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Reflexivity can be defined and understood in a variety of interpretations. It can be understood pertaining more to social science, art/film, literature, or even in a financial context. Most simply put, reflexivity means “reflecting.” As defined by the Cambridge dictionary reflexivity is “the fact of someone being able to examine his or her own feelings, reactions, and motives (reasons for acting) and how these influence what he or she does or thinks in a situation” (Cambridge). Reflexivity can also be defined as something that undermines the illusion or fantasy aspects of the narrative, encouraging the viewer to be a critical thinker about the ideology conveyed by the narrative. Fundamentally, reflexivity is reflecting on something and understanding things completely objectively and without personal opinions or biases blurring the core idea. The picture below with all of the different words jumbled together is an accurate representation of the many different complexities that are attached to understanding all that reflexivity encompasses.
In order to truly understand the concept of reflexivity, it is vital to take into account the many different contexts it can be interpreted in. According to University Professor Robert Stam in his book called, Reflexivityin Film and Literature, he writes that reflexivity was first borrowed from philosophy and psychology, where it referred to the mind’s capacity to be both subject and object to itself within the cognitive process (xiii). John Locke defines reflexion as the knowledge that the mind has of its own operations and the character of those operations (Stam xiii). Another form of reflexive thinking lies in literature and reflexion on literature (Stam xiii). Another understanding of reflexivity comes from a study by Paul McIntosh and Claire Webb from Suffolk College. They write that reflexivity has a multitude of functions: “it permeates every aspect of the researchprocess, challenging us to be more fully conscious of the ideology, culture and politics of those we study and those we select as our audience” (7).
Reflexivity is not limited to what is often mistakenly labelled the “western” tradition (Stam xiii). It exists wherever people “talk about talk” or reflect on consciousness, language, art, and communication (Stam xiii). Stam also writes that reflexivity is not limited to just academia, it is also prevalent in samba, rap, calypso, and the commercial products of mass-mediated culture (xiii). Furthermore, Stam notes that when examining reflexivity in artistic terms, it refers to the capacity of “cultural productions to ‘look at’ themselves, as if they were capable of self-regard. It is this ‘self-regard’ that leads to the occasional condemnation of reflexivity as ‘narcissistic’ and self-indulgent’” (xiii).
Reflexivity plays an intricate part in both modernism and postmodernism (Stam xv). When specifically addressing artistic modernism, the term reflexivity evokes a non-representational art characterized by abstraction and fragmentation (Stam xv). Stam writes that “reflexivity within modernism evokes the artistic self-consciousnessof Cubism, whereby the artist calls attention, in Ortega y Gassett’s famous metaphor, not to what is seen through the window but rather to the window itself” (xv). The photograph shown here is a picture of Jose Ortega y Gassett. It accurately represents the deep thinker he was and how his work relates to reflexive thinking. When addressing the role reflexivity plays in postmodernism, Stam points out that it is important to recognize that the term “postmodernism” changes meaning depending on the context, and reflexivity is carried out in each and every one of its meanings. Reflexivity in postmodernism evokes the “quotation-like aspects of pastiche art, the hyper-real world of media politics, and the incessant self-consciousness of contemporary television programming” (Stam xvi). In short, it evokes a world in which various media outlets are a “taken-for-granted presence” (Stam xvi).
Self-reflexivity has become a highly discussed topic in recent critical discourse, specifically in relation to postmodern narrative fiction (Kao 59). The postmodern fascination with self-reflexivity can be due to “the sense of pastness that permeates turn-of-the-century, or rather, turn-of-the millennium culture – a sense that will endure until the new millennium finds its own cultural identity” (Ryan 269). This self-reflexivity is essentially millennials reflecting deeply on themselves and their futures. Pictured below is a young girl who is self-reflecting on her future and the direction her life is going in. This is a suitable example of what self-reflexivity looks like in today’s culture. Marie-Laure Ryan, a prominent literary scholar and critic, also writes that self-reflexivity could, additionally, be a response to the curiosity aroused by the development of a new medium (269). Ryan delves into the different types of self-reflexivity. Before doing so, she reiterates that the term “self-reflexivity” covers a “wide range of phenomena diversified along three continuums” (270). The three different types are known as the continuum of explicitness, the continuum of scope, and the continuum of individuation. She discusses the threetypes in greater detail and then concludes her piece on self-reflexivity explaining why self-reflexivity is so dominant in art and media. Her explanation is “we cannot achieve a proper understanding of self-reflexivity in art in general, and innew media in particular, without taking into account the force that it is trying to resist, namely the immersive power of representations and their ability to createan illusion of reality” (Ryan 287).
In the Practices of Looking textbook, the authors noted that “postmodern popular culture and art take this modern concept of reflexivity further but with different effect” (Cartwright & Sturken 322). The textbook goes on toexplain that in many postmodern reflexive texts, most of political critique of reflexivity has been made light of with humor or is simply not present in the text. It is ironic that reflexivity has become the code of advertisers and media producers who use this code for “intellectual play without offering viewers any significant critical or political message beneath the reflexive joke” (Cartwright & Sturken 322). The last image is a perfect representation of self-reflexivity being used and made light of through humor. Like the textbook says, there is really nosignificant message behind this image other than a laugh from the reader. Overall, reflexivity is an incredibly complex concept with many different interpretations, but can be most easily understood as objectively reflecting on something in an effort to understand the core fundamentals.