Reflexivity and Predictability of the Social Sciences

Part of the Contributions to Economics book series (CE)

Reflexivity is inevitably involved in all social facts and discourses about social reality because social discourses are inevitably made by an observer who is part of the system of observation. Discourses on social reality are elaborations that transcend meta-logically the reality they focus on, as they are formulated by a subject that cannot be disentangled from the observed object.

This chapter addresses the unavoidable reflexive nature which characterizes all kinds of discourses about social facts and reality. This can be ascribed to the involvement of the observer in the system she observes and constitutes an inescapable condition in which all human conceptualizations concerning social facts are caught. In set-theoretical terms, human discourse's self-referring character is given because its domain (the subject of the analysis) is embedded in the range to which it refers (the object of the analysis).

Reflexivity of this kind, which is implied by the so-called “observer-observation problematic,” constitutes a peculiarity of the social sciences and finds no real equivalent in the natural sciences. Its most similar problem is represented by the Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. This can be traced back to the observer effect and ascribed to the interference of the act of analysing with the analysed object. Starting from these premises, constructivism extends the effects of reflexivity to any form of human analysis because the act of human observation inevitably concurs to shape the object to which it refers. Constructivism states that all that can be experienced or thought is “constructed,” so that reflexivity constitutes an inescapable basis of all that can be thought and conceptualized. Reflexivity belongs therefore to one of the central concerns of the constructivist analysis and represents a key concept for deepening human cognition and behaviour.

Therefore, the first part of this chapter focuses on the perspective of radical constructivism. Its essential fundaments will be illustrated discussing the observerobservation scheme and the construct of the self. The specified constructivist perspective will then be adopted for discussing and modelling the cognitive processes. Some implications of reflexivity for social research and economics, as they emerge from the approach of constructivism, will then be addressed.

The second part of the chapter addresses the implications of reflexivity of the social sciences for the predictability of social and, in particular, economic reality. After an introduction on different approaches to social predicting, the processes of explaining and predicting social reality will be compared. The self-altering, reflexive effect of social predictions which will emerge in this insight will then be developed, and reflexive predictions will be discussed.


Mental Model Social Reality Language Game External Reality Radical Constructivism 


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© Physica-Verlag Heidelberg 2009

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