COMMENT: The entries over the last month or so have prompted me to consider how I have modified my views and arguments over the years. I do not wish to bore you with a potted autobiography so I will keep these comments brief.
Basically I wish to “confess” that my position on a range of issues has altered between my earlier works and some later contributions. I would like to suggest that this shift in positions should be expected rather than decried; hence, the quotation marks around “confess”. Indeed, I am suggesting that applying forms of self-problematization (see last entry), by their nature, impels researchers to revisit stances we have adopted and concepts we have used previously – that is precisely what self-problematization is intended to achieve! Unfortunately, however, researchers seldom discuss in a public forum possible tensions in their work brought about by new reading and new thinking. My hope is that “early researchers” might take heart from hearing an “old hand” reflect on this issue.
The concept I wish to trouble is “reflexivity”. In a 2009 publication (Bacchi 2009) I endorse something I call “reflexive framing”. A recent article diplomatically takes me to task for using a concept that appears to endorse a rational, self-contained subject who can “stand back” and “reflect” on their views (Ikavaldo and Brunila draft 2018: 12). I accept this criticism. Two years after my chapter on “reflexive framing” was published, I agreed to give a paper on reflexivity as a keynote address at a conference on gender mainstreaming (BACCHI MADRID KEYNOTE 2011). This task compelled me to sort through the debates around the topic more carefully.
In a sense this keynote address illustrates what happened to my thinking when I asked the WPR questions of my earlier (2009) stance on reflexivity. Thinking of this earlier position (2009) I needed to consider the deep-seated assumptions underpinning a claim that reflexivity constituted the “problem” as an unwillingness to examine one’s presuppositions (Question 2 Bacchi WPR CHART). Specifically, I needed to consider the kind of subject produced or enacted in a claim of this sort. As Ikavaldo and Brunila (2018) point out, reflexivity presumes a rational, self-contained actor. As a result, the concept is circular (see BACCHI MADRID KEYNOTE 2011: 7-8). These are the reasons I moved towards the alternative of “self-problematization”, but a change in wording does not really alter the sense of some ability to “distance oneself” from one’s “beliefs” (note that in 2011 on p. 18 I decided it was acceptable to retain the term “reflexivity”).
To move forward theoretically I engaged with performativity theory, the “turn to practice” and an ontology of becoming [see last entry]. I found Annemarie Mol (2002) particularly helpful. Mol (2002: 38) makes the point that people’s identities “do not precede their performances, but are constituted in and through them”. It follows that we are produced as particular kinds of subjects through the practices in which we engage. Hence, attention needs to be directed to identifying “reflexive” practices that produce us as “reflexive” subjects.
In the 2011 paper I argue that WPR constitutes such a “reflexive” practice. Step 7 (see Bacchi WPR CHART) specifies the need to apply the WPR questions to our own proposals. This undertaking is not simply a recommendation to (somehow) become “reflexive”; it involves an active practice of critical self-problematization.
It calls upon all researchers and practitioners to examine their own proposals for change, to consider how those proposals represent the “problem” under scrutiny, to identify the unquestioned presuppositions that underpin that thinking and to listen to alternative problematisations. (Bacchi 2011: 18)
Hence, it draws on and supports the performative principle that subjects are produced through practices. The hope is that “applying these six questions to our own policy proposals allows us to consider the extent to which we may inadvertently be complicit in oppressive modes of governing” (Bacchi 2011: 11).
This example illustrates that I came to be more skeptical about the concept of reflexivity as I spent more effort researching its genealogy and premises. My hope is that the application of self-problematization, as illustrated in this story of my changing views on the topic of “reflexivity”, encourages other researchers to undertake a close examination of the concepts they adopt and how those concepts produce “problems” as particular sorts of problems with specific effects (Bacchi 2018: 7).
Bacchi, C. 2009. The issue of intentionality in frame theory: The need for reflexive framing. In E. Lombardo, P. Meier & Verloo, M. (Eds.), The Discursive Politics of Gender Equality: Stretching, Bending and Policymaking. London: Routledge, pp. 19-35.
Bacchi, C. 2011. Gender mainstreaming and reflexivity: Asking some hard questions”. Keynote address, Advancing Gender+ Training in Theory and Practice, Conference at Complutense University, Madrid, 3 February.
Bacchi, C. 2018. Drug Problematizations and Politics: Deploying a Poststructural Analytic Strategy. Contemporary Drug Problems, 45(1): 3-14.
Ikavalko, E. and Brunila, K. 2017. Coming to discursive-deconstructive reading of gender equality. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, December. Draft copy.
Mol, A. 2002. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham and London: Duke University Press.