Building critical reflexivity through life story work.
Norton, Lynn Margaret.
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This thesis investigates what happens when space is facilitated in a number of settings for the development of critical reflexivity through narrative practices and other related reflexive and dialogical methodology. In a broad sense the research examines the transformative effects of life story work and reflexivity, to track outcomes and the conditions under which they are enabled. Although there is much existing literature on reflexivity, recent research suggests that there is little consistency across educational strategies and among health professions generally. There is also a paucity of evidence-based guidance for educators, which, combined with a lack of clarity across the literature on a clearly defined conceptualisation of the term ‘reflexivity’ makes it difficult for newcomers to the field or educators across disciplines to put reflexive strategies into place. In addition there is little translation of how reflexivity, once obtained, can be translated into practice; and also in regard to its facilitation in a community context. The research aims to deconstruct ways to facilitate critical reflexivity in order to promote accessibility, transferability and evaluation. The ongoing impact of South Africa’s colonial and apartheid history has resulted in continued inequality and social divisions making it crucial for these challenges to be urgently and critically addressed. In terms of education we need to look beyond Eurocentric content knowledge and towards a critical reflection of our assumptions and long held beliefs in terms of our history, current local complexities, and future possibilities. This can be aided through the use of life stories to link new knowledge to lived experience, and to work towards building an African centred identity that embraces diversity while taking into account the rich indigenous knowledge systems that are part of this landscape. The research design is qualitative in nature and grounded in social constructionist principles applied within a narrative theory and dialogical approach. This fits well with a transformative agenda with a focus on social justice to guide the research in light of the South African context in which it is embedded. The study follows a phased and reflexive research process that explores critical reflexivity on three levels: the self in terms of personal and professional development; in education; and in community practice. The process begins with an autoethnographic study of the researcher’s experience of working with her life story and reflexivity, which is followed in the educational phase with a focus on tertiary education and tracks the experience of a number of students involved in an educational module that uses life stories to develop critical reflexivity in health promotion. In the final phase, the researcher applies this work in community practice with refugee youth from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, living in Durban, South Africa. A Critical Reflexive Model is used and developed as a conceptual framework throughout the research, and is examined in the final chapter as a theory of change that guides the development of reflexivity and is assessed for its value in taking this work forward in an accessible way. The results of the research show not only the transformative benefits of developing critical reflexivity through life story work in terms of self, relational, and contextual development but also the complexity of, and shortcomings in, evaluating a reflexive programme or intervention. Using the results of the data and the Critical Reflexive Model the researcher develops a comprehensive guide to evaluating such programmes and also to assess the benefits for participants, using Blooms Revised Taxonomy as an educational foundation to guide the process. The researcher concludes that the Critical Reflexive Model, together with the evaluation guide and life story methodology examined in this research, offers an accessible and beneficial ‘reflexive package’ or guide to educators or professionals wanting to develop critical reflexivity, whether as educators with students across disciplines as an important aspect of developing reflexive practitioners, or as part of their community practice.