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Reflexivity (social theory) | Wikipedia audio article

Reflexivity (social theory) | Wikipedia audio article


In epistemology, and more specifically, the
sociology of knowledge, reflexivity refers to circular relationships between cause and
effect, especially as embedded in human belief structures. A reflexive relationship is bidirectional
with both the cause and the effect affecting one another in a relationship in which neither
can be assigned as causes or effects. Within sociology more broadly—the field
of origin—reflexivity means an act of self-reference where examination or action “bends back on”,
refers to, and affects the entity instigating the action or examination. It commonly refers
to the capacity of an agent to recognize forces of socialization and alter their place in
the social structure. A low level of reflexivity would result in an individual shaped largely
by their environment (or “society”). A high level of social reflexivity would be defined
by an individual shaping their own norms, tastes, politics, desires, and so on. This
is similar to the notion of autonomy. (See also structure and agency and social mobility.)
Within economics, reflexivity refers to the self-reinforcing effect of market sentiment,
whereby rising prices attract buyers whose actions drive prices higher still until the
process becomes unsustainable. This is an instance of a positive feedback loop. The
same process can operate in reverse leading to a catastrophic collapse in prices.==Overview==
In social theory, reflexivity may occur when theories in a discipline should apply equally
forcefully to the discipline itself, for example in the case that the theories of knowledge
construction in the field of sociology of scientific knowledge should apply equally
to knowledge construction by sociology of scientific knowledge practitioners, or when
the subject matter of a discipline should apply equally well to the individual practitioners
of that discipline, for example when psychological theory should explain the psychological mental
processes of psychologists. More broadly, reflexivity is considered to occur when the
observations or actions of observers in the social system affect the very situations they
are observing, or theory being formulated is disseminated to and affects the behaviour
of the individuals or systems the theory is meant to be objectively modelling. Thus for
example an anthropologist living in an isolated village may affect the village and the behaviour
of its citizens under study. The observations are not independent of the participation of
the observer. Reflexivity is, therefore, a methodological
issue in the social sciences analogous to the observer effect. Within that part of recent
sociology of science that has been called the strong programme, reflexivity is suggested
as a methodological norm or principle, meaning that a full theoretical account of the social
construction of, say, scientific, religious or ethical knowledge systems, should itself
be explainable by the same principles and methods as used for accounting for these other
knowledge systems. This points to a general feature of naturalised epistemologies, that
such theories of knowledge allow for specific fields of research to elucidate other fields
as part of an overall self-reflective process: Any particular field of research occupied
with aspects of knowledge processes in general (e.g., history of science, cognitive science,
sociology of science, psychology of perception, semiotics, logic, neuroscience) may reflexively
study other such fields yielding to an overall improved reflection on the conditions for
creating knowledge. Reflexivity includes both a subjective process
of self-consciousness inquiry and the study of social behavior with reference to theories
about social relationships.==History==
The principle of reflexivity was perhaps first enunciated by the sociologists William I.
Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas, in their book The Child in America, 1928 “If men define
situations as real, they are real in their consequences” The theory was later called
the Thomas theorem: that ‘the situations that men define as true, become true for them.’
Sociologist Robert K. Merton (1948, 1949) built on the Thomas principle to define the
notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy: that once a prediction or prophecy is made, actors
may accommodate their behaviours and actions so that a statement that would have been false
becomes true or, conversely, a statement that would have been true becomes false – as a
consequence of the prediction or prophecy being made. The prophecy has a constitutive
impact on the outcome or result, changing the outcome from what would otherwise have
happened. Reflexivity was taken up as an issue in science
in general by Karl Popper (1957), who called it the ‘Oedipal effect’, and more comprehensively
by Ernest Nagel (1961). Reflexivity presents a problem for science because if a prediction
can lead to changes in the system that the prediction is made in relation to, it becomes
difficult to assess scientific hypotheses by comparing the predictions they entail with
the events that actually occur. The problem is even more difficult in the social sciences.
