Doug Macbeth's On Reflexivity in Qualitative Research


On “Reflexivity” in Qualitative Research: Two Readings, and a Third
Douglas Macbeth
Ohio State University

Reflexivity has become a signal topic in contemporary discussions of qualitative research, especially in educational studies. It shows two general inflections in the literature. Posi- tional reflexivity leads the analyst to examine place, biography, self, and other to under- stand how they shape the analytic exercise. Textual reflexivity leads the analyst to exam- ine and then disrupt the very exercise of textual representation. The purpose of this article is to develop a critical reading of contemporary formulations of reflexivity in the literature and then reintroduce an earlier discussion in social science, Garfinkel’s ethno- methodological “constitutive reflexivity.” The author suggests that postmodern attach- ments not withstanding, positional and textual reflexivities may have far more in com- mon with Enlightenment certainties than is commonly allowed. As for constitutive reflexivity, a brief analysis of a videotaped sequence from a fifth-grade classroom is offered as an example of its alternative program and topics.

In the rush of interest in qualitative research in the past 15 years, few topics have developed as broad a consensus as the relevance of analytic “reflex- ivity.” By most accounts, reflexivity is a deconstructive exercise for locating the intersections of author, other, text, and world, and for penetrating the rep- resentational exercise itself. As with deconstruction more generally, reflex- ivity has become an identifying move within a recognizable program of premillennial social science. The program’s consensus is not easily described, and the play of reflexivity in the literature is far more diverse than a single, or several, positions can account for. And although this diversity assures us that any account of it can only be tendentious, it may still be useful to try to build one. The “reflexive thesis” (Ashmore, 1989) has become so well established— and nearly obliged—as to be worthy of a critical review.1

In this article, I want to build such a review of two of the prevailing dis- courses on reflexivity in the contemporary literature, and then compare them
Author’s Note: The topics of this article were first presented to the American Educa- tional Research Association, special interest group in Qualitative Research, Montreal, Canada, in April 1999. The author is indebted to Mr. Minho Shon for close readings and discussions of a prior draft and to an anonymous reviewer for an exceptionally percep- tive reading.
Qualitative Inquiry, Volume 7 Number 1, 2001 35-68 © 2001 Sage Publications, Inc.
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to a third and earlier discourse in the ethnomethodological literature (see But- ton, 1994; Garfinkel, 1967; Garfinkel & Sacks, 1970; and Lynch, 1993). I want to recommend the earlier discourse as one that confers no privilege on the reflexive exercise or otherwise reserves it to professional analytic purposes or credentials. By this prior account, the reflexive exercise is a member’s exercise first, and interest turns from issues of professional methodology or formal theory to the practical, reflexive constitution of ordinary worlds. Thus, de- pending on the reading, we may have in a same expression entirely different recommendations for understanding the organization of social worlds.


With etymological roots in self-reflection and critical self-reflection, the contemporary move to analytic reflexivity is marked in general parlance by a “turning back upon itself,” for example, the turning back of an inquiry or a theory or a text onto its own formative possibilities. Contemporary expres- sions of reflexivity have attachments to critical theory, standpoint theory, tex- tual deconstruction, and sociologies and anthropologies of knowledge, power, and agency (see, e.g., Anderson, 1989; Ashmore, 1989; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Clifford, 1988; Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Collins, 1986; Fine, 1994; Har- ding 1991; Lather, 1997; Marcus & Cushman, 1982; Olesen, 1994; Richardson, 1998; Smith, 1988; Stocking, 1983; Tyler, 1987; Woolgar, 1988). They have emerged in pace with a progressive reading of the implications of a cultural, and then radical, relativism. A radical relativism problematizes not only meaning, value, and knowledge but representation as well, and much of the contemporary expression and interest in reflexivity has followed on the dis- covered crisis of representation in Western academic life—a crisis whose rec- ognition was part of the opening onto the vast range of analytic deconstruction.

The crisis of representation is at once a crisis for objectivism, unified and nomothetic sciences, and synthesizing, totalizing discourses. Relativism and reflexivity are intimately bound up in the widely observed crisis, and these may well be features of a postmodern condition (Lyotard, 1984). But by what- ever genealogy, the very security and stability of the analyst’s footing in the world (Goffman, 1981) have been deeply shaken and with them the taken-for- granted assurances and privileging of social science analysis. Realist repre- sentation has been cast into radical doubt, and docile fields of inquiry (e.g., fields of rules, norms, and formal structures) have exploded into multiple, cross-cutting, and contested attachments to identity, orientation, power, and knowledge. Although Wittgenstein (1969) reminds us that doubt always pre- mises certainty, it is as though the only certainties available to the qualitative researcher were the shifting relations and sedimentations of biography, cul- ture, habitus, and occasion. In this context of crisis, and borrowing from


Dewey (1929/1984), we can say that the discourses of qualitative research in general have been taken up with the problematics of “certainty” that have fol- lowed on the dissolution of modernist programs and confidences, ethnographic authorities included.

For territories such as these, a professionally disciplined reflexive analytic that could attend the uncertainties of representation and competing knowl- edge claims in the worlds we study has much to recommend. A reflexive stance is widely recommended for crafting descriptions that might be relieved of the gendered, cultural, rational, and still other hegemonies and centricities that the crisis has brought into view. In this light, and against the oppositional backdrop of a prevailing modernist representational regime, reflexivity is recommended as a principal method for excavating new (anti)- foundations for the analytic and representational exercise. It is as though we would need to learn how to speak and describe and read and write all over again, and for many of its iterations, reflexivity begins with a skepticism toward how indeed we have been doing these things all along. Reflexivity recommends an inquiry into the very possibilities of our unreflective knowl- edge and practices, and in this way, the reflexive move is an aggressive one for bringing more of an unsettled field into view.2


Assuming that this is a useful (or at least recognizable) account of the reflexive discourse generally, I need to take some further liberties with it to build the discussion promised in my title. Of the contemporary expressions of reflexivity in qualitative research, I want to characterize and critically discuss two general and affiliated programs. I understand them as positional reflex- ivity and textual reflexivity, where each heading represents a temporary col- lection of arguments and literatures that permits me to make certain other arguments and distinctions as well.

Both of these inflections on reflexivity are familiar in the contemporary lit- erature of qualitative research and educational studies. My sketches of them will be programmatic and brief and with the understanding that each inflec- tion has a rich and productive literature beyond my account of it. Nonethe- less, the discussion may be useful for examining the place of reflexivity in premillennial social science and educational research especially. Although the two programs are unavoidably presented in order—first the positional, then the textual—this order of the text is not intended as a code or continuum. Rather, the objects that get turned back upon are different in each. Further- more, and as with all such collections, the boundaries tend to become faint when we begin looking closely.

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Positional Reflexivity

With these caveats, I mean by positional reflexivity those formulations of the reflexive exercise that treat it as a self-referential analytic exercise. Perhaps most familiar in confessional discourses, experiments in authorial voice, and standpoint theories (see Clifford, 1988; Collins, 1986; Crapanzano, 1986; Har- ding, 1993; Hartsock, 1983; Lather & Smithies, 1997; Richardson, 1994; St. Pierre, 1997; Travisano, 1998; Van Maanen, 1988), positional reflexivity takes up the analysts’ (uncertain) position and positioning in the world he or she studies and is often expressed with a vigilance for unseen, privileged, or, worse, exploitative relationships between analyst and the world (cf. Ander- son, 1989; Denzin, 1994; Lather, 1986; Lincoln & Guba, 1990).

A positionally reflexive view of the field thus implicates a disciplined view and articulation of one’s analytically situated self, and for some researchers (cf. Ellington, 1998; Richardson, 1998; Ronai, 1998), positional reflexivity has directly autobiographical and sometimes nearly clinical attachments. Reflex- ivity leads the analyst to take up the knots of place and biography and to deconstruct the dualities of power and antipower, hegemony and resistance, and insider and outsider to reveal and describe how our representations of the world and those who live there are indeed positionally organized (see also Frieden, 1989; Haraway, 1988; Heron & Reason, 1997; Lather & Ellsworth, 1996). By interrogating the borders of the hermeneutic circle in this way and recognizing those orders of analysis and interpretation that fail to transform, positional reflexivity often intends to leverage emancipatory possibilities from the unnoticed commitments and adhesions of nonreflexive agency and worlds.3

Especially in educational studies, positional reflexivity has become insin- uated into the very methods of qualitative methodology. It is recommended as of a piece with methodological discipline, informing the very possibility of postpositivist and/or poststructural analytic rigor (Ball, 1990; Hertz, 1996; Lather, 1994). It figures into research policies that aim to manage and/or finally explode positive-science attachments to, for example, objectivity, totalizing discourses, or neutral observation languages by (re)materializing the analyst in the discourse on methods (cf. Altheide & Johnson, 1994; Ellington, 1998; Lather, 1996; Lincoln, 1995; McLaren, 1992; Scheurich & Young, 1997; see also Sparks, 1989, on the residual positivism that inhabits much of the qualitative research literature). Thus, for Ball (1990), analytic rigor is tied to the analyst’s reflexive engagement in the world.

