Research in NAIP

1.c Reflexivity in qualitative research and the role of the researcher

Future professional musicians who want to engage with new audiences are confronted with questions like ‘how can I function in a flexible way and exploit opportunities in new and rapidly changing cultural contexts’?, and the fundamental question: ‘Who am I as a musician and how can I contribute to society; what is my role in that’? To this end, it is worthwhile to explore the concept of lifelong learning, which is in a nutshell: a dynamic concept of learning that enables us to respond to change. Characteristics of the concept of Lifelong Learning include an emphasis on learning as opposed to ‘training’, different approaches to learning (ranging from biographical learning to experiential learning and learning in a community of practice), and in particular the interconnection between personal and professional development is important. And that brings us once more to the important role of critical reflection and reflexive processes.

Reflective practice was discussed in the previous section. In this section we will discuss reflective practice further, and in particular in the context of its relation to reflexive practice. Reflexivity is an important given in qualitative (and artistic) research and in order to understand what it entails, it makes sense to first further clarify the concepts of reflection-on-action (critical reflection); reflection-in-action (reflexivity) and related to this the notions of tacit knowledge and its relationship to artistry.

The following section is taken from the book “The Reflective Music Teacher” (2014, p. 28).

“Reflective practice is at the core of lifelong learning. Its definition and impact are described by Donald Schön in his seminal works The Reflective Practitioner from 1983 and Educating the Reflective Practitioner from 1987. Critical reflection, Schön says, can give the practitioner the opportunity to mark out a new sense of situations. Within the concept of reflective practice, Schön (Schön, 1987) makes a distinction between ‘reflection-on-action’ and ‘reflection-in-action’, where the first can be seen as critical reflection and the latter can be considered as ‘reflexivity’. According to Schön, we ‘reflect-in-action’ when we can still make a difference to the situation at hand, reshaping by means of our thinking what we are doing while we are doing it. It is a process we can deliver without being able to say what we are doing. Schön (Schön, 1983) gives an example of improvising jazz musicians: they ‘reflect-in-action’ on the music they are collectively making and on their individual contributions to this. They reflect less in words than “through a feel for music” (Schön, 1983, p. 56). Schön argues that, “in such processes reflection tends to focus interactively on the outcomes of the action, the action itself, and the intuitive knowing implicit in the action” (ibid.). Schön considers the musicians’ reflection-in-action as a reflective conversation – ‘conversation’, now, in a metaphorical sense (Schön, 1987, p. 31). Strengthening the reciprocal relationship between ‘reflection-on-action’ and ‘reflection-in-action’ in the personal, artistic and professional development of musicians and music educators is highly important (Renshaw, 2006). This echoes Schön’s (Schön, 1987) notion of a ‘reflective practicum’ where this reciprocal relationship evolves through learning by doing, coaching rather than teaching and as a dialogue of reciprocal reflection-in-action between coach and student (Schön, 1987, p. 164).”

Smilde, R. (2014). Reflective Practice at the heart of Higher Music Education. In T. De Beats and T. Buchborn (eds.). European Perspectives on Music Education, Vol. 3: The Reflective Music Teacher.  Innsbruck: Helbling.

Tacit knowledge

Schön (1987) furthermore observes that, “the paradox of learning a really new competence is this: that a student cannot at first understand what he needs to learn [...] He cannot make an informed choice yet, because he does not grasp the essential meanings; he needs experience first. He must jump in without knowing what he needs to learn” (p. 93).  Schön even takes a step further, arguing that, “even when a practitioner makes conscious use of research-based theories and techniques, he is dependent on tacit recognitions, judgements and skilful performances” (Schön, 1983, p. 50).

This brings us to the interconnection between reflective practice and the notion of ‘tacit knowledge’, as described by the philosopher Polanyi (Polanyi, 1966). Tacit knowledge can be seen as a special form of ‘knowing how’. It is implicit unconscious knowledge in people’s minds that is embedded in a particular culture and is not easy to transmit. The transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact and trust (Smilde, 2009). One of Polanyi’s (Polanyi, 1966) famous quotes is: "We know more than we can tell". Renshaw draws upon these words, while arguing that,

“Basically, some knowledge cannot be put into words. Tacit knowledge […] is central to the whole process of coming to know experientially within any practical context. Echoing Polanyi, the creative energy or spirit embedded in tacit knowledge can only be caught and not taught” (Renshaw, 2006, p. 22).

