The practice of self-reflexivity begins with the researcher reflecting on their own positionality. That is, becoming critically aware of the social, cultural, political, economic aspects of their own background, experience, education and embodied presence in the world, and how these have shaped their intellectual orientation and world view.
The importance of positionality is rooted in feminist work that has argued that, rather than there being universal or objective claims to truth, all knowledge is shaped by the specific contexts or circumstances in which it situated and produced (Valentine 2002, pp. 116-117).
Awareness of your positionality as a researcher is an important part of understanding the situated nature of knowledge. Positionality is central to shaping your research agenda, your presence in the field, your data analysis and, ultimately, your research findings (Kirsch 1999, p. 3; see also, Peake 2017).
Reflexivity enables you to reflect on the politics of representation, or how positionality in the field affects the ways in which you represent your research participants. Reflexivity further involves exercising critical reflection and introspection on:
This includes assessing “how social, historical, and cultural factors shape the research site as well as participants’ goals, values, and experiences” (Kirsch 1999, p. 3).
Central to the exercise of reflexivity is awareness about different forms of privilege that researchers may hold in relation to their field of research or their research participants. Awareness of privilege is central to understanding the operation of unequal power relations in research and the creation of knowledge itself as an exercise of power.
Moments of discomfort and doubt in the research process can be important in exercising reflexivity:
“…they can prompt us to be more reflective, self critical, and sensitive in our interactions with participants; they can guide us toward more thoughtful renderings of participants’ lives and literacies” (Kirsch 1999, xii).