The reflexive journey - On becoming reflexive and developing as a reflexive researcher: Helen Woodruffe-Burton


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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:

For further details of HEA Social Sciences work relating to teaching research methods please see

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The reflexive journey - On becoming reflexive and developing as a reflexive researcher: Helen Woodruffe-Burton

  1. 1. The Reflexive Journey; On Becoming Reflexive and Developing as a Reflexive Researcher Click to edit Master title style Professor Helen Woodruffe-Burton Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University Click to edit Master subtitle style 09/01/14 1
  2. 2. What is reflexivity? • “Reflexivity requires an awareness of the researcher's contribution to the construction of meanings throughout the research process, and an acknowledgment of the impossibility of remaining 'outside of' one's subject matter while conducting research. Reflexivity then, urges us "to explore the ways in which a researcher's involvement with a particular study influences, acts upon and informs such research." (Nightingale and Cromby, 1999, p. 228).
  3. 3. What is reflexivity? • Identified in the social sciences as a way to address power and control in the research encounter (amongst other issues) – E.g. Wasserfall, 1993, Kleinsasser, 2000, Mauthner and Doucet, 2003 • However: • There is a lack of structured debate about what reflexivity is • Process are not articulated clearly • Different approaches are evident • The result of this complexity can be terminal ambiguity (Johnson and Duberley, 2003)
  4. 4. Personal reflexivity? • ‘Personal reflexivity’ involves reflecting upon the ways in which our own values, experiences, interests, beliefs, political commitments, wider aims in life and social identities have shaped the research. It also involves thinking about how the research may have affected and possibly changed us, as people and as researchers.
  5. 5. Epistemological reflexivity • ‘Epistemological reflexivity’ requires us to engage with questions such as: – How has the research question defined and limited what can be 'found?' – How has the design of the study and the method of analysis 'constructed' the data and the findings? – How could the research question have been investigated differently? – To what extent would this have given rise to a different understanding of the phenomenon under investigation? • Thus, epistemological reflexivity encourages us to reflect upon the assumptions (about the world, about knowledge) that we have made in the course of the research, and it helps us to think about the implications of such assumptions for the research and its findings." • Carla Willig, (2001) Introducing Qualitative Research in Psychology (p. 10).
  6. 6. Action research and reflexivity BERA guidelines • Researchers engaged in action research must consider the extent to which their own reflective research impinges on others, for example in the case of the dual role of teacher and researcher and the impact on students and colleagues. – BERA guidelines, p.6 •
  7. 7. Reflexive Researchers • present honest and self-searching accounts of the research process • demonstrate to their audiences their historical situatedness, their personal investments in the research, acknowledging various biases they may bring • reveal “their surprises and ‘undoings’ in the process of the research endeavour.” – Gergen and Gergen (2000)
  8. 8. Researcher as ‘bricoleur’ • research is a process shaped by the individual history of the researcher and the individual characteristics of all the people in the research setting • The qualitative researcher “refuses to be limited” (Janesick, 2000, p.381) • the ‘researcher-as-bricoleur’ uses the tools of his or her methodological trade to provide solutions to problems (Denzin and Lincoln, 1998)
  9. 9. Struggling with methodology • I tried to draw from a number of areas to develop a methodological approach which could best capture the individual’s point of view and secure rich descriptions whilst also showing empathy and, indeed, concern for them and their feelings and working from a position as researcher of not being ‘in control’ or holding ‘power’ over them. • Key influences • the researcher’s (my) personality (Punch, 1998), (my) personal history (Denzin and Lincoln, 1998), (my) personal interest (Morse, 1998) and (my) personal desire to examine consumption independently of marketing management implications (Holbrook, 1987) from the consumer’s perspective (Hirschman, 1991)
  10. 10. Challenges • Existential phenomenological interview – ‘bracketing’ – The role of the researcher • Self-disclosure – Desire for maintaining rigour vs. being critical • The ‘feminist dilemma’: • “how we shift across the edges of our own personal lived experiences, our research explorations of others’ private lives and our transformation of these into the format of public knowledge.” (Edwards and Ribbens, 1998, p.203)
  11. 11. Distance • Schwandt (1998) states: “Whereas the individual-as-citizen legitimately has a practical (in a classic sense), pragmatic, interested attitude, the individual-turned-social-scientist brackets out that attitude and adopts the posture of objective, disinterested, empirical theorist.” (p.248) – interpretivists cannot engage in critical evaluation of the social reality they want to portray • Contrast with feminist scholarship which emphasises identification, trust and empathy, which brings out a relationship between researcher and researched based on cooperation and collaboration (Punch, 1998).
