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Let's not get too personal: critical reflection, reflexivity and the confessional turn

Elaine Swan (School of Management, University of Lancaster, Lancaster, UK)

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 6 June 2008




The purpose of this paper is to ask how we can think about critical reflection as a pedagogical practice given the “confessional turn”. By the “confessional turn” the author refers to the idea that “subjective, autobiographical and confessional modes of expression” have expanded exponentially across a wide range of social spheres, including education, the legal system, the media and the workplace. Examining these developments, this paper asks what these debates on critical reflection and confession mean for pedagogical practice.


The main approach is a review of key debates in the literature on critical reflection and also in the wider social sciences.


The discussion compares different debates. Thus it shows that for critics, the turn to the “first person” technologies is narcissistic, psychologistic and de‐politicising. On this view, critical reflective practice might be understood as an individualistic and individualising pedagogy in spite of its claims to be critical. The paper discusses how in contrast, others see this move to talk about the subjective and the self as an extension of the feminist project of the personal is political – i.e. that personal stories, feelings and issues have social and political roots and consequences. For them, reflection can be critical, leading to political consciousness‐raising, i.e. a new awareness about social, political and personal processes. It finishes by examining the view that the idea of reflexivity might help us out of the conflict between these debates.

Practical implications

The paper poses a number of questions in relation to critical reflection that can be taken up by practitioners in the field.

Originality/value of paper

The paper brings new literature to bear on the practice of critical reflection and raises important questions relevant to academics and practitioners.



Swan, E. (2008), "Let's not get too personal: critical reflection, reflexivity and the confessional turn", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 385-399.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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