Social Research Glossary


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home


Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Reflexive sociology

core definition

Reflexive sociology refers to attempts to develop a critique of positivistic sociology through the development of phenomenological and ethnomethodological analyses of traditional approaches.

explanatory context

The essential position of this approach is that social phenomena are constructed and reflexive, where reflexivity is seen as the conscious reflective activity of the individual participants.

In practice reflexive sociology tends to be heavily influenced by Garfinkel's approach to ethnomethodology although it also draws to some degree on Chomskyan linguistics and Levi-Strauss's structuralist notion of myths. It emerged from a series of seminars at Goldsmith's College around 1970 and while appearing to be different soon became absorbed into the general ethnomethodological approach to sociology.

There is a separate and rather quirky approach that also calls itself reflexive sociology and can be found in O'Neill (1972). This is a mixture of phenomenology, Marxism and social criticism and is much closer to the latter than either of the former.

analytical review

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines 'reflexive sociology' as:

The use by sociologists of their own theoretical and empirical tools to better understand their own discipline.


Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) states:

Reflexive sociology: Says Alvin Gouldner (1970) in The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, "a Reflexive Sociology is and would need to be a radical sociology. Radical, because it would recognize that knowledge of the world cannot be advanced apart from the sociologist's knowledge of himself and his position in the social world, or apart from his efforts to change these. Radical, because it seeks to transform as well as to know the alien world inside him. Radical, because it would accept the fact that the roots of sociology pass through the sociologist as a total man, and that the question he must confront, therefore, is not merely how to work, but how to live... The historical mission of a Reflexive Sociology is to transcend sociology as it now exists. In deepening our understanding of our own sociological selves and of our position in the world, we can, I believe, simultaneously help to produce a new breed of sociologists who can also better understand other men and their social worlds. A Reflexive Sociology means that we sociologists must - at the very least - acquire the ingrained habit of viewing our own beliefs as we now view those held by others." Harold Garfinkel has also approached this idea in an interesting manner with his contention that sociologists are like goldfish swimming in a bowl, confidently analyzing other goldfish, without having ever stopped to recognize the bowl and the water they have in common with the fish they study.

associated issues


related areas

See also




Gouldner, A., 1970, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (New York: Basic Books).
McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 12 December 2016.

Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home