Reflexivity and Subjectivity in Qualitative Research: The Utility of a Wittgensteinian Framework

Gavin B. Sullivan


Recognition of reflexivity in psychology does not solve a problem so much as create new challenges for practitioners concerned with the meaning and quality of subjects' actions. Whereas mainstream psychologists seek to reduce or eliminate researcher bias in order to study independent, real world phenomena, qualitative researchers from the same discipline recognize the irreducible impact of the language, theories and experiences that co-create those phenomena. It is possible, of course, that the results of a particular method have implications for or even reveal more about the subjectivity of the researcher than the research "subject." In this paper, I explore similar issues about subjectivity that arise in the area of philosophical biography and then engage reflexively with the later philosophy of WITTGENSTEIN (1953) in order to provide an appropriate framework for qualitative work. The consistency of the account is further enhanced by using the example of my own work on pride to address several different meanings of reflexivity and to explore the implications of individual subjectivity for the research "process" and "product." The results will show, it is hoped, that exploration of reflexivity-subjectivity issues does not lead to paradox, indecision or conceptual morass and also indicate how WITTGENSTEIN's "therapeutic" approach clarifies and dissolves many of these problems.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0203204


Wittgenstein; philosophical biography; reflexivity; subjectivity; psychology; social constructionism; qualitative research

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Copyright (c) 2002 Gavin B. Sullivan

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