  12. 12. ‘ Feminist’ interviewing model • Strives for intimacy and self-disclosure • hierarchy and equality between the researcher and the researched (Oakley, 1981, Oleson, 2000); • the notion of the interviewee being actively involved in constructing data about their lives, rather than passively manipulated (Graham, 1983); • interviewee-guided interviews (Sandelowski and Pollock, 1986) where the interview becomes an interviewee-guided investigation of a lived experience
  13. 13. Interpretation • • • my stance did not allow for objective or neutral interpretation – would appear to negate the importance of gaining understanding through direct personal experience (Hirschman and Holbrook 1986) and the value of the researcher (Oleson, 2000). Rather, the personal characteristics of the researcher, the “cultural self” (Scheper-Hughes, 1992) that every researcher brings to his or her work should “no longer be seen as a troublesome element to be eradicated or controlled, but rather a set of resources”. (Oleson, 2000, p.229) Hirschman and Holbrook (1986) emphasise the importance of becoming “as personally involved with the phenomenon as humanly possible” (p.238) – Empathy and intuition are suggested as a means to interpret the results
  14. 14. The Role of the Researcher • Lincoln and Guba (2000) make the case for self interrogation regarding the ways in which research efforts are shaped and staged around the complex circumstances of the researcher’s own life and they point out that the process of research itself leads to the researcher gaining self knowledge • Acknowledging the significance of the role of the (reflexive) researcher in the creation of the research, Mauthner and Doucet (1998) see the analysis and interpretation stage as being a point where “the voices and perspectives of the respondents are particularly vulnerable.” (p138)
  15. 15. A Response • Mauthner and Doucet’s (1998) response to these challenges is to: “think of the research process as involving a balancing act between three different and conflicting standpoints: – (1) the multiple and varying voices and stories of each of the individuals we interview; – (2) the voice(s) of the researcher(s); – (3) the voices and perspectives represented both within existing theories or frameworks in our research areas and which researchers bring to their studies” (p.140)
  16. 16. The Power of Language • • • unbiased language – “Emily, upon whom this article is based, is one of the subjects of the author’s current research. She has participated in an extensive and ongoing study into aspects of compensatory consumption behaviour currently being undertaken by the author.” one of my personal objectives in undertaking research is to escape from the confines of the subject and object, the researcher and the researched. “Emily is one of the people with whom I have interacted during the course of my research. Far from being merely a participant, engaging with Emily and others has helped me to shape both the research process and my own understanding.”
  17. 17. Language • Using unconventional terms in place of traditional terms such as ‘subject’ is seen by some feminists as a signal that the researcher is operating within a feminist framework that includes the power to name or re-name (Eichler, 1980). • A view which neatly encapsulates much of what has been discussed in this chapter is put forward by Reinharz (1992), who avers that “eschewing standardization in format allows the research question, not the method, to drive the project forward”. (p.22)
  18. 18. Sharing • Interactive Introspection – Actively sharing my own experiences with others during the interview process with the aim of getting deeper insights from them. (Wallendorf and Brucks, 1993) • Feminist writers (Stanley, 1992, Birch, 1998) have talked about this idea in terms of ‘auto/biography’, not as narcissistic self exploration but, rather the “telling about yourself and your experiences” (Birch, 1998, p.178) as a tool in understanding and relating to others.
  19. 19. Concluding comment • this paper represents my own ‘auto/biography’ of the research process which provides a “practical tool to bring the process of constructing research to the surface.” (Birch, 1998, p.174) • it attempts to document some aspects of what being a reflexive researcher actually means in practice, from a personal perspective.
  20. 20. • “It is clear that for critical practice there is a need to reflect upon our own actions in the world as researchers, to interrogate our own practices as knowledge makers and to produce better accounts. Abdication of this responsibility results in action and knowledge which acts upon the social and cultural world with little or no (real) accountability or responsibility. However, there is a recognition that the reflexive researcher teeters between the chasm of methodological confusion, multiplicity and mess and the vortex of narcissism, pretentiousness and infinite regress…… In addition to these matters of thought, practical issues, for example, the reluctance of, and constraints on, journal editors restrict the extent to which reflexive research can find a public outlet. Academic institutions frequently privilege research output published in journals less likely to be sympathetic to reflexive experimentation...” – Shona Bettany & Helen Woodruffe-Burton (2009) Working the limits of method: the possibilities of critical reflexive practice in marketing and consumer research, Journal of Marketing Management, 25:7-8, 661-679