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Mirroring Meetings, Mirroring Media: The Microphysics of Reflexivity
Linköping University, Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture, Advanced Cultural Studies Institute of Sweden. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
1994 (English)In: Cultural Studies, ISSN 0950-2386, Vol. 8, no 2, 321-340 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

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 (1988), summarized in Fornäs (1990b); Fornäs (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.
Keyword [en]
reflexivity, media, youth, culture, cultural studies, research, etnography
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-15604DOI: 10.1080/09502389400490481OAI: diva2:126737
Original publication: Johan Fornäs, Mirroring Meetings, Mirroring Media: The Microphysics of Reflexivity, 1994, Cultural Studies, (8), 2, 321-340. Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, an informa businessAvailable from: 2008-11-20 Created: 2008-11-20 Last updated: 2009-05-14Bibliographically approved

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