Alvesson, Mats & Kaj Sköldberg – Reflexive Methodology

  • reflexivity. In the book written by Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg –“Reflexive methodology. New vistas for qualitative research” – are presented 7 concepts arranged in 4 levels of breath. The concepts are: 1) data, 2) interpretations, 3) ideologies, 4) texts, 5) languages, 6) genders and 7) powers; and they belong to a certain trend of qualitative research – for instance, “data” is the central thing for the method named “grounded theory”; or when we are doing “interpretations” we are taking the views of “hermeneutics”; or the method “critical theory” is dwelling is business with “ideologies”; and again “text”, “language”, “gender” or “power” are important for two other methods – post-modernism (PM) and post-structuralism (PS). Restated, these four methods – grounded theory, hermeneutics, critical theory and post-modernism/ post-structuralism – are arranged like Matrioshka dolls, like nesting dolls. The smallest doll is named “grounded theory”: this is the level where we are encountering lots of “data”. On the other side, the biggest doll is called “post-modernism/ post-structuralism”: the touch with the world (data) is lost and the researcher is playing only with words (in what are called: texts, languages, genders and powers). In between these two extremes, Alvesson and Skoldberg are positioning the intermediary levels (levels that are situated both at the level position, and at the meta-level position) – hermeneutics (its interpretations are the meta-level for the data, but are the level for ideologies) and critical theory (that is level for post-modernism/ post-structuralism; and meta-level for hermeneutics). In the history of science, the reflexivity principle is illustrated, other than by Matrioshka dolls, by phenomena like: i) repetition songs – Erving Goffman is using reflexivity as method stating clearly that: “The process closely follows the horrors of repetition songs, as if – in the case of frame analysis – what Old MacDonald had on his farm were partridge and juniper trees” (1986: 11); ii) children plays – Joanne Martin is pointing to this process telling that: “The childhood war game of King of the Mountain is preferably played on a sand beach so no one will get hurt. One king’s temporary triumph at the top of a sand pile is rapidly superseded by the reign of another would-be monarch (boy or girl), until the succession of short-lived victories and the plethora of defeats leaves the pile flattened. Sometimes the tide washes away the traces of the struggle and sometimes children (usually a fresh army) rebuild the pile and start the game anew. Other children refrain from playing King of the Mountain, preferring to build their own castles in the sand” (1999: 345); or iii) canvas frame – Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier, presenting three paintings, are saying: “The first picture does not have much <meaning> per se. It is simply of a <fish> of some type. When the frame is widened to produce the second picture, we suddenly see a different situation. The first fish is not simply a <fish>, it is a <little fish about to be eaten by a big fish>. The little fish seems unaware of the situation; a situation that we can see easily due to our perspective and our <larger frame> (…) [Finally] we see that is not only the little fish that is in danger. The big fish is also about to be eaten by an even bigger fish. In his quest to survive, the big fish has become so focused on eating the little fish that it is oblivious to the fact that its own survival is threatened by the even bigger fish” (2000: 1071-1072). Finally, even Mats Alvesson and Kai Skoldberg are using a mathematical formula for reflexivity: “(1 [2 {3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7} 8 + 9] 10)” Here, the numbers are representing the chapters of their book. The “methods” – the chapters starting from the number 3 and ending with the number 7 – are the smallest part in this formula. The reader could start here reading the book. Then follows the “meta-methods” depicted in chapters: 2, 8 and 9. These three chapters are presenting the relationships between the method chapters. The last layer of the sandwich is represented by chapter 1 (introduction) and chapter 10 (conclusion). Before closing this presentation on reflexivity, I’ll spend some time on its critique. Surely, the fish, deep down in the sea, are not ceasing to move at the thought: “Geez, some time ago I read something written by Dilts and associates. They were saying we have to eat the little one of us. And beware of the big guys!” No! they are not even aware of the water around them. They are doing their deeds without too much thoughts or feelings. And the fact that in some occasions what Dilts and associates were saying is truth; this fact is only a coincidence. In short, the world is without layers; the world is not like an onion. Now and then, the world complied only in some degrees to such models as described above. In fact, to any model, not just this one that was presented here…

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  • Mats Alvesson & Kaj Sköldberg (2018): “Reflexive methodology. New vistas for qualitative research”, Sage Publications Ltd
  • Erving Goffman (1986): “Frame analysis. An essay on the organization of experience”, Northeastern University Press
  • Joanne Martin & Peter Frost (1999): “The organizational culture war games. A struggle for intellectual dominance” in Stewart R. Clegg & Cynthia Hardy (eds): “Studying organization. Theory and method”, Sage Publications Ltd, pp. 345-367
  • Dilts, Robert & Judith DeLozier (2000): “Encyclopedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding”, NLP University Press

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