Reflexivity and the Capacity to Think

Sarah Doyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reflexivity is fundamental to qualitative health research, yet notoriously difficult to unpack. Drawing on Wilfred Bion's work on the development of the capacity to think and to learn, I show how the capacity to think is an impermanent and fallible capacity, with the potential to materialize or evaporate at any number of different points. I use this conceptualization together with examples from published interview data to illustrate the difficulties for researchers attempting to sustain a reflexive approach, and to direct attention toward the possibilities for recovering and supporting the capacity to think. I counter some of the criticisms suggesting that reflexivity can be self-indulgent, and suggest instead that self-indulgence constitutes a failure of reflexivity. In the concluding discussions I acknowledge tensions accompanying the use of psychoanalytic theories for research purposes, and point to emerging psychosocial approaches as one way of negotiating these.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-255
Number of pages8
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • communication
  • reflexivity
  • relationships, research
  • research, qualitative
  • self

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