remember that now but it was almost something I’d forgotten, valuable experiences but they were experiences of a guy in his 20s and 30s who simply found himself in a manager position, so I’m looking at that and thinking that’s a long time ago, and probably with perspectives now might be different examples
  • 12. Referencing time: Similarities in past and present selves Wendy: that sort of resonates with what’s happening at the moment with [the staff member who has just resigned] ... that’s the same issue that I’ve got with [another staff member] ... I’ve done the same with [him] in a way, haven’t I? (slight laughter) Interviewer: well that’s how you see it ... what does that now make you think, now that you’ve sort of seen that pattern there? Wendy: I’m not listening to people ... I’m thinking they’re quite keen to do this and they’re not (slight laughter) … this current situation being so similar to that (slight laughter) means that in my head I’ve learnt nothing from that
  • 13. Remembering an incident: evoking strong emotions Edward: it’s funny I mean I had almost kind of forgotten about the thing with the guy that committed suicide, it’s bizarre you know because I mean god at the time that was probably such a hugely painful memory for me, and it’s kind of almost reassuring that I’ve kind of like I’ve put that behind me and I’ve moved on … I mean I suppose it shows the extent to which I’ve had to take on new responsibilities and I’ve not really had much of a chance to reflect actually, I mean of course I do remember but it was only when I went through it and you referred to it I thought ‘yea, bloody hell’ (interview 2)
  • 14. Critical self-reflexivity Edward: it was also interesting I suppose in terms of sometimes you can kid yourself on, can’t you?, do you know what I mean?, so one of the things you said [in the research report] was you talked about me having said I’d forgotten about the coroner, I hadn’t forgotten about it but I suppose that, with the press of new things that had come on, you push some things to the back of your mind but I do know in the current role that I’m in a number of similar challenges have come along and it’s kind of resonated for me ... the situation I’m in at the moment, there’s an awful lot that’s wrong with the organisation and that’s really tested me and I suppose then to read back on a situation where you think blinking heck you know (Interviewer: yes) I suppose what it makes you think is (pause) you know, am I up to the challenges that are being faced, do you know what I mean? (interview 3)
  • 15. What is the participant struck by? • Time – narrated differences and similarities of selves over time • Recall of a particular incident – performance in narrative • the extent of remembering an incident • being reminded of something similar • bringing back thoughts and emotions relating to the incident: emotional closeness as well as distance
  • 16. Recognizing a striking moment? How may the researcher and participant recognize a striking moment? •Ways of talking – directly through particular expressions (such as ‘resonated’, ‘fascinating’, ‘funny’, ‘bizarre’), switching pronouns, use of rhetorical questions •Ways of acting – pauses, laughter, challenging or engaging directly with the researcher
  • 17. Implications For your research practice … •understanding storying as both an interview technique and the dialogic process of making meaning of experiences •providing opportunities for participants to reengage in the research process For your teaching and learning practice … •Engaging in dialogue with self and other(s)
  • 18. Thank you for listening. Any comments or questions?