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reflective writing (levels of it?) long

Posts on reflection seem to reappear in XMCA since the Spring and I am following them with interest.


My work involves local program evaluation. And evaluation is supposed to be a reflective activity of some sort. The process is expected to generate new knowledge about the program (after Ann, ‘shine a flashlight’) in order to one or more of the following: improve the program, enhance program capacity; perform accountability, measure the results; and provide a deeper understanding in some area of the program.


Here is the 2 cents worth of my thoughts (I should express my apologies if I do not understand your comments as you intended them).


Let me sample some comments:


Elina on reflection and CHAT, 3/20/04:


“My previous studies with Vygotskian teachers in Russia, Piagetian teachers in England and teachers in US Dewey schools (Tanner, 1997) made me interested in how mediateional meand of reflective action changed the discourse and the meaning of reflection.


If the argument is toward conceptualization of practice, buiding theory of practice, then, it seems to me that the conscious choice of meadiational means and understanding the difference of reflective process when using metaphor vs narrative vs symbol, etc. can be very handy.


I think that mediational means of reflection are multiple and they are inherently situated culturally, institutionally, and historically; they can be construed as the carriers of social, historical, and cultural transformations. Mediational means serve to transform the flow of the reflective action, changing too, the action itself and participants’ interactions. “



Elina seems to suggest that the outcomes of any reflective process depend on the mediational means utilized in the reflective process itself. If we seek a particular outcome in a reflective process, we need to find, or develop, the appropriate mediational means for it.  Since the latter are situated, in any time and place we have a limited range of selection of mediational means (tools). Thus, all reflective activities seem to have boundaries. How can we break out of these boundaries? Is it possible at all?



Jay on radical reflections, 4/10/04:


“What after all is the point of reflecting on what we are doing? not just to

do it better ...  but to do better ... to stop doing it altogether

and figure out something better to do. To understand better what the larger

implications of doing it at all might be, where we are functioning in

larger systems, why we might not want to be playing the part we are playing.


Reflexivity for me is part of the dialectical notion of praxis, of trying

to always push through the pain of seeing what we really don't want to see,

until we really see very differently, initially oppositely and then

"third-spatially" (fifth-dimensionally?), so that what we used to think and

how we used to see become impossible for us, an embarrassment even to remember.


Genuine reflexivity is very difficult and usually painful. It puts ego and

identity at risk. It is probably more often born of desperation than of

courage. It is the last resort of optimists, the blindspot of social engineers.”



Jay seems to speak of a range for reflexivity ‘not just to do it better ...  but to figure out something better to do’. He suggests a ‘maximum level’ of reflexivity where one is qualitatively transformed to the point of no return (to what was or did before). This approach to reflexivity suggests use of ‘high risk’ and most transformative mediational means. He suggests using ‘oppositional’ tools to help us reaching beyond our existing blindspots. And if we get there, we should be seeing the world very differently. This reminds me of a kind of definition for a saint: a person who has successfully transformed herself to a completely different one.



Ann in response to Mike on reflective writing, 7/13/04


“… When we ask students to "write about" or "reflect on"  I fear that we have returned to a model of the individual learner looking inside and using writing as an unexamined conduit to carry forth the learning to a teacher-audience. We take this report at face value, as though one can shine a flashlight on a bundle of internal knowing and bring it to light for others to see.


'I’m struggling to understand what is actually going on in this school-based request for reflection and how to design a situation in which students can become more aware of the features of it as an activity system and therefore the way that the "reflective paper" is shaped by all those aspects of the situation that ride below the tip of the iceberg that is their written document.


If we accept levels in reflexivity, then one has to start somewhere. Students are provided with a ZPD to practice reflexivity; something that many had never given a chance to do so. For beginners, only ‘the tip of the iceberg’ becomes visible (not necessarily a bad thing). Being situated, invisible boundaries of different sorts limit this reflexivity. Ann seems to ask the difficult question of:  how one risks exploring an activity for the students that affords them the condition of possibility for being able to see the layers that ‘ride below the tip of the iceberg?’  or, how to go from low to high reflexivity? What forms of mediational tools do we need to break through the multiple boundaries in specific situations?



Jay responds to Ann, 7/13/04


“All writing, all activity, all meaning-making is always already embedded in multiple larger, longer-term contexts, agendas, institutions, etc. So I have to agree with Ann's misgivings about how authentically "reflective" students can be when writing about their experiences in the field (or anywhere), if that writing is done as part of some larger activity defined within the university or some academic institution, tradition, discipline, etc.


The romantic solution ... is to get outside the institutional structures, or to write against them. But you CAN'T get outside them, not honestly and

authentically, and if you could, you would not be able to say much that

would make sense to people still inside them (or really to anyone, probably

even yourself). You can write against from within, but I find the arguments

fairly persuasive that this mainly has the effect of reproducing what you

oppose in an inverted or negative image.


I think that the activity that Ann is looking for is the activity of working for institutional change. Critique of the present institutions, but for the sake of working to change them (or replace them, often easier). Reflection on experience and practice, but of a form and with a cumulative logic of argument and development shaped by the project of change (subversion, revolution, replacement, re-engineering ... however you like to call it).


How do we invoke reflexivity? Is reflexivity thinking critically about our research and actions —an acute self-awareness? Is it awareness about the observer’s ‘gaze’ (eg, male) and the observed (eg, objectified nude)? Do we reduce what we can know to only knowing ourselves? Or do we retreat to becoming a neutral conduit for the observed?


I do not have any ‘big’ answer. Let me look ‘outside.’


1. Evaluation being an eclectic field has borrowed from organization learning/development: One concept is ‘single and double loop learning.’


These almost corresponds to what Jay mentioned in his earlier post. Single loop is ‘to do it better’ and double loop is to question the underlying assumptions --‘to stop doing it altogether and figure out something better to do.’


2. Here is the dilemma: while everyone agrees on the virtues of reflexivity in theory and action, the problem is that there is almost no agreement on what reflexivity is anyway.  Sociologists from Garfinkel, to Giddens have concerned themselves with reflection, but Bourdieu was really obsessed by it.


Maton suggests three common categories:


1.    sociological reflexivity; social relation of knowledge (sublets relation to knowledge), not its epistemic relation (object’s relation to knowledge). These show more good research but less new bases for knowledge claims.

2.    individualistic reflexivity; reflexivity as an individual effort to overcome one’s biases. One is satisfied with being honest about herself, but not seeking the collective conditions for providing knowledge.

3.    narcissistic reflexivity; the focus is only on the individual author—autobiography.


By Reducing reflexivity to individual reflection, individuals’ social position and the field is not disturbed and status quo is conserved— as Jay suggested, this is ‘to do it better.’


Bourdieu, Maton suggests, defines social spaces of situated individuals and groups, and assumes that ‘actors attempt to impose this specific, situated, dated viewpoint on others in struggle for status and resources.’  For Bourdieu, it is ‘epistemic reflexivity’ that allows him to go beyond relativism of view points and define a collective knowledge claim, as opposed to narcissistic approach.  His epistemic focus is on the relations between the knowers (subject) and known (object). This is in contrast to the epistemic approach that focuses on the relations between knower and known……………..


At this Friday evening, time to wish you all a happy weekend,


Iraj imam