Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

The Double Career of a Category: Uses of “Reflexivity” in the Social Sciences

Dr. habil. Andreas Langenohl


The research project explores the idiomatic use of the terms „reflexive“ and „reflexivity“ in contemporary sociology and social theory. It starts from the observation that “reflexivity” is currently being used mainly in one of two senses.

First, in sociological contemporary diagnoses (Beck, Giddens, Lash) the term stands in for a certain understanding of modernization and modernity which has at its core the argument that the consequences of modern institutions hark back on the latter’s own functional insertion in society and become reflexive in the sense of self-referential.

Second, social theory uses the term of reflexivity in order to indicate the need for a constant evaluation and historicization of one’s own research practices: according to Pierre Bourdieu, sociological investigations must reflect upon the social structuration of their own categories and positionalities in order to arrive at an “objective” description in a post-scientistic episteme.

Given that the term “reflexivity” predates these debates by centuries and thus has been available for sociology since a long time, how does one explain the currency of the notion in contemporary discourse? What constitutes the idiom of reflexivity that the term owes its prominence to? And how are the two uses of reflexivity interrelated? The project attempts to answer these questions through a three-step methodology:

  1. a genealogy of reflexivity as a category in social-scientific use;
  2. an analysis of the constitution of reflexive positionalities through their critique of “non-reflexive” ones;
  3. the identification of factors in institutionalized discourse relating to the term.