Reflectivism is a range of approaches to social science, and notably political science which oppose realism and more generally, positivism. These approaches are often given more particular (and familiar) titles, including feminism, postmodernism, and critical theory. The challenge these approaches made to realism has been coined the third debate in International Relations, the first two being between rationalism and historicism, and between liberalism and realism. In this debate, reflectivism emphasizes the interpretation of events rather than the empirical data. Reflectivists believe that empirical study is unable to explain norms, both in terms of how they arise and how they influence people. This means that reflectivists often can be constructivist in approach. On the other hand, some political scientists so reject reflectivism as to reframe the third debate as a contestation between constructivism and rationalism.

Criticism of reflectivist approaches

The main criticism of reflectivist approaches stems from the epistemological differences between reflectivism and what could be called positivism. In the last decade, social science has become an increasingly positivist and empirically centered field. The reflectivist rejection of this approach has led to criticism that the approach cannot make reliable statements about the outside world. This criticism has stuck for many American political sciences, and reflectivism is not popular in the United States, especially in comparison with European and third world scholars.

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