Self conscious engagement with the world . . . provides the possibility of techni- cal rigor in the ethnographic process. The basis of this rigor is the conscious and deliberate linking of the social process of engagement in the field with the tech- nical processes of data collection and the decisions that that linking involves. I call that linking reflexivity. (p. 159)


The achievements of this rigor are not then only technical. Locating rigor in a disciplined consciousness, wherein analytic agency shapes the very social activities and organizations it would disclose, reflexively positional research aims to bring into view the engagements of the analyst’s agency as a first, deliberate, and formative field for analysis. (See Denzin, 1994; Fine, 1994; Fontana & Frey, 1994; Lather, 1997; Oakley, 1981; St. Pierre, 1997; Tobin & Davidson, 1990; Villenas, 1996; and Wolf, 1992, for discussions and demon- strations of positionally reflexive agency.) To my reading of the contemporary literature, this order of reflexivity has nearly become an obliged topic, if not method, for those who would do qualitative research.

Positional reflexivity thus aligns methodological rigor with a critically dis- ciplined subjectivity, decentering not only the sedimentations of the analyst but (reflexively) those of the field itself. Rather than “leveling” the world with a singular, objectivizing narrative voice, it preserves and recovers the polysemy of multiple positions, interests, and agencies in the settings it ana- lyzes. Yet positional reflexivity poses problems too. Perhaps most familiar are the problems of recursion and regress for the reflexive exercise (see Ashmore, 1989; Platt, 1989; Woolgar, 1988), although they may be the least interesting among them. Although regress has been the bane of foundational philoso- phies, in the absence of foundational commitments the postmodern condi- tion suggests a different trajectory. Where regress traces a linear recursion, postmodernity sets aside the assumptions and comforts of clear lines and destinations.4

In other ways, however, positional reflexivity shows some striking conti- nuities with foundational projects and Descartes’s especially. Centrally, both articulate a program for securing disciplined knowledge via rigorously skep- tical inquiries into the very possibilities of knowledge, and both situate knowledge in agency. Both projects premise a contested territory of truths, facts, and commitments for which a skeptical self-reflection is the compass, and the opening onto the possibility of rewriting the epistemic landscape. Each promises a new grounding and warrant for knowledge production, as exem- plified in their skeptical-reflexive inquiries. And because it tends to be an explicitly partisan epistemic program, as was the modernist program before it, positional reflexivity also tends to reproduce the competitive spirit of the mod- ernism that it would deconstruct. I want to briefly develop each of these themes, beginning with the last, first.
As with Enlightenment skepticism, positional reflexivity goes into compe- tition with commonsense worlds. (See Garfinkel, 1967; Latour, 1988; Lynch, 1993; and Zimmerman & Pollner, 1974, on the competitive program of social science vis-à-vis everyday life.) At least since Plato’s allegory of the cave, dis- ciplined skepticism has promised an epistemic and methodological advan- tage over our naive knowledge of worldly appearances, and in many of its expressions, positional reflexivity reissues this venerable ambition of seeing

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through the naive—and even false—realisms of ordinary experience. Each seeks a critical understanding of ordinary worlds by reference to larger but unnoticed arrangements and conditions—although now to reveal unseen power, discourse, and hegemony rather than Enlightenment themes of order, reason, or consensus.

The analytic locus is also similar. Unlike unreflexive analysts who naively read knowledge and meaning off the world, the reflexive analyst locates knowledge in agency. Positional reflexivity is not then simply an inward looking, although it is that too. Reflexive agency lives as much in public spaces as in biographical sedimentations. But as it was for Descartes, reflexive agency assigns a distinctive task and authorization to the singular analytic ego: the deconstruction of the possibilities of knowledge by the interrogation of the analyst’s positional cogito. Insofar as the analyst becomes a disclosing medium onto the fields of action she studies as both an analyst and an expres- sion of unseen order and interests, the site of knowledge production for posi- tional reflexivity is fundamentally ego analytic. Tied to a singular, disciplined exercise and authorization, positional reflexivity is epistemic from the outset, and in this light, we could say it recommends a revision of the modern ana- lytic gaze, in common pursuit of an ever more penetrating—and in that sense foundational—field of view.

Furthermore, although motivated by a program that would dissolve binary structures and oppositions—familiar objects and armaments for mod- ern social science and targets for the postmodern critique—positional reflex- ivity tends to insinuate them as well as part of the very cogency of its descrip- tions and arguments. In the measure that the distinctiveness of the reflexive exercise owes to its naively positional “other,” oppositional binaries are implicit throughout. However, rather than the binaries of modern formal analysis (e.g., those of structure and function, subjective and objective, sci- ence and common sense), we find binaries of power-knowledge, structure- agency, and reflexive-unreflexive, and it may be that binaries are unavoidable whenever methodological discourses are taken up to promise formal knowl- edge and/or demarcation criteria.

Finally and perhaps central among its continuities with modern formal analysis, positionality also tends to rely on fields of autonomous structure. This follows from its critical-theoretic attachments, whereby worldly posi- tions are located within landscapes of power, knowledge, and difference. If only as a prelude to transformative action, positional reflexivity objectifies structure in its own way, at least insofar as autonomous structures premise the interrogation of difference and the disruption of privilege. Said differ- ently, the “impossibility of a unified subject identity” (Clough, 1998, p. 7) is an impossibility built not of the dissolution of formal structure but rather the recovery of multiple cross-cutting structures, discourses, and attachments. Autonomous structure now organizes difference and disruption rather than order and legitimacy (see Anderson, 1989; Harding, 1991; Heron & Reason,


1997; Lather, 1986; Lenzo, 1995, and Lincoln & Guba, 1990, for the play of for- mal structures in positional analyses). The place of structure as the field that is prior to any actual expression of agency, difference, or practice is much as we find it in modern social science.

In these several ways, the positionally reflexive discourse may preserve more of its oppositional genealogy than we commonly imagine. Notwith- standing affirmations of heteroglossic knowledge claims to the worlds we study, it organizes a professional gaze that locates the foundations for knowl- edge production and methodological rigor in the skeptical-analytic ego. The reflexive move in the positional mode thus works as a methodological demar- cation exercise that can warrant the value of an inquiry and the knowledge it produces, and as it was for Enlightenment programs, positional reflexivity can be made out as seeking special warrant for its knowledge claims too.

That we unavoidably own worldly interests and attachments to the affairs we study is not itself the distinguishing insight of the contemporary reflexive discourse; the play of position has been a topic for prior generations of social science (e.g., see Becker, 1967; Bohannan, 1964; Gouldner, 1968; Powdermaker, 1966; also see Mannheim’s [1936] sociology of knowledge). Rather, positional reflexivity locates these shifting relationships very near the center of the representational exercise, in the moves and methods by which representations are produced and consumed. In this way, positional reflex- ivity—and the crisis to which it responds—very soon finds its way into the problematics of textual representation.

Textual Reflexivity

In American social science, the reflexivities of the text first came to atten- tion in anthropology. Clifford and Marcus (1986), Crapanzano (1986), Rabinow (1977), Rosaldo (1987), Stocking, (1983), and Tyler (1987) produced some of the early, formative investigations. The textually reflexive move arrives on the deconstruction and seeming collapse of the respectability of representational language games, although still and again, insofar as doubt requires a first certainty, arguments for textual reflexivity routinely deploy and, in this sense preserve, the certainties they deconstruct.

Practically speaking, of course, all of our published topics are available as the cogencies of a text. However, I want to sidestep, as best I can, an inquiry into the textual habits of this article to use textual reflexivity to refer to those studies and discourses that directly address the work of writing representa- tions. The literature is substantial, and a close review of it is well beyond my purposes. Of its different voices, I have in mind Ashmore (1989), Clifford (1988), Clifford and Marcus (1986), Denzin (1997); Derrida (1978), Hammersley and Atkinson (1983), Lather and Smithies (1997), Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey (1987), Richardson (1988, 1994), Tyler (1987), Van Maanen

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(1988), Wolcott (1990), and Woolgar (1988). Although not all positionally reflexive analyses are textually reflexive (e.g., confessional texts tend to be realist), virtually all textually reflexive analyses are positional insofar as authors are unavoidably implicated in the representational exercise. How they are implicated is a central, identifying theme for the textually reflexive discourse.

