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On reflexivity and the conduct of the self in everyday life: reflections on Bourdieu and Archer

Akram, Sadiya and Hogan, A (2015) On reflexivity and the conduct of the self in everyday life: reflections on Bourdieu and Archer. The British Journal of Sociology, 66 (4). pp. 605-625. ISSN 0007-1315

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Abstract

This article provides a critique of the concept of reflexivity in social theory today and argues against the tendency to define agency exclusively in terms of reflexivity. Margaret Archer, in particular, is highlighted as a key proponent of this thesis. Archer argues that late modernity is characterized by reflexivity but, in our view, this position neglects the impact of more enduring aspects of agency, such as the routinization of social life and the role of the taken‐for‐granted. These concepts were pivotal to Bourdieu and Giddens' theorization of everyday life and action and to Foucault's understanding of technologies of the self. We offer Bourdieu's habitus as a more nuanced approach to theorizing agency, and provide an alternative account of reflexivity. Whilst accepting that reflexivity is a core aspect of agency, we argue that it operates to a backdrop of the routinization of social life and operates from within and not outside of habitus. We highlight the role of the breach in reflexivity, suggesting that it opens up a critical window for agents to initiate change. The article suggests caution in over‐ascribing reflexivity to agency, instead arguing that achieving reflexivity and change is a difficult and fraught process, which has emotional and moral consequences. The effect of this is that people often prefer the status quo, rather than to risk change and uncertainty.

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