Reflexivity and Reflection

Narrative environment design may be considered a form of reflexive practice, employing both reflexivity and reflection.

For Mary Holmes (2010), reflexivity refers to the practices of altering one’s life as a response to knowledge about one’s circumstances. In the context of education, Kaya Prpic (2005) defines reflexive practice as reflective inquiry that involves making connection between one’s personal life and professional career. For Siraj-Blatchford and Siraj-Blatchford (1997, p. 237), reflexivity is, “the self-conscious co-ordination of the observed with existing cognitive structures of meaning”, i.e. it is a process in which the observations that we make are dependent upon our prior understandings of the subject of our observations. On this basis, reflection may be defined as ‘thinking about’ something after the event. Reflexivity, by contrast, involves a more immediate, dynamic and continuing self-awareness, a reflection in the moment which is incorporated into the ongoing inter-action.

Prpic argues that It is important to distinguish between reflexivity as a position and reflectivity as a general process, by which she means that a position of reflexivity, an ability to locate ourselves in the situation, is complemented by a process of reflectivity. Reflectivity, as developed from the ideas of Argyris and Schön (1974), is the process in which we are able to reflect upon the ways our own assumptions and actions influence a situation, and thus change our practice as a direct result of this reflective process.

In the context of social theory, reflexive practice is situated within the concepts of reflexivity, modernity, globalisation and individualism, according to Giddens (1990). Giddens considers that reflexivity concerns the relationships between knowledge and social life, arguing that, as traditional frameworks of society dissolve, new patterns of identity are emerging, forcing people to live in a more open or ‘reflexive’ way. Giddens, therefore, thinks that we are all engaged in some level of reflexive practice every day, even if unconsciously, in that we make choices and react to the world in which we live, as we constantly respond and adjust to the changing environment around us. Even the small choices we make in our daily lives, such as what we wear, what we eat, how we spend our time, how we take care of our health and our bodies, are part of an ongoing process of creating and recreating our reflexive self-identities or, rather, positionalities.

Such definitions of reflexive and reflective practices are close to the concept of praxis, as discussed by bell hooks and Paulo Freire, for whom praxis involves critical reflection and contemplation on one’s actions and using the reflection to inform practice.

Boden (2016) argues that traditional theories of reflexivity, such as, for example that provided by Giddens, are overly rational and individualistic. Such approaches do not take into account the role that feelings play in reflexive processes, as is argued by Burkitt (2012) and Holmes (2010). Reflexivity is better understood as relational, embodied, and emotional, Burkitt contends. Dallos and Stedman (2009) further contend that reflexivity can be a creative, artistic and playful activity that utilises a person’s selfhood and agency beyond the narrower confines of their acquired academic knowledge.

For those advocating a more mindful approach to living, reflective practice is a step towards reflexive practice and a move from individuality to relationality. Thus, Tanaka, Nicholson and Farish (2013) argue that,

“Engaging in reflexivity requires critical thought and careful consideration followed by action rooted in understanding. Engaging in mindfulness and introspection with careful and open consideration to the complexity of situations and events that present themselves frequently generates reflexive practice. Where reflection is often individual, reflexivity is decidedly relational.”

As Dressman (1998) expresses it, reflexivity while including reflecting on the more mechanical aspects of practice, moves towards a deep attention to individual positioning within social contexts. In this way, reflexivity moves from awareness to connectedness. Reflexivity is a process that includes attention to beliefs about ontology, the study of what it means to exist, and epistemology, the study of what it means to know, thus providing an opportunity to explore other world views. Reflexivity requires attention to an object, while at the same time attending to one’s role in how that object is being constructed or constituted, as noted by Davies, et. al, 2004.

Being reflexive then is not simply a process of looking back and contemplating. It also involves considering one’s contributions to the construction of meanings and the reinterpretation of one’s actions in light of newly constructed meaning, as discussed by Willig (2001). Moreover, one is able to amend misinterpretations in what you believe and how you act.

In turn, Tanaka, Nicholson and Farish (2013) see reflexive practice as a step towards understanding the role of mindfulness and inter being, the capacity to be aware of what is going on and of what is there, which they see as as a more useful approach to engaging an ongoing consideration of self and other, as well as, it might be added, self and other in situation and in environment, to which narrative environment design could be attuned.


Argyris, C. and Schon, D.A. (1974). Theory in practice: increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco, CA; London: Jossey-Bass.

Boden, Z.V.R. et al. (2016). Feelings and intersubjectivity in qualitative suicide research. Qualitative Health Research, 26 (8), 1078–1090. Available from [Accessed 5 September 2016].

Burkitt, I. (2012). Emotional reflexivity: Feeling, emotion and imagination in reflexive dialogues. Sociology, 46, 458–472.

Dallos, R. and Stedman, J. (2009). Flying over the swampy lowlands: reflective and reflexive practice. In: Reflective Practice in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill Education, 1–22.

Davies, B. et al. (2004). The ambivilant practice of reflexivity. Qualitative Inquiry, 10 (3), 360-389.

Dressman, M. (1998). Confessions of a methods fetishist: Or the cultural politics of Reflective nonengagement. In, Chavez, R. C. & O’Donnell (Eds.), Speaking the unpleasant: The politics of (non)engagement in the multicultural terrain, (pp. 108-126.). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Holmes, M. (2010). The emotionalization of reflexivity. Sociology, 44, 139–154.

Prpic, K. (2005). Managing academic change through reflexive practice: a quest for new views. In: Higher education in a changing world, Proceedings of the 28th HERDSA Annual Conference, Sydney, 3-6 July 2005, Milpera, NSW: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia. Available from [Accessed 10 October 2013].

Roebuck, J. (2007). Reflexive practice: To enhance student learning. Journal of Learning Design, 2 (1), 77–91.

Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Siraj-Blatchford, J. (1997). Reflexivity, social justice and educational research. Cambridge Journal of Education, 27 (2), 235–248. Available from [Accessed 10 October 2016].

Tanaka, M.T.D., Nicholson, D. and Farish, M. (2013). Beyond reflection. In: Transformative Inquiry. Available from [Accessed 5 September 2016].

Willig, C. (2001). Introducing qualitative research in psychology. Adventures in theory and method. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

edited 6 September, 2016 by Allan Parsons

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