Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Reflexivity, Internal Conversation and Societal Influences on Higher Education Students’ Consideration of Values and Priorities during their Citizenship Studies

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posted on 2021-12-09, 02:01 authored by Linda Rowan

My thesis examines the reflexive processing of knowledge, beliefs, values and personal priorities in the internal and external conversations of students during a period of university study. In higher education, learners encounter the values and views of knowledge prioritised by political, institutional, departmental and academic discourses; beliefs, values and dispositions which may differ from their own. Currently there is little understanding of how university students examine and act on new understandings of knowledge in light of their existing reference points and priorities. I use structure-agency and reflexivity theory as lenses to understand individuals’ agentic responses to the personal, social and structural enablements and constraints encountered in their university studies and daily lives.  Using reflexivity methods drawn from Margaret Archer’s work, I investigated students’ responses to citizenship concepts presented in three compulsory courses at one Aotearoa/New Zealand university. My research involved a unique application of framework analysis methods to draw themes from the 31 participants’ stories while retaining the integrity of each narrative.  In a new application of Archer’s work, I found that some participants demonstrated controlled reflexivity in containing their reflexive thought processes in response to situational changes such as family trauma or mental health. Controlled reflexivity ensured the actor balanced their concerns against their projects and goals to manage and contain both their internal and external deliberations. This research challenges Archer’s idea that the disruptions of late modernity removed people from their natal contexts, increasing their need for higher levels of reflexivity. While reflexivity shifts when students’ values and concerns are challenged, I found that technological developments have allowed individuals to retain more and deeper connections with their natal context than in Archer’s work. Furthermore, I argue that Archer’s claim of a reflexive progression in dominant modes due to increased education is too simplistic and fails to acknowledge that students’ reflexive practices are highly contextual (such as living in a bicultural country like Aotearoa/New Zealand) and strongly influenced by personal circumstances. Internal conversations for my research participants were complemented with external conversations to build reflexivity. Single, dual or multi modes of reflexivity were revealed in study-work life as students’ personal priorities shifted. The specificity of reflexive processing means reflexivity typologies need to be robust to be applied across cultures and contexts.  This work is a reminder to policy developers, universities, teachers and employers that the “invisible” personal characteristics and attributes that society seeks to see in new graduates are neither easy to assess nor to confirm using typologies. Academics need to remain open to understanding the multiple intersections of the study world with individuals’ wider social worlds and circumstances.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Awarded Doctoral Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy


Sutherland, Kathryn; Doyle, Stephanie