It has been a critical and productive theme in the literature, remarking on the disembodied voice of the modern analytic text and wondering how the analyst manages to “portray the cultural realities of other peoples without placing [his] own . . . at risk” (Clifford, 1988, p. 41). Beyond wondering, a col- lection of revealing analyses have emerged, taking up the literary arts and narrative practices of venerable social science texts to see how indeed their simulacra of objective narrative have been achieved (see Bazerman, 1987; Campbell, 1987; Clifford, 1983; Stocking, 1983). Clough (1998) observes of the play of the realist narrative, “The narrative logic works by erasing the ethnog- rapher’s presence from the picture of those studied while making the ethnog- rapher’s absence felt” (p. 5). To these erasures and felt absences, the reflexive critique is a remedy via the analysis and disclosure of unnoticed authorial and textual workings.

Like positional reflexivity, much of the discourse is again grounded in a skepticism, now about the naive or realist text, whose first move is to frame realist representation as a correspondence exercise and whose second is to demonstrate how any actual text, and especially professional analytic texts, will fail to achieve it. The reflexive critique of naive, scientific, and other nonreflexive texts thus begins by positing a more and less formal representa- tional exercise as the normative modern program of writing representations. Although nuanced and built to a larger analysis of the reflexive discourses, Woolgar’s (1988) analysis goes at it in just such terms, and we can see in his account how the premise of a correspondence between the text and the affairs it speaks of anchors the possibility of the reflexive critique.

By Woolgar’s (1988) analysis, the several voices of reflexivity follow from differently critical readings of the “perceived relationship between our sys- tem of representation and the properties of represented objects” (p. 20). Using the photograph as his exemplar, he recovers the different readings as different inflections on this first relationship. Depending on the reading, the adequacy of representation can be said to depend on
  1. the distinction (or distance) between representation (image) and research object (reality), and
  2. the similarity of these separate entities. (p. 20)
Woolgar uses the schema to locate and analyze a range of reflexive move- ments, “from radical constitutive reflexivity to benign introspection” (p. 21).5 But more to our purposes, what can be seen across them is that the continuum of reflexive critique is leveraged on the shoulders of a first-correspondence


realism. A realist binary of the “separate entities” of representations, objects, and their relationships is first on the scene and “affords” the reflexive criti- cism. More telling for the critique, however, and perhaps for criticism per se, not only does realism premise the reflexive critique but a realist exercise seems inescapable for doing it. As Ashmore (1989) observes, “Inquiry requires, to be inquiry . . . a realist practice of realist writing, even if such a practice is presented as a mere heuristic” (p. 110). Woolgar (1988) sharpens the point.

Taking up Stocking’s (1983) careful analysis of Malinowski’s (1989) objec- tive narratives, and Clifford’s (1983) treatment of the “specific inventions” of ethnographic authority, Woolgar (1988) proceeds to show how the reflexive critique owes to the self-same exercise it would disrupt:

Both Stocking and Clifford ironicize the ethnographer’s claim to correspon- dence between representation (ethnographic record, report) and object (the native, his views and beliefs etcetera). Yet they accomplish this irony by advanc- ing a correspondence between their own representation (comment, meta-analy- sis) and object (the ethnographer’s claims). In relativizing the ethnographer’s practice but not their own . . . the central critical moment of this project depends crucially upon the critic’s own claim to authority. . . . Scepticism of the ethnogra- pher’s claim depends upon our accepting the critic’s claim. (pp. 26-27)6
Thus, however much the reflexive critique would stand against the authority of the realist text, its own project unavoidably relies on it. But this may only be a problem for criticism and not for the larger textually reflexive project, which still may have its recommendations, as it does for both Woolgar (1988) and Ashmore (1989). Criticism alone is not the project; reflex- ive analyses of the field—the production of the reflexive analytic text—is, and this calls for a reflexive textual practice. Such a practice would be reflexive in its course, (re)producing the representational exercise differently, reflexively. “In short, we need continually to interrogate and find strange the process of representation as we engage in it [italics added]. This kind of reflexivity is the ethnographer of the text” (Woolgar, 1988, p. 29). Woolgar’s “ethnographer of the text”—the reflexive monitoring of the text in its production—thus flags a turn from criticism to the textually reflexive exercise itself. Latour (1988) speaks of it very directly: “I use ‘reflexive’ to denote any text that takes into account its own production and which, by doing so, claims to undo the deleterious effects upon its readers of being believed too little or too much” (p. 166).7 Latour offers an even-handed assessment of the representational problematic. More commonly, the hazards of the text—the thing that the reflexive exercise intends to unmask and bring into view—are those of believ- ing too much. Beyond the reflexive critique, then, a central theme of the reflexive text is thus one of writing the disruption of realist assurances about representation and textual coherence into the text and, often enough, the disruption of the text itself by various devices and experiments in textual display.8

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Experiments in authorial voice, and especially experiments in textual array, articulate the opposition to realist representation most clearly, and Lather and Smithies (1997) offer a carefully crafted exemplar. Their interview study of a support-group community of women living with HIV/AIDS wrights a graphic organization of the page across the women’s voices, their own, and still other intertextual discourses and registers. They do so to resist, if not defeat, the normal complicities and expectations of a text that is avail- able for realist readings, and it yields a distinctive textual array. Graphically, the book is organized along a hemispheric divide: In the northern space of the page and across the binding, we hear the words of the women, collected in group settings and on those special occasions of birthdays and mournings that are part of the life of the support groups. Edited for purposes of “theme development [and] dramatic flow” (p. xvii), the text of the women’s voices is presented plainly and in their own voices. The authors’ purposes were, in part, to produce “a ‘K-Mart book,’ a book that is widely accessible to HIV-pos- itive women like themselves, their families, and those with whom they work” (Lather, 1996, p. 530).9

In the southern space of the page, we hear the authors’ voices remarking on and considering the project itself; taking the measure of their own posi- tions in the world, their relationships to the women and to each other, their divisions of labor and not always congruent interests; and otherwise report- ing on the work of relationship and reporting. Crafted to do the work of a reflexive text, I want to consider further the spatial and discursive organiza- tion of their pages as reflexive, articulating, and disrupting intertextual arrays.

The North

The divide between the north and the south is striking, both graphically and narratively. The north, the women’s edited voices, is organized within a thoroughly realist caption. Not only is what these women are saying engag- ing, revealing, compelling, and sometimes arresting, but their interview frag- ments are (re)presented as transparent documents of lives lived. These are native, first-person accounts, realist fragments of a language game wherein what is said is a faithful narrative of what is lived and known. By implication, these accounts are not, for example, local productions fitted to the occasions of the interviews and group meetings that produced them, but are rather more like vivid frames lifted from larger fields of lived experience, whose faithfulness and correspondence to those larger fields premise their textual powers rather than problematize them.10


Through the edited narratives, we hear these women living with HIV/AIDS, and a realist representational exercise would seem to be as evi- dent as the lives they report. There is a directness and clarity to their accounts, and we can say that natives are permitted to speak that way. Their voices are unmarked by reflexive annotations, and the ethnographic power of the edited interviews—their believability, whether too little or too much—is in this sense reflexively unmediated. The women themselves are speaking out- side of a reflexive register, at least as far as the cogency of their text is con- cerned (they are themselves a collection of very thoughtful, and in that sense reflective, women).

