Now that I felt like I was finally doing something, I had reason to return to my sketchbook. Not to twist myself into more deductive knots, but to make note of what was unfolding as I worked. Document everything, my supervisors had urged. And so I did. Primarily with written words, but also occasionally with photos, audio recordings and rudimentary sketches. I captured the sublime as well as the mundane, trusting that time would sort out which was which. I recorded what I thought I might do next; what I actually ended up doing; the effects of these actions both external and internal; synchronous details that I only noticed later while reviewing previous documentation; and back around to my ideas for what I might do next, as influenced by what had come before.
Attending to my actions in this way made new structures visible, much like how the streets had opened up when I started tuning in to their details. This was the beginning of my reflexive practice.
It was also the beginning of my reflective practice, as I would eventually discover. The work has evolved in cycles, manifesting and concluding of their own accord, and at the end of each cycle I’ve found myself returning to my notes. Sometimes I review just the most recent cycle, other times I’m pulled further back, fascinated to discover a trail of pebbles that I’ve left glowing in the moonlight. Every so often I wake in the middle of the night and fumble for my stack of sketchbooks, looking for a single detail to solve the mystery of how something came to be. But of course there is no single moment when anything comes to be — only the moment when we first catch sight of its becoming.
These cyclical reflections often generate new notes, and new dimensions to my understanding — though the progression to some form of consolidated truth is rarely linear or neat. Interspersed with the reflexive notes, my reflections lie in wait for me each time I pass that way again. Sometimes they make me cringe. More often they make me worry about how much I seem to repeatedly forget, that I must then come to understand again another way. Maybe that’s just how it is. Maybe some things are too fundamental to behold in their entirety from the splinter of one angle; too big to grasp at once and keep. We must encounter each new facet as a stranger, until we have recognised the whole. And perhaps we never will. Maybe that’s just how it is.
And of course this is what I’m doing now, as I write these words. Going through my notes, both reflective and reflexive. Finding what still glows. Weaving those words into these words, these new insights that will lie in wait until I pass this way again. The story continues to unfold, rarely linear or neat. T1
T1:If my shadow games were the beginning of a more conscious relationship with Other, my reflexive and reflective methods were the beginning of a more deliberate relationship with myself within the research. This methodology can be seen as both the origin and the expression of the doubling structure that has reverberated through The Parallaxis, serving as it does to simultaneously enact and articulate the forces at work within the project. Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Reciprocity. Change.
And as counterparts in methodology, these reflexive and reflective methods form another doubling that constitutes The Parallaxis.
In becoming a reflexive researcher with a phenomenological grounding, I necessarily became both the instrument and the subject of my research. It was my own traversal of the liminal that was to unfold. The making of the game became the playing of the game, and the playing of the game — the experience of playing the game — became the research. This implication of the practitioner within the process is a defining characteristic of reflexivity.
‘An argument can be made that reflexive practice is attuned to self-organization, and that self-organization is a natural process often suppressed’, writes social systems analyst Kent C. Myers (2010, p. 21), who sees reflexivity as a useful approach for dealing with the uncertainty of chaotic or complex emergent systems.
This attuning force bends both ways: ‘I understand researcher reflexivity as the capacity of the researcher to acknowledge how their own experiences and contexts (which might be fluid and changing) inform the process and outcomes of inquiry’ writes psychologist and academic Kim Etherington (2004, p. 31). Etherington conflates reflexive practice with heuristic methodologies in psychological research, which are concerned with ‘using “self” as a major tool in the research process’ (ibid. p. 16):
‘In its purest form, heuristics is a passionate and discerning personal involvement in problem solving, an effort to know the essence of some aspect of life through the internal pathways of the self… When utilized as a framework for research, it offers a disciplined pursuit of essential meanings connected with everyday human experiences’ (Douglass & Moustakas 1985, p. 39).
The uncertainty of the everyday makes it particularly suited to a reflexive methodology. ‘All representations of reality are incomplete and unreliable,’ Meyers writes of the reflexive practice landscape. ‘Interventions have unanticipated effects and upshots. Interventions take account of impermanence and the need for continued development and intervention’ (2010, p. 20).
Etherington likewise acknowledges the shifting nature of the knowledge that is arrived at through reflexivity. ‘I am aware that my understanding is still incomplete and ever-changing and that by the time this book is published I will probably have reached another stage upon my journey,” she writes. ‘So this chapter needs to be read as simply one way of telling a “story of reflexivity”‘ (2004 p. 37).
The splinter of one angle … we must encounter each new facet as a stranger.
If reflexivity is of the now, reflection is of the later. As I noted in my journal when I first became aware that reflection was one of my methods: These sightlines are different than the acute angle of the present moment; no more or less valid, but valuable for their unique perspective. Peering out across them now I can see myself almost as if in multiple dimensions, knowing-but-not-knowing exactly what I was doing.
Autoethnographer Carolyn Ellis observes similarly: ‘The advantage of writing close to the time of the event is that it doesn’t take much effort to access lived emotions — they’re often there whether you want them to be or not. The disadvantage is that being so involved in the scene emotionally means that it’s difficult to get outside it to analyse from a cultural perspective. Yet, both of these processes, moving in and moving out, are necessary to produce an effective autoethnography. That’s why it’s good to write about an event while your feelings are still intense and then to go back to it when you’re emotionally distant. I’ve had students who were great at getting inside emotional experience, but they had tunnel vision. They couldn’t move around in the experience. They were unable to see it as it might appear to others’ (1999 p. 675).
The “moving out” of reflective practice becomes the ordered, rationalising partner to the “moving in” of reflexivity’s fluid intuition. It is the storytelling that makes sense of actions and impressions. ‘I see reflection as a mainly cognitive process,’ Etherington writes (2004, p. 29). ‘These reflections usually stay at a conscious level, using what we already know about ourselves, while at the same time opening up the possibility of knowing ourselves better as we create new meanings and gain new understandings through the process of writing and reflection’ (ibid.).
Autoethnographer Art Bochner suggests that reflection does more than just enable us to know ourselves better; like reflexive practice, it actually changes us. ‘The meaning of prenarrative experience is constituted in its narrative expression,’ Bochner writes (Ellis & Bochner 2000, p. 745). ‘So the question is not, “Does my story reflect my past accurately?” as if I were holding up a mirror to my past. Rather I must ask, ‘What are the consequences my story produces? Why kind of person does it shape me into? What new possibilities does it introduce for living my life?”‘ (ibid. p. 746).
‘Through the narrative activity of self-creation,’ Bochner concludes, ‘we seek to become identical to the story that we tell’ (ibid.).
What story am I telling, through the playing of this game? Not a tale of once-upon-a-time, but one of here, and now, and me. And yet while I am certainly the teller of the story, I have never been entirely sure that I am the creator of the game. Like the methodology of its making, The Parallaxis seems to be a more reciprocal affair.