Reflexivity has been taken up as the issue of “reflexive prediction” in economic science
by Grunberg and Modigliani (1954) and Herbert A. Simon (1954), has been debated as a major
issue in relation to the Lucas Critique, and has been raised as a methodological issue
in economic science arising from the issue of reflexivity in the sociology of scientific
knowledge (SSK) literature. Reflexivity has emerged as both an issue and
a solution in modern approaches to the problem of structure and agency, for example in the
work of Anthony Giddens in his structuration theory and Pierre Bourdieu in his genetic
structuralism. Giddens, for example, noted that constitutive
reflexivity is possible in any social system, and that this presents a distinct methodological
problem for the social sciences. Giddens accentuated this theme with his notion of “reflexive modernity”
– the argument that, over time, society is becoming increasingly more self-aware,
reflective, and hence reflexive. Bourdieu argued that the social scientist
is inherently laden with biases, and only by becoming reflexively aware of those biases
can the social scientists free themselves from them and aspire to the practice of an
objective science. For Bourdieu, therefore, reflexivity is part of the solution, not the
problem. Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things can
be said to touch on the issue of Reflexivity. Foucault examines the history of Western thought
since the Renaissance and argues that each historical epoch (he identifies 3, while proposing
a 4th) has an episteme, or “a historical a priori”, that structures and organizes knowledge.
Foucault argues that the concept of man emerged in the early 19th century, what he calls the
“Age of Man”, with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He finishes the book by posing the problem
of the age of man and our pursuit of knowledge- where “man is both knowing subject and the
object of his own study”; thus, Foucault argues that the social sciences, far from being objective,
produce truth in their own mutually exclusive discourses.==In economics==
Economic philosopher George Soros, influenced by ideas put forward by his tutor, Karl Popper
(1957), has been an active promoter of the relevance of reflexivity to economics, first
propounding it publicly in his 1987 book The Alchemy of Finance. He regards his insights
into market behavior from applying the principle as a major factor in the success of his financial
career. Reflexivity is inconsistent with general equilibrium
theory, which stipulates that markets move towards equilibrium and that non-equilibrium
fluctuations are merely random noise that will soon be corrected. In equilibrium theory,
prices in the long run at equilibrium reflect the underlying economic fundamentals, which
are unaffected by prices. Reflexivity asserts that prices do in fact influence the fundamentals
and that these newly influenced set of fundamentals then proceed to change expectations, thus
influencing prices; the process continues in a self-reinforcing pattern. Because the
pattern is self-reinforcing, markets tend towards disequilibrium. Sooner or later they
reach a point where the sentiment is reversed and negative expectations become self-reinforcing
in the downward direction, thereby explaining the familiar pattern of boom and bust cycles
An example Soros cites is the procyclical nature of lending, that is, the willingness
of banks to ease lending standards for real estate loans when prices are rising, then
raising standards when real estate prices are falling, reinforcing the boom and bust
cycle. He further suggests that property price inflation is essentially a reflexive phenomenon:
house prices are influenced by the sums that banks are prepared to advance for their purchase,
and these sums are determined by the banks’ estimation of the prices that the property
would command. Soros has often claimed that his grasp of
the principle of reflexivity is what has given him his “edge” and that it is the major factor
contributing to his successes as a trader. For several decades there was little sign
of the principle being accepted in mainstream economic circles, but there has been an increase
of interest following the crash of 2008, with academic journals, economists, and investors
discussing his theories.Economist and former columnist of the Financial Times, Anatole
Kaletsky, argued that Soros’ concept of reflexivity is useful in understanding the way in which
Western analysts believe that China’s “economy is not only slowing, but falling off a cliff.”
The perception that China is the weakest link in the global economy dominated the International
Monetary Fund annual meeting in Peru in October 2015. In reality, according to Kaletsky, China’s
GDP in 2005 was $2.3 trillion and in 2015 is $10.3 trillion, the renminbi stabilized
in October, “capital flight” dwindled, and there are “better-than-expected reserve figures
released by the People’s Bank of China on October 7.” Kaletsky claims that suspect but
powerful financial feedback perceptions are constantly “self-reinforced” but that they
do not reflect economic reality. According to Soros’ concept of reflexivity, “financial
markets can create inaccurate expectations and then change reality to accord with them.
This is the opposite of the process described in textbooks and built into economic models,
which always assume that financial expectations adapt to reality, not the other way round.”