A certain directness and realism thus seems to be the textual mark of the native. Not that there is no eloquence, poignancy, or “higher thinking” in these voices; these things are abundant. Rather, the women are not account- able to the professional-reflexive exercise. They are not troubled by their ways of speaking and often display a confidence and, almost always, an eloquence in their powers to account for their lives. Their voices become counterpoint to larger, professional-reflexive purposes, and in this way, they co-constitute the hemispheric divide wherein the native or nonreflexive voice is both subject and then object for a next (reflexive) reading. Their voices are part of an ana- lytic sequential organization wherein they are not the last words of the text but rather its first.11

The South

Bordering the north is the southern textual space. The divide inverts our familiar geopolitical sense for the possessions and dispossessions of north and south. Here are the voices of the authors, and as reflexivity requires its objects and attachments—the intelligibilities to be disrupted—the south works as a meta-discourse, operating on a first naive field (including the lives of the women and their support groups and the practical life of the study itself) and laying out still others—for example, boxed inserts from the popu- lar press, fragments of medical and governmental reports on the experience of HIV/AIDS in society, and poems and letters from the women. As the authors intend it,
We wanted a book that used a “flood” of too much too fast, data flows of trauma, shock and everydayness juxtaposed with asides of angel breathers to break down the usual codes we bring to reading. Hence the book “works” by not working the way we expect a book to work. (Lather & Smithies, 1997, p. 48)

By and large, the women’s voices are not themselves a target for reflexive deconstruction. Rather, their voices are positioned within the analytic project, joined and punctuated by a leitmotif of “angel intertexts that bring moments

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of sociology, history, poetry, popular culture, and ‘determined policy talk,’ into a network of levels and orders” (Lather, 1996, p. 538).12 The south is thus a pro- fessional territory (Lather is a university professor; Smithies is a feminist psy- chologist in private practice), whose professionalism includes reflexively positional analyses of the project and their places within it. The reflexive com- mentaries and textual juxtapositions—the disciplined exercise of individual author-analysts in open dialogue with their own representational productions— are indeed the ethnographers of the text, and the authors’ purposes over the course of the project are perhaps the most regular objects of their reflexive skepticism. They and the disciplined troubling of intertextual compositions— of history, poetry, images, the women’s voices, and their own—are the identi- fying registers of the south.

The hemispheric distinction is thus professionally organized. It falls to the professional work of qualitative research to produce reflexively analytic texts. As a self-conscious engine of troubling knowledge production, and per its studied professionalism, the reflexive text unavoidably promises a more critical and revealing textual field of view, even when what is revealed are constantly shifting and contested relations of difference. A reflexive text is then crafted, in our exemplar, to disrupt the comforts of familiar knowledge representations and to warrant and incite new ones. It is a text that will

not be exhausted by the meaning given to it by any one person, be they readers or the authors or the women themselves. Using a kind of speaking out ahead of itself, the book addresses the beyond of what we think we believe through the multiplication of layers of meaning that trouble what we come to such a book to understand and what it means to know more than we are able to know and to write and read toward what we don’t understand. (Lather & Smithies, 1997, p. xvii)

The task is to confound what we know and thereby wright what we do not understand, and again, the epistemic ambition is substantial. The reflexive text is thus an openly epistemic exercise; and in the hands of social science, a methodological one too, wherein the ethnographic or “quasi-ethnographic” field is located equally, if not centrally, in the field of the text itself (Lather, 1996, p. 530).13 At the same time and central to what is instructive about the study, it is quite clear that the women live elsewhere, outside of the text, and speak very differently. They have doubts but not reflexively representational ones. In ways mindful of the voices in Agee’s (1940/1969) proto-reflexive text, their doubts are compelling in an entirely different way.14

There are then multiple moves for the reflexive text, beginning in a skep- ticism toward the logic of realist representation. The realist binary of sign and referent is established as the modernist sensibility, and it is to it that reflexive skepticism owes its object.15 Correspondence realism is the analytic competition—the ground on which the reflexive text cuts its figure—and problematizing the representational binary of things and our accounts of


them organizes the reflexive project. But here, and no less than positional reflexivity, we can see a deep tie and debt to the modernism that the reflexive text would eclipse. The textual “other“ for reflexive skepticism reenacts our most familiar versions of a formal representational language game. That mod- ernism deploys a realist representational engine and that nonreflexive texts are written to work that way are virtual taken for granted in the literature.16

Yet on reflection, the array of textual work in the world is vast, from laun- dry lists to case law. From within an otherwise heteroglossic landscape of dis- course and difference, we could expect to find multiple organizations for understanding the achievements of representation in the world. As Watson (1997) recommends, we could take interest in the work of texts for all their diversity, and once we do, very different organizations may come into view—organizations whose foundations are neither in representational bina- ries nor singular egos, but in communities of practice that do indeed afford the evident sense of menus, musical notations, and letters from home.17 We can find texts, such as e-mails and bulletin boards, for which there is no appar- ent binary at all. They are rather things themselves, cogent in and as the local ecologies of practical action that organize their use. Rather than objects for deconstruction, they are objects embedded in action, purposes, order, and meaning. As Lynch (1996) observes,

The problem of how descriptions correspond to their objects . . . remains a prob- lem only insofar as we demand that descriptions should “do” what descriptions are not ordinarily designed to do: give complete, self-contained, representations of “reality”. . . . It begs the question of why a particular model of linguistic repre- sentation (signs standing for objects or meanings) should provide the initial framework for [the reflexive project]. (p. 33)

Said differently, that the professional analytic text can be shown to fail as a direct representational medium authorizes the reflexive inquiry to fill the now “missing” grounds. But the scare quotes are to remind us that what might be thought is missing may not have been there to begin with. Realism, or the “natural attitude” of everyday life, may not be leveraged on representational language games at all. There are endless texts—instructions, directions, or writings on the blackboard—whose sense and organization are inseparable from the occasions of their production and use. Rather than objects for con- templation, these texts are first and routinely objects embedded in the practi- cal achievements of common understanding. Once we find no surprise in the missing grounds of realist representation, we could be led to inquire into how indeed texts have been working all along, and not by turning to theoretical skepticism but to the public workings of evident worlds that are reflexive to our practices for pulling evident worlds and textual expressions into view. On consideration of the diversity of textual work in the world, we could won- der how the professional analytic text has gained its appointment as a repre- sentational form sui generis. Ironically, perhaps, although the reflexive cri-

48 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

tique has alerted us to the question, the reflexive text tends to reinscribe the appointment.
At least by the terms of my argument, positional and textual reflexivities thus organize their analyses of nonreflexive worlds in parallel fashion. The enterprise begins in a skepticism toward “innocent” speaking (Lather, 1996; Van Maanen, 1995) and moves to a professional analytic program to disrupt it. As has long been the mark of modern social science, these reflexivities pro- pose a winning competition with the natural attitude of commonsense worlds, and a penetrating gaze that promises to see, as Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) would have it, the “unthought categories of thought which delimit the think- able and predetermine the thought” (p. 40). The ambition is nothing less than the eclipse of worlds of everyday life, seeing through them to grasp the unseen organizations that give them sense—a task distinctively suited to a professionally authorized epistemic station.18

Yet notwithstanding programmatic claims to explode and/or dissolve the formal structures and binaries of objective narratives and representations— and thus organize a poststructural analytic—these reflexivities tend to (re)pro- duce their own binaries, with different “fields.” Reflexive agency has need for the nonreflexive, just as the reflexive text is leveraged on a first stipulation to representational correspondence themes.19 And for each, and perhaps most telling of Enlightenment continuities, there is the promise of methodological advantage and even newly minted knowledge to be gained by the disciplined move to the reflexive space. The move promises new ground to stand on, shifting and unstable but, for that very reason, possessing a field of view that could delineate the order and structure of first worlds and the conditions of their possibility. My argument is not that these would not be remarkable van- tage points if we could have them. Rather, they and transformative leverage tend to be the promise of Archemedian projects, and my worry is that there may be “no room in the world” (Garfinkel & Sacks, 1970) for such spaces and places to stand.20 To lay claim to them would seem to reproduce an epistemic program no less promisory or privileged than the discourses of order and rea- son that the reflexive move intends to disband.


To these reflexive programs, ethnomethodology (EM) proposes an entirely different understanding of reflexivity as both a constitutive organiza- tion of everyday life and a practical organization that is available for study and description. Rather than a competitor to everyday life, reflexivity in an EM mode recommends the study of social members’ ordinary practices for assembling intersubjectively accountable worlds that are reflexive to our

ways of making them accountable (cf. Button, 1989; Czyzewski, 1994; Garfinkel, 1967; Garfinkel & Sacks, 1970; Livingston, 1987; and Lynch, 1993).21 Perhaps best known for its interests in situated action and the essential indexicality of social order, structure, and meaning, EM has self-consciously pursued an “asymmetric alternative” to formal theory and analysis (Garfinkel & Wieder, 1992). Rather than theorizing its topics, EM has pro- duced a wide-ranging corpus of studies of diverse settings and practices, for example, studies of work, studies of science, and studies of classroom educa- tion. (For examples of the later, see Amerine & Bilmes, 1988; Baker, 1997; Cicourel et al., 1974; Heap, 1982, 1990; Hestor, 1985, Hestor & Hughes, 2000; Heyman, 1986; Lynch & Macbeth, 1998; Macbeth, 1991, 1994, 2000; Maynard & Marlaire, 1992; McHoul, 1978; Mehan, 1978; Payne, 1976; Payne & Hustler,
1980; Sharrock & Anderson, 1986; and Watson, 1992).

