Too Busy for Reflexivity? What Danish School Managers Can Teach STS Researchers about Epistemological Ideals and Pragmatic Morals

Helene Ratner

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Abstract

What Danish school managers can teach STS researchers about epistemological ideals and pragmatic morals. Reflexivity has an ambivalent status in both anthropology and Science and Technology Studies. On the one hand, the critique of representation at the heart of the reflexivity debates of the 1980s highlighted non-symmetric relationships between observer and observed and accused the academic text of enacting a realist genre, concealing the relativism entailed in textual production (Clifford and Marcus 1986, Woolgar 1988, Ashmore 1989). On
the other hand, the reflexivity program produced fears of a “corrosive relativism in which everything is but a more or less clever expression of opinion” (Geertz 1988:2, 3) and it has suffered the little flattering accusations of piling "layer upon
layer of self-consciousness to no avail" (Latour 1988:170) with little “interest [for] … theoretically ambitious colleagues” (Lynch 2000:46). Some 20 years later, these debates still linger in the shadows with some anthropologists refer to their work as “postreflexive” (eg. Maurer 2005, Riles 2000). This suggests a need
to move beyond reflexivity without leaving it entirely behind.
While reflexivity today still addresses relevant epistemological matters of concern, it has nevertheless been absorbed by an “empirical impulse” to describe everyday lives and practices (Maurer 2005:6). This paper explores some of the difficulties and frustrations related to imagining and realizing the epistemological ideals of reflexivity. However, instead of revisiting these somewhat tired epistemological debates, it explores Danish managers’ of primary schools analogous difficulties with realizing a prevailing ideal of reflexivity. The paper draws on ethnography in two Danish schools. The idea that the world is constructed – and the reflexive version that this is also the case
for one’s own practices – is also found outside epistemological debates in anthropology and STS. Danish education policies and organizational theories used by school managers advance the idea that schools should question their assumptions and traditions through reflexivity in order to change their practices. Reflexivity is thus imbued with a sense of optimism: awareness about how
practice is constructed is seen to improve the possibilities for changing it (Ratner 2012). Despite this optimism, “implementing” reflexivity proves difficult as risks of “infinite regress” and “navel gazing” become practical problems which
school managers need to deal with. Moreover, they find that the emancipatory hopes of reflexivity (cf. Schön 1991) produces new problems in terms of failing to meet teachers’ practical concerns or even excluding teachers who do not master the vocabulary of reflexivity. Facing these challenges, the managers employ a pragmatic moral, which allows them to bracket or defer their
epistemological ideal of reflexivity while keeping it alive as exactly that: a promise of a future settlement. The paper concludes by comparing academics’ and school managers’ versions of reflexivity, using managerial strategies as a
commentary on social science reflexivity debates.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012: Design and displacement: Social Studies of Science and Technology - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 17 Oct 201220 Oct 2012
Conference number: 2012
https://sf.cbs.dk/4s_easst/final_conference_program_ready

Conference

ConferenceThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012
Number2012
LocationCopenhagen Business School
CountryDenmark
CityFrederiksberg
Period17/10/201220/10/2012
Internet address

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