Ethical Reflexivity and Epistemological Weakness

By Tsekeris, Charalambos; Katrivesis, Nicos | Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Ethical Reflexivity and Epistemological Weakness


Tsekeris, Charalambos, Katrivesis, Nicos, Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry


ABSTRACT

It is customary to promiscuously interconnect the well-established methodological conception of sociological reflexivity to multi-level metatheoretical analyses, representational tactics and strategies, self-conscious knowledge-production processes and, in general, epistemological questions and answers. However, Western reflexive thinking about culture, rationality, and scientific knowledge often tends to (somehow) reproduce the self-assured "one epistemological size fits all" standpoint of Eurocentrism, to arrogantly exclude alternative post-colonial theorizations and to implicitly ignore the irreducibility of the "ethical dimension". The "reinvention" of this crucial dimension, within contemporary sociology and critical organizational research, entails the substantial incorporation of the "weak" performative circular reasoning as well as a new reflexive ethos and aesthetic of scientific modesty. The issue here is indeed the fruitful pluralist maximization of both ethical and cognitive possibilities. In this respect, the innovative "it could be otherwise" clause of radical intellectual inquiry remains central to our inter-disciplinary world- and self-accounts.

Key words: Reflexivity, Science, Epistemology, Ethics, Social Theory

Reflexivity and

Methodological reflexivity as a systematic means to better understand complex "knowledge-making including a consideration of the institutional, social, and political whereby research is conducted and is produced" (Alvesson, 2007), has rendered one of the most sociological buzzwords of our time. particular, the reflexive awareness of mutual dependency of sociological (e.g. risk, citizenship, space, time, morality) and social practice has increasingly brought right at the forefront various hot epistemological

In the contemporary academic it is almost customary to describe theories as both constitutive of and for practice, but also to tactically "reflexivity" in order to criticize or polemize others: "As the charge was once made of being a positivist, to be called an unreflexive practitioner seems to signify someone who is inadequate, incomplete and worst of all, outdated" (May, 1999: par. 1.1). In consequence, reflexivity is paradoxically transformed into an unethical egoistic project of simply becoming the "certified deconstructors" (Jackson, 1992) of other people's discourse and a "dead end rather than a route to more thoughtful and interesting social studies" (Alvesson, 2007). This leads us to further elaborate on the agonistic notion of "reflexive sociology" or, more precisely, on the antagonistic relationship between reflexive sociology and the sociology of reflexivity (Kenway and McLeod, 2004), between truly "reflexive accounts" and mere "accounts of reflexivity" (Mauthner and Doucet, 2003). In fact, reflexivity is a contingent chance rather than a "sacred cow", a fixed or "black-boxed" model providing strong and irrefutable methodological guarantees (see Garratt, 2003).

Then, following a consistent "humble" line of conceptual pragmatism (Charles S. Pierce), a new set of self-critical reflexive) questions may possibly emerge. For instance, what does the acute reflexive critique of the (male, dispassionate) knowing subject exactly involve? What does it really mean for our daily scientific practice? And, what are its ultimate ethical implications for the overall discourse of sociology? In the same spirit, Wanda Pillow, fruitfully prioritizes reflexivity as a topic of sociological study in its own right, which is regularly used by most researchers "without defining how they are using it, as if it is something we all commonly understand and accept as standard methodological practice for critical qualitative research" (Pillow, 2003: 176).

Focusing on this sharp meta-theoritical strand of inquiry, it is practically demonstrable that the ethical dimension of reflexivity is rarely stressed (or even recognized and acknowledged) in an explicit manner: "Although reflexivity is a familiar concept in the qualitative tradition . …

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