These classroom studies share an interest in describing the situated pro-

ductions of order, discourse, and action—and thus the teaching and learning that goes on there—as local ensembles of competent practice and practical orientations by students and teachers alike. EM may be distinctive for its insistence on a praxiological understanding of meaning and structure in situ, and in taking up the analysis of “intelligible actions performed on singular occasions” (Lynch & Bogen, 1996, p. 265), it makes a decisive turn away from representational theories of language and other sign systems. It shares with the later works of Wittgenstein (1958) an interest in understanding natural language use as multiple, constitutive grammars of social order and meaning.

Central among its formulations has been the notion of “constitutive reflex- ivity,” perhaps most familiar as the essential reflexivity of accounts or how it is that our accounts of the world reflexively constitute the very affairs they speak of (Garfinkel, 1967, passim). Rather than a reflexivity of professional self-reflection, textual deconstruction, or methodological procedure, reflex- ivity in an ethnomethodological mode stands on behalf of indefinitely dis- tributed practices of “world making.”22 Rather than belonging to the exercise of professional analysis, ethnomethodological reflexivity points to the orga- nization of ordinary sense and meaning—how order, fact, and meaning in everyday life are produced as practical objectivities, reflexively made of the social technologies for producing and detecting them (as in the production and detection of the at-risk, or gifted, student). As Lynch (1996) understands it, “The term reflexivity alluded to the procedures through which any pub- licly observable, intersubjectively reportable, account of action becomes an action in its own right” (p. 11). This reading of reflexivity decisively rules out of relevance correspondence language games of any kind by demonstrating how formulations of “what happened” (e.g., in reporting a playground dis- pute) are, at once, a constitutive feature of what happened. What happened is available as its accountability—our ways of finding it, pointing to it, speaking of it, making it sensible, typical, unreasonable, and so forth. This order of

50 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

reflexivity is thus a topic in the organization of cogent worlds rather than a site within a professional methodological discourse. It is among the sense-making practices of natives and, without remedy, analysts too.

For EM, reflexivity thus has no distinctive professional or methodological attachments. It owns no special province and is rather part of the unrelieved organization of the “routine grounds of everyday life” (Garfinkel, 1967). It works as a place holder for descriptions of the constitutive reflexivities of everyday life in their local diversities and circumstantial detail, as practical grammars of the social-constructive exercise. Although a same term is deployed, EM’s reflexivity thus points to an entirely different poststructural analytic program, and my purpose has been, in part, to read this “other” reflexivity into the discourse on qualitative research and educational studies. I have attempted to do so by arguments and citations. But exhibits can be use- ful too, and I want to conclude the discussion of EM’s reflexivity with a brief analysis of a videotaped and transcribed sequence of a fifth-grade class returning from recess.


The reflexive construction we are interested in here—the practical achievement of these students and this teacher on this occasion—is nothing more (or less) than the normal order of the room. Built of their sustained co-orientations to the practical contingencies of hearing and producing it, the order of the room is a local, interactional order, and in this sequence, we can see something of the work of its reflexive production. And should we think the routine order of classrooms is too modest an achievement to sustain our interests, we could be reminded that whatever our hopes for classroom teach- ing and learning could be, producing and reproducing the interactional order of the room is overwhelmingly the first practical task for every lesson, throughout its course.

The videotape shows the students entering the room following a recess, noisily taking their seats, arranging books, and talking to one another openly and with animation. The teacher writes the page number of their lesson on the board, and in the course of her opening remarks and questions, we begin to see a noisy assemblage of kids becoming “the class,” a deeply familiar interactional organization for teachers and students alike. The work of classes beginning can be found in endless iterations, and the normal order of the room that they achieve routinely shows a two-party organization of speaking and listening. The two parties are (a) the teacher and (b) the students as a cohort, and we can say that the identifying order of classrooms is reflexive to these occasion-relevant identities. Each organizational achievement—order, identity, and their respective identities—is co-constitutive of the other. (See Payne & Hustler, 1980, for an instructive discussion of classroom cohorting.)


This kind of reflexive work is deeply public and witnessable in the measure that discourse and interaction are built to be public and witnessable. As the parties jointly produce and implicate one another in their understandings of the occasion, and in the developing detail and interactional horizons of their ongoing engagements, they reflexively assemble the order and structure of the lesson and the room.24

The analysis works from a transcript, and transcripts of every kind are, of course, intentional texts. This one is developed from prior work in the sequential analysis of natural conversation (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974). Without doubt, every transcript owns its conventions and coherence as an analyzable text, formatted to shape the possibilities of its writing, reading, and analysis. Fundamentally, these things are so without thought of remedy, and by some accounts, this immutably intentional condition assures the rela- tivism of all attempts to produce and use them. (See Mishler, 1991; Ochs, 1979; and West, 1996, for discussions of discourse transcripts.) In some sense, this must be true.25 But given that assurance, this transcript also attempts to record the temporal, interactional production of the scene, for how things were said and done in concert over its course. Order, meaning, and structure are among the achievements of situated action, and what we can see in the record, by my account, is the practical production of a class that is coming to order, this time around. The argument is that the order of the room is reflexive to their compe- tencies to hear and produce the public, contingent course of a familiar organi- zation. And the analysis intends to show these hearings and productions as their competent analyses of the developing discursive and interactional orga- nization of the room.26 To “seed” the analysis, as you read the transcript, note the shape of the “chatter.” (See the appendix for transcript conventions.)
LR:5th grade math

((Students are arriving from recess; T. is at the board, speaking over their several conversations.))
1. T:
2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
  1. S:
  2. T:
  1. T:
  2. S:
Kay:::. Page two hundred, an’ twenty two. (8.0) ((chatter))
Kay, up till now::,
(1.0) ((chatter))

you’ve been tawking about jus- reg:ular fractions that equal each other, right?
(1.0) ((chatter))
Can enyone give me two frac:tions that equal each other? Um, two- two

// Two fractions that mean same thing. (2.5) ((chatter))
Any two fractions that mean the same thing. One an’ two fifths.
(2.5) ((chatter))

52 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

15. S:
  1. T:
  2. S:
20. T: 21. 22.

è 23.
  1. S:
  2. T:
26. 27. 28.
Equal fractions?
(1.5) ((chatter))
Any two fractions. =
= Two, two, two.
(5.0) ((chatter, singing))
Let’s start with one hhalf, maybe. (2.0) ((writes on board))

Who remembers a fraction that- equals one half? (2.0) ((chatter drops))
* One fifth. * (1.0)
Who remembers a fraction that equals one half. (0.5) R’member we can make it do any:thing.

(3.0) ((slowly rising chatter))
What do we do to make an equal fraction, Mario...

The transcript begins with the teacher’s first remarks, said over the several conversations that are ongoing in the room. She is speaking to everyone, while some substantial number of them are engaged in talking with one another. This is the chatter that continues unabated through much of the tran- script (and includes some singing in line 19). But in and around line 23, by my account, there begins an organizational transformation. From the several con- versations in the room, a single conversation begins to emerge, an interactional organization that shows the normal classroom organization of two parties to a single discourse: the teacher and the class.27

We can hear this emergence in the falling chatter of students’ voices that follows the teacher’s question of line 22, “Who remembers a fraction that equals one half?” My claim is that across this turn and the next, the students and teacher are hearing and producing the first expression of the normal order of the room, and that this coming to order is entirely a matter of their competent interactional practices, both for hearing the organization of the room and reflexively producing the order they hear.

To analyze the transformation requires a posit: As the students are con- ducting their several conversations, they are also listening to the teacher’s remarks to everyone.28 They are listening to what is said both within and across the conversations in the room, and while we have little access to the students’ talk among themselves, the teacher’s remarks show a series of reformulations of her first prefacing question of line 8, “Can enyone give me two fractions that equal each other?” Prefaces can do several things.29 Here, they project next topics and activities and organize ways of finding next speakers who will carry them forward. The teacher’s prefaces are each projectable for an answer (”I can”) and then for a next question (”What are they?”) addressed to that same answerer. (In classrooms, hand raising is rou- tinely the reply to prefacing questions.) But the prefaced question, the ques- tion, will not be at hand until an answer to the prefacing question has been found, and throughout her several remarks, the teacher is constructing the


interactional resources with which to find a student who might answer her preface in a way that permits the “real” question and its answer. If achieved, she and they would then be two questions into the first topic of the lesson and well on their way to constructing the familiar order of the room.

