Engaging in Reflexive Acts - Sharing Experiences on Reflexivity in Empirical Qualitative Research*

By Keso, Heidi; Lehtimäki, Hanna et al. | Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Engaging in Reflexive Acts - Sharing Experiences on Reflexivity in Empirical Qualitative Research*


Keso, Heidi, Lehtimäki, Hanna, Pietiläinen, Tarja, Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry


ABSTRACT

In this article, we present an experiential narrative of reflexivity in qualitative empirical research. Through a dialog of three researchers on their research processes we highlight the issues of reflexivity in empirical research and show the ways by which a researcher's ontological and epistemological presumptions inform decision making throughout the research process. Generalizing from our own research experience, we call for academic discussion on the experiential knowledge researchers have on reflexivity. Sharing the experiences researchers have on reflecting the ontological and epistemological manifestations in empirical research would shorten the gap between the theoretical discussion on reflexivity and the day to day decisions an empirical researcher faces.

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1. INTRODUCTION

In this article, we reflexively explore issues of knowledge production in an empirical research process. Using our own Ph.D. research processes as examples, we explore how reflexivity unfolds as a continuous decision making process involving epistemologica! and ontological assumptions. In examining our own research processes, we draw on the work of Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln (1994) on different research paradigms and the issues of practical conduct of inquiry that are, depending on the underlying research paradigm, addressed differently in each research process. In this way, we extend work on reflexivity in business research to provide a narrative of real life experiences of reflexivity in empirical qualitative research.

Using our own research processes as examples, we discuss four metatheoretical approaches in qualitative research: social constructionism, constructivism, critical theory and scientific realism. Our examination focuses on six issues of knowledge production: purpose of the research, definition of knowledge, interaction between the researcher and the material, role of values in research and evaluation criteria for a qualitative research. We join in the discussion on reflexivity following those who argue that reflexivity addresses similar issues of knowledge production but brings forth different explanations depending on the chosen research paradigm with particular ontological and epistemologica! presumptions (Calas & Smirchich, 1992; Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000).

In thirty years, work on reflexivity has become well developed in organisation and management research methodology. Marta Calas and Linda Smirchich (1999) date the interest in "knowing about knowing" in organisation and management research back to late 1970s and early 80s when multiple research strategies and paradigms inspired debate within the community (see e.g. Morgan, 1983). Gibson Burrell and Gareth Morgan's 1979 study on the role of metatheoretical assumptions in organizational analysis soon turned into a classic methodological textbook emphasising the importance of researchers' sensitivity towards practices of knowledge production.

Over the years reflexivity has taken on several meanings. An early contribution to clarifying the varieties of reflexivity was made by Steven Woolgar, a sociologist of scientific knowledge. He (1988a) presents a continuum where reflexivity ranges from 'benign introspection' to 'constitutive reflexivity'. 'Benign introspection' refers to the researcher's reflection on the use of qualitative methods. Such reflexivity aims at improving the quality of analysis by strengthening the connection between the empirical objects and statements made of those objects. 'Constitutive reflexivity', in turn, promotes critical selfawareness throughout the research process. Through such reflexivity, the researcher seeks to fully understand and follow the commitments of paradigmatic knowledge production in order to detect new ways of interpreting the reality.

In a recent contribution, Michael Lynch, also a sociologist of scientific knowledge, (2000) lists six conceptions of reflexivity: mechanical, substantive, methodological, metatheoretical, interpretative, and ethnomethodological reflexivity. …

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