THE FALSE COIN OF REFLECTION? Contributions, Reflection and the Economic Logics of Academia

Article excerpt


Reflection is often viewed as a specific intrapersonal process of epistemological questioning, but this is by necessity only part of the phenomenon. I will here argue for a critique of reflection and vanity in the social sciences by way of an inquiry into the academic economy. By recasting this as a hybrid phenomena, and then showing how such a reading can be used to reflect on the nature of reflection in academic work, I try to outline a project of developing a post- moralizing social science.

Keywords: economy, gifts, career, value, reflection in organization studies


Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein, should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long: therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

And, moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen juggling cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.

- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

What is reflected in reflection? In the gaze of vanity, which is the gaze of the one reflecting, what is seen? Reflection in social studies, as it is usually discussed, has peculiarly enough always meant one of two things; methodology or auto-biography. In the former case, reflection has become something of a meta-methodology, an invocation of doubt that has often taken on an almost ritualistic air - a whirlpool of continuous exhortations to think everything through just one more time, closely attending to the possibility that someone, somewhere, has not yet had their subjectivity properly mulled. In the latter, reflection has become a byword for evermore excessive exhibitions of academics wallowing in their own selfimportance, in which people in the name of reflection can engage in seemingly endless diatribes regarding their own lives something you'd think interests only themselves, if that. Not unsurprisingly, when academics brandish the word "reflection", many shudder and shy away.

In the following, I will attempt to do something slightly different, whilst still keeping to the notion of reflection. Often, this very word is taken altogether too literally, so that the reflection of which we speak is understood as that of a mirror. Such a device of, yes, reflecting surfaces, obviously does something that pleases the average researcher, namely portrays him or her anew, and thus gives the researcher the possibility to bask in his or her own glory once more. Reflection is through this closely related to vanity, and we can here see a connection to the way in which Slavoj Zizek (1993, 2000) has discussed the ideological, as the performative aspects of ideology will always be, in part, an identity-project (see also the discussion on "interpassivity" (Zizek 1998)). Consequently, much of what is written in the name of reflection is written to glorify the writer: "See my faults, my manifold of ways, my whole delightful being!" Such blatant exhibitionism, sometimes elevated to works of an oddly shameless art (where the willing suspension of disbelief is abused inasmuch as we are expected to think that the personal life, not to mention the personal feelings of the academic would in any way be interesting to the reading public), does however distract us from the more important and thoughtprovoking aspect of it all.

To reflect, i.e. to re-engage with some mode of thinking or expression, is at the same time an act of re-framing. …