Artistry and tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is closely interconnected with the concept of ‘artistry’, critical in the world of musicians and music educators. Schön (Schön, 1987) defines artistry as “the competence by which practitioners actually handle indeterminate zones of practice” (Schön, 1987, p. 13). Performance of very competent performers, Schön argues, can serve as good examples.

Schön points out two meanings of artistry, being intuitive knowing as well as ‘reflection-in-action’ on intuitive knowing. When practitioners ‘reflect-in-action’ they display their own intuitive understandings, i.e. they act reflexively. However, according to Schön, when a practitioner displays artistry, his intuitive knowing is “richer in information than any description of it” (Schön, 1983, p. 276).

Within critical reflection you analyse, reconsider and question experiences which you have, and relate this to impacts within a broad context of issues, e.g. to the question what these experiences mean for the way you approach your teaching. Schön (1987) calls this ‘reflecting on your action’. Reflexivity can be connected to Schön’s (1987) ‘reflection-in-action’.

Reflexivity in research

What then, do we mean by reflexivity when talking about research? Researchers also reflect on and in action. Clearly researchers need to be, as Schön terms it, reflective practitioners. When doing qualitative research, like research into a practice, but also when doing artistic research, it is important to be able to step back and reflect on your data, bringing your own (internalised) knowledge to the fore. The reflection that then takes place is dialogical: there is your data and there is your own reflection and knowledge. As a qualitative researcher you are absolutely entitled to use your own reflective insights and interpretation. Doing this is a reflexive process. How does this work?

An often-encountered misunderstanding in research is, that those who are going to conduct research think they need to be invisible as a researcher in order for the research outcomes or interpretation to be valid. However, this is impossible, and also unnecessary. In particular in qualitative research researchers themselves are part of the research process, and their perspective and position is always influential. That can be the case through their experience in the field, or through their sheer presence (e.g. in ethnography, as a participant observer, or in the situation of an interview, i.e. when communicating with your interviewee, which is reflection-in-action).

The ‘reflexivity’ of the researcher therefore means that the researcher is aware of her effect on the process and outcomes of research. The subjectivity of the researcher and of those being studied becomes part of the research process (Flick, 2009). Flick (2009) describes reflexivity in research as: “acknowledging the input of the researchers in actively co-constructing the situation which they want to study. It also alludes to the use in which such insights can be put in making sense of or interpreting data. For example, presenting oneself as an interviewer in an open-minded and empathic way can have a positive and intensifying impact on the interviewees’ way of dealing with their experiences.”

Thus, “knowledge cannot be separated from the knower” (Steedman, 1991). In qualitative social research, there is only reconstruction and interpretation and in doing qualitative research, it is impossible to remain ‘outside’ that what you research; the presence of the researcher will always have some kind of effect. This means that a researcher can never strive in qualitative research to ‘discover’ the ontological reality (i.e. ‘how the world works’).

In qualitative research, unlike quantitative research, things cannot be measured. It is not a situation in a laboratory. Real life is at the core, and it is a representation of the participants’ reality, thus always a unique social situation. Qualitative research is therefore, in contrast to quantitative research, not repeatable.


How then can we still strive for validity of the research? It is in the first place of great importance that the research is transparent: it must be clear how the researcher did it. In addition, research procedures like member check (communicated validation through those involved) and triangulation, looking through different lenses (like e.g. using observations next to interviews), can be helpful. In addition, a solid documentation is very important. ‘Objectivity’ thus does not exist; the researcher must always be conscious of the limitations of the results, and communicate about the ‘constructions’ of the data. The reflexivity of the researcher shows in the fact that she is always a co-constructor.

Literature on NAIP concepts and research

Literature on Methodology

Literature on Research coaching