The significance of any system of explicit representation depends not only on the immediate properties of its representational structures, but also on two aspects of the attendant circumstances: implicit relations among, and processes defined over, those individual representations, and larger circumstances in the world in which the whole representational system is embedded. This relativity of representation to circumstance facilitates local inference, and enables representation to connect with action, but it also limits expressive power, blocks generalisation, and inhibits communication. Thus there seems to be an inherent tension between the effectiveness of located action and the detachment of general-purpose reasoning. It is argued that various mechanisms of causally-connected self-reference enable a system to transcend the apparent tension, and partially escape the confines of circumstantial relativity. As well as examining self-reference in general, the paper shows how a variety of particular self-referential mechanisms-autonymy, introspection, and reflectionprovide the means to overcome specific kinds of implicit relativity. These mechanisms are based on distinct notions of self: self as unity, self as complex system, self as independent agent. Their power derives from their ability to render explicit what would otherwise be implicit, and implicit what would otherwise be explicit, all the while maintaining causal connection between the two. Without this causal connection, a system would either be inexorably parochial, or else remain entirely disconnected from its subject matter. When appropriately connected, however, a self-referential system can move plastically back and forth between local effectiveness and detached generality.