Return of the Actor: The
Reflexive Turn and
One of the most characteristic features of the philosophy of social sciences in recent times is the turn to the standpoint of the social actor. This move can be seen in part in the context of a gradual return to social science of the emancipatory ideas that had been central to the Hegelian-Marxist tradition. As we have seen, against the belief that social science can be emancipatory is, on the one side, the positivist and neo-positivist conception of a value-free explanatory conception of science and, on the other, the postmodernistinclined scepticism of emancipatory struggles. Feminism, amongst other approaches to be considered in this chapter, represents a different conception of social science as an emancipatory project based on a new conception of the social actor as situated and whose experience constitutes the basic subject matter of social science. However, the return of the actor is only one aspect to standpoint epistemology, which can be seen as an expression of a more general reflexive turn in the self-understanding of social science. Reflexivity is the key to the epistemology of the standpoint of the social actor.
With reflexivity comes the idea that the perspective of the social actor must be incorporated into the discourse of social science, which cannot remain separate from the social world. Although views differ as to the relation between the methodology of science and the standpoint of society, there is a general recognition of a reflexive relation.