These first questions by the teacher (lines 8, 10, 12, and 17) do not them- selves nominate next speakers. Rather, they rely on and cannot work without the engagement of those addressed. Practically, the engagement includes how it is that as the students pursue their conversations with one another, they are performing sustained analyses of their own conversations for how places for speaking and listening are organized, while hearing as well how the teacher’s remarks are shaping still other places. Their conversations are mutually contexting, and that the students are listening this way can be heard in and around line 23.

In line 23, the students’ chatter appreciably drops. “Chatter” is only a gloss of their several conversations, but evidently, hearably, and without consult- ing one another, their other conversations are suspended, at least for now.30 The most local context or environment for these fading conversations is the teacher’s question of line 22, where we find a somewhat different formulation of her first question (”Can enyone give me two fractions . . . ?”), hereafter referred to as a “who knows?” question. After providing one item of the pair she is after (”Let’s start with one half, maybe.”), we find the following:
  1. Who remembers a fraction that- equals one half?
  2. (2.0) ((chatter drops))
Rather than a “who knows?” question, line 22 is a “who remembers?” ques- tion. And whereas “who knows?” is a question whose answer anyone might know or might not, “who remembers?” is a question that carries a history on its back. “Who remembers?” is not only a question of knowledge, it is a ques- tion that mobilizes a circle of members—those who were there last time and could indeed be expected to remember a fraction that equals one half or at least be asked if they could (see Payne & Hustler, 1980, on the uses of “last times”). Reflexively, for those who can hear it, “who remembers?” organizes a cohort of candidate respondents, made of their occasion-relevant identities as members of the class. This is the interactional work and achievement we hear across lines 22 and 23.

Organizationally, the pause of line 23 shows an essential ambiguity: Given that conversational pauses are collaborative constructions that can be ended by anyone at any time, it cannot be known if the students are thinking about the teacher’s question and thus do not speak, or if they are oriented to the interactional context that the question reflexively produces—the context of a cohort of candidates for the actual question—and thus do not speak. For either hearing, however, the question of line 22 organizes a delicate interactional environment for whatever talking might be done next. In this light, the ques-

54 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

tion “who remembers?” can be seen as an analytic move by the teacher, shaped by her ongoing analysis of the talk in the room.

By “analytic move,” I mean that teachers analyze and interpret what stu- dents make of their questions and reflexively reveal their analyses in next questions and remarks. Because each of her questions (lines 8, 10, 12, and 17) is produced in full view of what her last remark received, each next question displays her assessment of the play of the last one, for example, that it yielded misunderstanding, or confusion, or disinterest.31 In this sense, her questions are themselves reflexively tied to the production of the discourse in the room, and relative to her prior remarks the question of line 22 is produced quite differently.

“Who remembers?” trades on the interactional orientations evidenced by the several student conversations that are competing with her own, that is, an orientation to not becoming engaged in the teacher’s interactional gambit of “who knows?” questions. “Who remembers?” does so by shaping a context of choice for those who are competent to hear its terms; namely, for those of you who were here last time, you may continue your other engagements at risk of being nominated as one who might remember, or you may suspend your competing conversations and find anonymity from within the cohort organi- zation of the class.

Reflexively, the choice urges the children to become “ordinary” students, unremarkably there and without nomination-relevant features, and even to hear the choice is to become implicated in the production of the normal order of the room.32 In their choices (each for himself or herself), and as their analy- ses of these sequential organizations and interactional horizons, the students produce themselves as the cohort. Reflexively and in concert, then, by the organization of aversions to speaking next, and especially by the discursive production and recognition of a next place to avert, the order of the room and the identity of the cohort is assembled by students and teacher alike. This is an order of reflexive work that attaches to everyday worlds and to the competent practitioners who produce and sustain them. We could usefully say that they are the first reflexive analysts on the scene.33


My purpose in this article has not been to contest the good sense of critical self-reflection of any kind or to question the discipline of the exercise. If any- thing, part of the argument is that it is a venerable exercise in Western intellec- tual history and culture. Nor, as it turns out, can my purpose have been to compare competing readings of a same social science concept, as though reflexivity were a single gestalt object waiting for its one best interpretation. Reflexivity is not that, nor is it clear that we have the wherewithal for a useful comparison. Comparisons usually premise some beginning points of align-

ment or consensus, and these are difficult to find across the professional and ethnomethodological reflexivities. We tend to find something more like an incommensurability of use instead.

Practically, I wanted to produce in a more or less programmatic fashion some critical and possibly useful readings of the contemporary discourses on reflexivity, and then use those readings to (re)introduce an entirely different program. In this other program, we find an order of reflexivity that has no special attachments to social science or its methodologies, or special claims or warrants of knowledge production. Reflexivity in an EM mode not only dis- solves binaries and representational language games, but reflexivity itself dissolves into the practical achievements of diverse settings, occasions, and practices. A constitutive reflexivity thus has no use for nonreflexive worlds and makes no sense as a demarcation exercise. As Lynch (2000) observes, “To imagine an unreflexive action would be like imagining a sound without amplitude” (p. 45). This order of reflexivity owns no special province. Instead, it is an inexhaustible practice, and thus topic, in the organization of everyday life and very near the heart of the socially constructive exercise.

The criticisms of positional and textual reflexivities may, of course, be only a matter of disciplinary readings and disputes and, in that sense, provincial too. But they may also have productive implications for how we think about the naturalistic study of ordinary worlds. Positional reflexivity recommends a methodological policy, and textual reflexivity has deep attachments to for- mal theory. Yet theory and method are positive-science discourses, sine qua non. As the analyst’s agency becomes a reflecting device onto its own forma- tive, structural, and foundational relationships, positionalism confronts the paradox of founding antifoundationalism on the recovery of autonomous structures, for example, of power, knowledge, and others. The self-reflecting analyst in possession of a disciplined skepticism toward the possibilities of knowledge and structure is a deeply familiar proposal for the site and engine of modern knowledge production.

Textual reflexivity leverages its antifoundationalism on the assign- ment—and perhaps even fetishized assignment—of ontic primacy to profes- sional analytic texts and their representations. In doing so, the binary of nature-representation is inverted but preserved: Rather than nature causing representation, nature becomes representation’s consequence (see Lynch, 2000). Representation is, of course, a compelling topic and a familiar topic for EM studies of the practical accountabilities of evident worlds. But for ethno- methodology, representation—like reflexivity—is a members’ practice first. (For examples of EM studies of representation, see Goodwin, 1994; Jalbert, 1999; and Lynch, 1985.)
Said differently, facts of every kind have their contingencies, including those recovered by critical self-reflection. If epistemic advantage is difficult to come by in antifoundational worlds, it is difficult to find a special warrant or greater purchase for the reflexive text as over and against the other ones. To

56 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

the contemporary discourses on reflexivity, and as other than a discourse on methods or theory, ethnomethodology proposes a nonskepticist inquiry into the praxiologies of reflexively constituted worlds. Although a modest project to be sure, as is the promise of ethnography, EM’s reflexivity aims to describe the socially constructive exercise as practical and analyzable work in the world. In these several ways, the reflexivities reviewed in this article own entirely different projects and interests. As a very knowing reviewer of the manuscript observed, we could puzzle over how this same term would be taken up by such profoundly different programs and understandings. There is, of course, room enough for these and probably several more discourses on reflexivity in the conversation. And we may alternatively turn to one and then the other, depending on whose reflexivity, whose practices, and whose worlds we hope to bring into view.

APPENDIX Notations

Transcript notations are derived from the conventions developed by Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974). The aim is to render the sequential production of inter- action as it sounds.
Punctuations (e.g., question marks, periods, and commas) note intonations rather than grammar.
Pauses are noted in seconds, for example, (2.5). Micro pauses are noted by (.).
___ * * — : // =
[underlining] shows emphasis or loudness.
[asterisk] notes soft speaking.
[dash] indicates the point where a word is cut off in its production.
[colon] indicates a sound stretch on a word or word portion, for example, “no::” [doubleslash]notesthepointatwhichonespeakerbegins,overlappinganother. [equal sign] notes speaker transition without gap or overlap.

(( )) [double parens] mark off scenic descriptions and accounts.


