Drawing from a large audience research project conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, I consider how the methodological challenges of doing audience research can inform a broader investigation of the production of a reflexive self. Looking at responses to four US makeover reality shows, our data suggest that neither of the two main perspectives that dominate reality TV research, the uses and gratifications approach and the governmentality critique, fully account for the meanings the viewers we talked to brought to makeover texts. They acknowledged learning some things from these shows, while pointing to big differences between the shows. Yet producing themselves as disciplined citizens appears far less significant than their investments in the possibilities of self-transformation: specifically, transforming the self's relation to the self. Makeover shows facilitate an articulation of a particular kind of self, which has insight into itself, has agency about itself, and that cares for itself. Yet this reflexive self is also produced through the research process, where implicit hierarchies of value concerning expressivity and self-reflection are paralleled, even reinforced, by the apparently diverse routines of low-brow makeover television and high-brow academic research.
The capacity to reflect tends to be seen, first, as a distinctly ...