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Reflexivity In Sociology

The term's history in the social sciences has been somewhat more complex, as it has been used by different theorists to refer to different phenomena according to what both the object and subject of reflection is understood to be. The concept of reflexivity has a longer history in sociology than in anthropology. As a sociological term, it first appears in the work of Talcott Parsons where it refers to the capacity of social actors in modern societies to be conscious and able to give accounts of their actions. This usage was further developed by Anthony Giddens, who argues that one of the main characteristics of late modernity is a heightened importance of reflexivity in this sense, both at the individual and the societal level. In late modernity, he argues, most aspects of social activity are subject to constant revision in the light of new information or knowledge (sociology itself is a major source of such reflexivity at the level of the society). Individual social actors likewise must constantly revise their identities in light of the changing social categories at hand. A second meaning of the term in sociology is traceable to the work of Harold Garfinkel who used the term to mean the process by which social order is created through ad hoc instances of conversational practice. A third sense of the term is in the context of "reflexive sociology." The term was coined by Parsons's student Alvin Gouldner, who called for a sociological examination of the discipline itself as part of a liberatory "radical sociology." The theorist most closely associated with reflexive sociology in this sense is Pierre Bourdieu. In his work, reflexivity is understood as a strategic agenda, that of utilizing the tools of the discipline in order to demystify sociology as a power saturated social practice.

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