1. See Ashmore (1989) for an encyclopedia and critical discussion of reflexivity’s programs and formulations. See also Woolgar (1988); see Lynch (2000) for a very differ- ent discussion and review. There and elsewhere (Lynch, 1993), Lynch’s arguments have been resources to this article in ways that require special acknowledgment.
2. The dissatisfaction with realist programs is vividly displayed in those secondary studies that have revisited the sites and personnel of benchmark ethnographic texts to find a world differently remembered by the natives and/or different than what was


reported in the text of record (e.g., see Boelen, 1992; Denzin, 1990, 1997; Freeman, 1983; Malinowski, 1989; Whyte, 1992). In each of these critical studies, nonreflexive research practices were found as unseen players in the analytic and textual exercise.
3. Reason (1996) offers one of the more critical-theoretic reflexive programs. Speaking of human inquiry as different from social scientism, he summarizes,
Such inquiry “faces the people” and “is of use,” arising out of the needs and experiences of the people it serves, aiming to interrupt patterns of power that define issues in the service of the powerful. . . . In addition to immediate pur- poses, human inquiry also aims . . . to stand continually against the development of a new orthodoxy in inquiry.
As can be seen in the last sentence, maxims pose an unavoidable indelicacy: They tend to reproduce the structure of opposition they would eclipse. Antiorthodoxy implicates a “will to orthodoxy.” (The phrase borrows from Lynch’s [1993] “will to theory.” See also Wittgenstien, 1960, on the “craving for generality.”)
4. The image of regress in the contemporary literature may then be less a matter of hermeneutic spiral than the indefinite play of a rhizome, with no “well-established point towards which the series seems to regress” (Lynch, 1996, p. 20). Ashmore (1989) sees a more practical closure to the problem of regress: “We can understand the relevant practical limitations which would prevent anything like an infinite metahistorical regress ever occurring. . . . The theoretically infinite has a practical end” (p. 104). Goffman (1974), although no less practical, locates the play of reflexivity somewhat dif- ferently: “Methodological self consciousness that is full, immediate and persistent sets aside all study and analysis except that of the reflexive problem itself, thereby displac- ing fields of inquiry instead of contributing to them” (p. 12).
5. Woolgar’s (1988) analysis organizes the several reflexive discourses by showing how each orients to the relationship between objects and their representations (the rela- tions of distinction and similarity). Benign introspection, for example, as we find in more conventional scientistic reflection, shows an “affirmation of distinc- tion . . . between representation and studied object,” whereas radical constitutive reflex- ivity, which Woolgar attributes to Garfinkel’s (1967) ethnomethodology, is marked by its “denial of distinction and . . . strong affirmation of similarity” (Woolgar, 1988, p. 22). My account of Garfinkel’s (1967) reflexivity will differ from Woolgar’s (1988) at least on the question of whether a radical constitutive reflexivity needs correspondence rela- tionships to organize its analytic program at all.
6. Elsewhere, Woolgar (1988) offers an unintended example of the unavoidable play he points to. Note how his critique of realism is unavoidably realist:
The conventions of the realist genre encourage the unproblematic and unhesitant singular interpretation of the text, the unreflexive perception of a reported reality [subject/object] and the essentially uninteresting character of the agency involved in the report’s generation. (p. 28)
The facts of the critique are no less certain than the reality claims it criticizes and would be unrecognizable as a critique were they not. Nonetheless, Ashmore (1989) sees a small opening onto the problem of realist writing “by a concentration on textuality and by the articulation of a practice of wrighting . . . though the problem of developing an adequate reflexive practice is unlikely thereby to be solved” (p. 110). (See also Ashmore, 1989, on the tu quoque move, whereby the relativist-reflexive critique is targeted on itself, as we have done here.)

58 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

7. Latour (1988) continues, “These writers are fascinated by the presence or absence of certain words as a tool for evaluating texts. They suppose that by including characters like ‘the framework’ or ‘the author,’ they can escape the terrible fate of being just a story, just another story” (p. 171).
8. For Tyler (1987), the reflexive task is one of subverting and disrupting a “textual practice intended to obscure its textual practice” (p. 90). Comfortable understandings and familiar rubrics then dissolve to more than a blurring of genres. As Ward (1996) understands it,
Since both truth and reality appear to be the products of discourse, there is little need to write as if discourse must originate in them. The only viable option open for theory, or what is now better written as “theory,” is to recognize itself as a form of literature and practice poetics or polemics. (p. 32, cited in Lynch, 2000, p. 41)
In this way, classical wisdoms are recovered from the collapse of modernist certainties. 9. Lather (1996) continues, “By refusing to produce a ‘tidy’ text, a ‘comfort’ text that maps easily into our usual ways of making sense and ‘giving sense,’ Chris and I attempt to reach toward a generally accessible public horizon while moving from a ‘realist’ to an
‘interrogative’ text” (p. 530).
10. The effect is part of the thematic and dramatic presentation of the interviews.

Realist transparencies are not otherwise well received in the reflexive text.
To speak so as to be understood immediately is to speak through the production of the transparent signifier, that which maps easily onto taken-for-granted regimes of meaning. This runs a risk that endorses, legitimates, and reinforces the very structure of symbolic value that must be overthrown. Hence, for Lacan, not being understood is an ethical imperative. (Lather, 1996, p. 529)
Perhaps this is true for Lacan but not so for the women; they do speak to be understood. 11. The idea that we would read them first (or that there is a “first” to a reading) would seem to be part of what the reflexive text problematizes. But it can do so only imperfectly. Reading still owns its unspoken agreements (Wittgenstein, 1958), as does every competent practice. At the same time, in my reading at least, the page layout did indeed disrupt familiar ways of reading and/or inspire others, such that at times I read several pages of the women’s voices, then returned to its first page to read the author’s, and then at times not. Similarly, graphics, bullets, and boxed inserts invited their own readings, and in this sense, the book achieves a “hypertext that invites multiple ways of reading” (Lather, 1996, p. 530). (For a very different account of reading practices, for how readings and their texts are “joined at the hip,” and how literary criticism trades on
laic practice, see Livingston, 1995.)
12. The angels of
Troubling the Angels recur throughout the text in images, literary
references, and poetic allusions. They work as an indefinite metaphor, inflecting the expressions of the text across the reflexive-nonreflexive register.
The angels serve as messengers between the women’s stories and the social implications of the AIDS crisis via short engagements with slices from both “high” and popular culture, returning again to the women’s stories. They are, hence, bridges between worlds. . . . A way to address what the poet, Rilke, terms the “Too Big,” the “too great,” the work of the angels in this book is to mobilize the familiar image of angels, but then to undercut it, trouble it. (Lather & Smithies, 1997, p. 48)


The angel intertexts or “breathers” are placed as chapters at the end of each of five story series.
13. In his review of Clifford and Marcus’s (1986) Writing Culture, Spencer (1989) credits Geertz (1973) for an early remark on the reflexivities of anthropological writing and an early move toward understanding the text as the primary, formative field of the ethnographic exercise (Geertz, 1973, p. 19, note 3, cited in Spencer, 1989, p. 146). Spencer goes on to observe that Geertz
managed to single out the one activity that does not differentiate anthropology from any other kind of intellectual work—anthropologists wade into paddy fields, get sick and read bad novels rather than confront another day of mount- ing misapprehensions; they also take photographs, make films and tape record- ings; a privileged few even get to teach students. The fact that they mostly do it by themselves in strange places is another oddity that passes unremarked upon in Writing Culture. (p. 160)
Elsewhere, he remarks, “The moment of writing is a rather late stage for the interpreter to reveal his or her interpretations to the interpreted” (p. 159).
14. Agee’s (1940/1969) exercise seems to have little to do with the skepticism that marks the contemporary reflexive text. If anything, his textual descriptions seem deter- mined to recover scenes themselves—scenic sensibilities—in a way that bears no suspi- cion of the text—and certainly no embarrassment—but instead a confidence in the intelligibilities, discipline, and craft of densely textured and densely described appear- ances. See Lynch (1996) on speaking “without embarrassment” and Latour (1988) on how “a little relativism takes one away from realism; a lot brings one back” (p. 173).
15. Citing Britzman (1995, p. 236), Lather (1996) announces the skepticism directly: “I have moved to ethnography as a ‘site of doubt’” (p. 539). And more than doubt, there is suspicion of the “manipulations, violations, and betrayal inherent in ethnographic representation” (Lather, 1997, p. 300). By Tyler’s (1987) account, the betrayal is more originary still:
Postmodern anthropology seeks to atone for the original sin of language, that separation of speech and world we know as the disjunction of words and things, and to make the atonement by means of a return to the commonsense, plurivocal world of the speaking subject. (p. 127)
The passage works as a great assurance that the workings of language in the world are already and well enough known. If they are not, then discourses on atonement may be taking for granted the unstudied achievements of commonsense worlds.
16. It is not that modernism and modern texts thereby actually achieve realism. Rather, it is the maxim or discourse of realist representation that is sighted for criticism, and then deconstruction, to show how social science texts are written to produce the impression of realism or otherwise mock it up (cf. Clifford, 1988; Nelson, Megill, & McCloskey., 1987; and Stocking, 1983).
17. Watson (1997) recommends that we take interest in the textual practices of every- day life:
Newspaper articles, road signs, shopping lists, and so on, are all, clearly, of the “everyday” rather than the scholarly or professional kind of text. Their every- day or common-sense status does not mean they are of any less significance: quite the contrary. This is the most generic level of “textual work” and it is the scholarly/professional one which is in many respects derivative. (p. 92)

