Mirroring Meetings, Mirroring Media: The Microphysics of Reflexivity
1994 (English)In: Cultural Studies, ISSN 0950-2386, Vol. 8, no 2, 321-340 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
There is today a growing reflexivity in individual and collective identity constructions. Identities are always formed in relation to others and through symbolic structures, but this process has been more mobilized, differentiated, focused and problematized in late modernity – the most recent phase of the process of modernization.[i] This is true for daily life as well as for research. Reflexivity has in various ways been an important theme within psychoanalysis, history, anthropology and sociology, as well as in some recent Nordic studies of youth and popular culture. The well-known linguistic, cultural or communicative turn has made everyday reflexivity a central theoretical theme, and it has also sharpened intellectual self-reflection.
At the same time, media seem to become more and more important as tools of identity work – in subcultural formations as well as in common everyday life. This historical process of medialisation[ii] is intimately intertwined with the continuous increase in reflexivity, since media deliver many of those self-images used for identity constructions, including the problematizations of earlier ones. Media (mass or not) have various use values as cultural instruments for symbolic communication, and they are deeply ambivalent – both expressive and effective, communicative and constricting, emancipatory and authoritarian. Reflexivity is one of their many use values, in that they express and shape individual as well as collective identities by functioning in reception as vehicles and mirrors for self-definitions. But identities are also mirrored in non-mediated meetings between people: reflexivity can as well be carried by face-to-face interaction through symbolic forms like speech or gestures. A medium is in some sense always needed for communication but it need not be a technical apparatus – sound or light waves can suffice.
My aim is here to reflect upon the relation between mirroring, meetings and media, in order to explore the fabrics and processes of self-mirroring, or what can be called the microphysics of reflexivity. The reference point for my reflections is an empirical research project, where I and two colleagues studied the relationship between some young people and ourselves as researchers. We first studied twenty teenagers in three different peer groups playing amateur rock, and constructed models of their microcultures and of the uses they made of rock – and other symbolic expressions or media forms – in identity work. We then let them read the resulting book, and discussed it with them.[iii] The continued dialogue also included written statements from some of these (not anymore so) young people, then in their early twenties.
[i] Fornäs (1987 and 1990d; also Fornäs et al 1988 and 1990b) used the concept of late modernity as an alternative to the highly problematic concept of ’post’-modernity. Since then it has turned up now and again in various contexts, e g in Willis (1990) and Giddens (1991).
[ii] The useful term medialisation was probably introduced by the Swedish media researcher Kent Asp (1986).
[iii] Fornäs et.al. (1988), summarized in Fornäs et.al. (1990b); Fornäs et.al. (1990a). Methodological issues are also considered in Fornäs (1991). Our study was strikingly similar to what Radway (1988) asks for, as a collaborative interdisciplinary effort to use the study of whole group cultures to understand the way certain media and forms of expressions functioned, instead of a priori focusing only one single activity, medium or genre.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
1994. Vol. 8, no 2, 321-340 p.
reflexivity, media, youth, culture, cultural studies, research, etnography
National CategorySocial Sciences
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-15604DOI: 10.1080/09502389400490481OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-15604DiVA: diva2:126737
Original publication: Johan Fornäs, Mirroring Meetings, Mirroring Media: The Microphysics of Reflexivity, 1994, Cultural Studies, (8), 2, 321-340.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09502389400490481. Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business2008-11-202008-11-202009-05-14Bibliographically approved