Reflexivity of Social Reality

Part of the Contributions to Economics book series (CE)

The previous chapter has underlined the polymorphism of self-reference and its involvement in any form of human understanding, activity and conceptualizing. As neither social reality, nor its observation or description can be abstracted from their self-referential character, reflexivity and its implications are of central concern for social research in general. Accordingly, this chapter focuses on the reflexivity of social reality and phenomena and discusses some of its implications.

In particular, two different orders of reflexivity can affect social reality: a first order of reflexivity involves social reality per se and consists of the social phenomena that are self-referential in that they may affect themselves, as they can for example imply, control, or modify their own dynamic or development. A second order of reflexivity concerns the “discourses” on social reality, such as social sciences and theorizing. The present chapter offers an overview on common reflexive social phenomena, while the Chap. 3 focuses on the second order of reflexivity concerning social sciences and theories.

It can be essentially premised, that the first order of reflexivity, which invests social reality, depends on the autopoietic character of social phenomena that create themselves on the basis of their inescapable systemic character. The second order of reflexivity can be fully appreciated if related to the constructivist observerobservation scheme, as it will be discussed in more detail in the Chap. 3.

One of the first difficulties that the analysis of the reflexivity of social reality posits is represented by the huge range of phenomena which can be subsumed under the label “social reality.” Therefore, the analysis will begin with specifying the notion of “social reality,” which will be conceptualized in opposition to “natural reality.” After that, some notes on the reflexivity of social reality will introduce an overview on some common and widely analysed reflexive social phenomena. This overview does not have the claim of being comprehensive and ranges from anthropology, linguistics, law, politics, sociology, and psychology, and then concludes with examples of reflexivity involving the economic reality, as illustrated by the dynamic of financial markets and of the business cycle.

This overview is conceived as a natural first step for the successive enlargement (in the Chap. 3) to the reflexivity affecting social research and theorizing.

The difference between reflexive social phenomena and social discourses that lead to reflexive social phenomena, which has been condensed in the notions of first- and second-order reflexivity, is not so clear and sharp as one could think at a first glance. Social reality is in the end by human activity, which is coined by human thought and consciousness, so that the separation between action and cognition, between practical and intellectual activity, is something fluent, a continuum rather than a dichotomy. Reflexivity of social reality is due to the fact that the intentional action of the individuals defines the course of the social system the individuals belong to.


Stock Market Business Cycle Stock Prex Social Reality Social Phenomenon 


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© Physica-Verlag Heidelberg 2009

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