60 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

How indeed everyday texts work and how they do ethnographically, meaning for actual writers and readers deploying their texts on actual occasions of use, is a rare topic in the reflexive discourse.
18. The competition is implicit to the reflexivists and explicit for Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992), who cite Durkheim (1895/1966) approvingly: “[The sociologist] must emancipate himself from the fallacious ideas that dominate the mind of the lay- man; he must throw off, once and for all, the yoke of these empirical categories, which from long continued habit have become tyrannical” (Durkheim, 1985/1966, p. 32, cited in Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992, p. 11). But rather than throwing them off, we could take interest in how the empirical categories of everyday life work, and thereby avoid the indelicacies of aligning culture with tyranny.
19. Because criticism is reflexively tied to its other in this way, “truth and reality do not dissolve altogether: they remain bound in relations of correspondence . . . but instead of being placed in correspondence with ‘knowledge’ they are placed in corre- spondence with ‘power’” (Lynch, 1996, p. 33). Haraway (1997) observes a related continuity:
Reflexivity has been much recommended as a critical practice, but my suspicion is that reflexivity, like reflexion, only displaces the same elsewhere, setting up the worries about copy and original and the search for the authentic and really real. Reflexivity is a bad trope for escaping the false choice between realism and relativism. (p. 16, cited in Clough, 1998, p. 13)
20. Following Dewey’s (1929/1984) transactionalism through Rorty (1991), Bredo (1994) characterizes such moves as attempts to “climb out of our minds” (p. 54). Arguing instead for analytic restraint, he offers Rorty’s (1991) advice that “questions which we should have to climb out of our own minds to answer should not be asked” (p. 7, in Bredo, 1994, p. 48). I take it that the point is not to prohibit such questions but to remind us that sensible questions, and minds, implicate a worldliness that cannot be left behind at will.
21. Although ethnomethodological studies are not a single program (see Clayman & Maynard, 1994; Heritage, 1984; and Lynch, 1993, for reviews), they tend to show a common interest in describing the constitutive practices and order-productive work of familiar, competent worlds. Rather than proposing a realist or relativist program, they tend to be nonskepticist and have no quarrels with the natives as to whether they could know what they are up to (Garfinkel, 1967).
22. Although borrowed from Goodman’s (1978) title, I do not mean the phrase “world making” quite as he does. Rather than theorizing its order, interest turns to the local, witnessable, and accountably reasonable accomplishments of our made worlds, for example, those of a classroom lesson.
23. These same materials were presented in Macbeth (1998) to demonstrate a kin- dred argument about the difference between professional analytic interpretation and ordinary interpretation. Both topics—interpretation and reflexivity—speak to a same territory: the organization of meaningful worlds of order, structure, and regularity and how they take the shapes they do, not from above but from within.
24. As Payne and Hustler (1980) note, that classroom order is routinely produced does not mean that it is any less contingent or achieved or oriented to that way by stu- dents and teachers. See also Moerman and Sacks (1988) and Sacks, Schegloff, and Jeffer- son (1974) on how the visible, public organizations of common understanding are pub- lic for the analyst as well.


25. Mead (1964) reminds us of a relativism different than the one we usually have in mind, wherein comparisons across cultural settings and practices are made to demon- strate that “all moral practices are limited in time and place and lack any ultimate valid- ity.” She continues, “This mischievous and uninformed use of cultural materials is often mistakenly called cultural relativity but that is exactly what it is not, for cultural relativity demands that every item of cultural behavior be seen as relative to the culture of which it is a part” (p. 93). In this light, relativism is an endogenous relation. Mindful of Mannheim’s (1936) and Garfinkel’s (1967) documentary methods, relativism is more nearly a gestalt exercise than a comparative one. More telling, it is not a constraint for analysis, by Mead’s (1964) account, but a resource or method for understanding. In the materials at hand, relativism is then an invitation to look for how the analysis assembles and then “speaks” from its records.
There are indefinitely many ways of speaking from the record, for example, ordi- narily, theoretically, politically, reflexively, and so forth. The way of speaking found here is observational and naturalistic and with an orientation to the sequential order and interactional work of a class that is coming to order. There is, of course, a realism here, and naturalistic study (and inquiry itself, by Ashmore’s [1989] account) presumes it. But it is not that the record then simply speaks for itself. Rather, if we hold ourselves to a close consideration of the pubic order the transcript records, an analysis might then be disputed not by reference to theoretical or methodological maxims but by an orienta- tion to the developing order of the materials. Although an imperfect exercise, it can be an instructive one. It can sharpen our sense for how we are working and what we have learned (Sacks, 1984b).
26. We might also call this account of it—that the scene shows the reflexive produc- tion of classroom order—an interpretation, built of the analysts’ purposes and positionings and/or the textual order of a transcript, and imagine still others, for exam- ple, that it shows the play of institutional power, socialization, and/or resistance. The characterizations are certainly recognizable in the materials: The teacher does indeed have power, and the students are not simply compliant. Although we could build these characterizations theoretically, if we want to understand them as the practical organi- zation of coming to order that we find on any actual occasion, the taped and transcribed records have their recommendations. The difference, then, is not simply one of inter- pretations but rather how we have use for the records and the order of interaction that they record.
27. This two-party organization, wherein the teacher speaks and the class listens and responds, provides our familiar sense of classroom order and instruction (see Macbeth, 1991; McHoul, 1978; Mehan, 1978; and Payne & Hustler, 1980, on the organi- zations of classroom discourse). There are, of course, other “normal orders,” for exam- ple, those of small group work, cooperative learning, or games. The normal order I am speaking of is that of the whole group lesson and is long lived in classroom education. See Cuban (1982) and Hamilton (1980) for a sense of its stability.
28. We need only posit an orientation to the possibility of speaking next to provide for how nonspeakers would be listening to what is being said. They must listen to dis- cover just when and where they might competently join the conversation or be asked to join it. (See Sacks, 1992, on the warrant to listen in natural conversation.)
29. Commonly, prefacing questions are heard for the question itself and are answered that way, for example,

62 QUALITATIVE INQUIRY / February 2001

A: Do you have the time? B: 4:30.
See Levinson (1983) for a review of findings in the analysis of ordinary conversa- tion, including prefacing sequences.
30. In full, the cohort is indeed consulting itself to find the relevance of next places to speak and listen. They do so, however, less by talking about it than by their demon- strated analyses of the context of the talk in the room. On hearing another’s talk begin- ning to quiet, we mount an inquiry and so quiet our own. Reflexively and as this inquiry, we produce a field for still others to hear and reproduce, and in this fashion, the chatter fades, and places of no talking emerge.
31. The actual sequence of questions shows an engaging kind of gradient or slope as the teacher works to formulate a question that can be answered right now (see lines 8, 10, 12, and 17).
32. In Sacks’s (1984a) phrase, the teacher’s question encourages the students to become engaged in “doing being ordinary.” “Who remembers?” works this way by producing the nomination relevance of each member who was there the last time and thus the occasion-relevance of their identity as a member of the class. Having estab- lished nomination relevance, such places routinely become places for a teacher’s actual nomination, as we see in line 28, where Mario is selected for the first direct question of the lesson.
33. It may still be asked how durable this kind of order is, especially as we read on and see rising chatter in line 27. But order, meaning, and interactional organization are seldom in hand once and for all. These are not docile or theoretical objects. Rather, and reflexive to the practices that assemble it, the durability of classroom order is made of its moment-to-moment reproducibility throughout the lesson and the day.


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Douglas Macbeth is an associate professor in the School of Educational Policy and Leadership of the Ohio State University. His teaching and research address the interactional order of classroom discourse and instruction, the analysis of situated action, and qualitative research.