The Chinese government’s “policy of shifting gradually to a market-based exchange rate”
reveals that China may better understand “reflexive interactions among finance, the real economy,
and government than “Western devotees of free markets capitalism.” Kaletsky warned against
making the same mistakes as those made in 2008 when “financial expectations” based on
reflexivity, interacted with “policy blunders, turning modest economic problems into major
catastrophes, first in the US and then in the eurozone.”In 2009, Soros funded the launch
of the Institute for New Economic Thinking with the hope that it would develop reflexivity
further. The Institute works with several types of Heterodox economics, particularly
the Post-Keynesian branch.==In sociology==
Margaret Archer has written extensively on laypeople’s reflexivity. For her, human reflexivity
is a mediating mechanism between structural properties, or the individual’s social context,
and action, or the individual’s ultimate concerns. Reflexive activity, according to Archer, increasingly
takes the place of habitual action in late modernity since routine forms prove ineffective
in dealing with the complexity of modern life trajectories.While Archer emphasizes the agentic
aspect of reflexivity, reflexive orientations can themselves be seen as being socially and
temporally embedded. For example, Elster points out that reflexivity cannot be understood
without taking into account the fact that it draws on background configurations (e.g.,
shared meanings, as well as past social engagement and lived experiences of the social world)
to be operative.==In anthropology==
In anthropology, reflexivity has come to have two distinct meanings, one that refers to
the researcher’s awareness of an analytic focus on his or her relationship to the field
of study, and the other that attends to the ways that cultural practices involve consciousness
and commentary on themselves. The first sense of reflexivity in anthropology
is part of social science’s more general self-critique in the wake of theories by Michel Foucault
and others about the relationship of power and knowledge production. Reflexivity about
the research process became an important part of the critique of the colonial roots and
scientistic methods of anthropology in the “writing cultures” movement associated with
James Clifford and George Marcus, as well as many other anthropologists. Rooted in literary
criticism and philosophical analysis of the relationship of anthropologist, representations
of people in texts, and the people represented, this approach has fundamentally changed ethical
and methodological approaches in anthropology. As with the feminist and anti-colonial critiques
that provide some of reflexive anthropology’s inspiration, the reflexive understanding of
the academic and political power of representations, analysis of the process of “writing culture”
has become a necessary part of understanding the situation of the ethnographer in the fieldwork
situation. Objectification of people and cultures and analysis of them only as objects of study
has been largely rejected in favor of developing more collaborative approaches that respect
local people’s values and goals. Nonetheless, many anthropologists have accused the “writing
cultures” approach of muddying the scientific aspects of anthropology with too much introspection
about fieldwork relationships, and reflexive anthropology have been heavily attacked by
more positivist anthropologists. Considerable debate continues in anthropology over the
role of postmodernism and reflexivity, but most anthropologists accept the value of the
critical perspective, and generally only argue about the relevance of critical models that
seem to lead anthropology away from its earlier core foci.The second kind of reflexivity studied
by anthropologists involves varieties of self-reference in which people and cultural practices call
attention to themselves. One important origin for this approach is Roman Jakobson in his
studies of deixis and the poetic function in language, but the work of Mikhail Bakhtin
on carnival has also been important. Within anthropology, Gregory Bateson developed ideas
about meta-messages (subtext) as part of communication, while Clifford Geertz’s studies of ritual
events such as the Balinese cock-fight point to their role as foci for public reflection
on the social order. Studies of play and tricksters further expanded ideas about reflexive cultural
practices. Reflexivity has been most intensively explored in studies of performance, public
events, rituals, and linguistic forms but can be seen any time acts, things, or people
are held up and commented upon or otherwise set apart for consideration. In researching
cultural practices reflexivity plays important role but because of its complexity and subtlety
it often goes under-investigated or involves highly specialized analyses.One use of studying
reflexivity is in connection to authenticity. Cultural traditions are often imagined as
perpetuated as stable ideals by uncreative actors. Innovation may or may not change tradition,
but since reflexivity is intrinsic to many cultural activities, reflexivity is part of
tradition and not inauthentic. The study of reflexivity shows that people have both self-awareness
and creativity in culture. They can play with, comment upon, debate, modify, and objectify
culture through manipulating many different features in recognized ways. This leads to
the metaculture of conventions about managing and reflecting upon culture.==Reflexivity and the status of the social
sciences==Flanagan has argued that reflexivity complicates
all three of the traditional roles that are typically played by a classical science: explanation,
prediction and control. The fact that individuals and social collectivities are capable of self-inquiry
and adaptation is a key characteristic of real-world social systems, differentiating
the social sciences from the physical sciences. Reflexivity, therefore, raises real issues
regarding the extent to which the social sciences may ever be viewed as “hard” sciences analogous
to classical physics, and raises questions about the nature of the social sciences.==See also==Campbell’s law
Double hermeneutic Goodhart’s law
Hawthorne effect Observer effect (physics)
Observer-expectancy effect Virtuous circle and vicious circle

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