CONCEPTUALIZING RESEARCH METHODOLOGY IN HUMANITY
Conceptualization is the process of development and clarification of concepts. • In other words, clarifying one’s concepts with words and examples and arriving at precise verbal definition. One of the most difficult aspects of research — and one of the least discussed — is how to develop the idea for the research project in the first place. In training students, most faculty just assume that if you read enough of the research in an area of interest, you will somehow magically be able to produce sensible ideas for further research. Now, that may be true. And heaven knows that’s the way we’ve been doing this higher education thing for some time now. But it troubles me that we haven’t been able to do a better job of helping our students learn how to formulate good research problems. One thing we can do (and some texts at least cover this at a surface level) is to give students a better idea of how professional researchers typically generate research ideas. Some of this is introduced in the discussion of problem formulation in applied social research.
But maybe we can do even better than that. Why can’t we turn some of our expertise in developing methods into methods that students and researchers can use to help them formulate ideas for research. I’ve been working on that area pretty intensively for over a decade now — I came up with a structured approach that groups can use to map out their ideas on any topic. This approach, called concept mapping can be used by research teams to help them clarify and map out the key research issues in an area, to help them operationalize the programs or interventions or the outcome measures for their study. The concept mapping method isn’t the only method around that might help researchers formulate good research problems and projects. Virtually any method that’s used to help individuals and groups to think more effectively would probably be useful in research formulation. Some of the methods that might be included in our toolkit for research formulation might be: brainstorming, brainwriting, nominal group technique, focus groups, Delphi methods, and facet theory. And then, of course, there are all of the methods for identifying relevant literature and previous research work. If you know of any techniques or methods that you think might be useful when formulating the research problem, please feel free to add a notation — if there’s a relevant Website, please point to it in the notation.
conceptualisation leads to better clarity while doing research . It provides road map to progress and verify the outcome of research, But, in research, when we speak of variables, we need to be careful about what we mean. We can’t use our words casually as we often do in conversation. Concepts can be defined in different ways by different people. If we aren’t careful in specifying exactly how we are defining something, we may end up thinking we are talking about the same thing when in reality we’re talking about different things.
When we refer to a particular variable, whatever that variable might be, we need to spend time defining it very precisely so everyone will know exactly what we mean.
Conceptualization is the process by which researchers define what they are attempting to study as precisely as possible.
Conceptualization is the process whereby an abstract concept is defined. So how do we define our concepts? This is part of the process of measurement, and this portion of the process is called conceptualization. Conceptualization involves writing out clear, concise definitions for our key concepts. Sticking with the previously mentioned example of masculinity, think about what comes to mind when you read that term. How do you know masculinity when you see it? Does it have something to do with men? With social norms? If so, perhaps we could define masculinity as the social norms that men are expected to follow. That seems like a reasonable start, and at this early stage of conceptualization, brainstorming about the images conjured up by concepts and playing around with possible definitions is appropriate. But this is just the first step. It would make sense as well to consult other previous research and theory to understand if other scholars have already defined the concepts we’re interested in. This doesn’t necessarily mean we must use their definitions, but understanding how concepts have been defined in the past will give us an idea about how our conceptualizations compare with the predominant ones out there. Understanding prior definitions of our key concepts will also help us decide whether we plan to challenge those conceptualizations or rely on them for our own work.
If we turn to the literature on masculinity, we will surely come across work by Michael Kimmel, one of the preeminent masculinity scholars in the United States. After consulting Kimmel’s prior work (2000; 2008), we might tweak our initial definition of masculinity just a bit. Rather than defining masculinity as “the social norms that men are expected to follow,” perhaps instead we’ll define it as “the social roles, behaviors, and meanings prescribed for men in any given society at any one time.” Our revised definition is both more precise and more complex. Rather than simply addressing one aspect of men’s lives (norms), our new definition addresses three aspects: roles, behaviors, and meanings. It also implies that roles, behaviors, and meanings may vary across societies and over time. Thus, to be clear, we’ll also have to specify the particular society and time period we’re investigating as we conceptualize masculinity.
As you can see, conceptualization isn’t quite as simple as merely applying any random definition that we come up with to a term. Sure, it may involve some initial brainstorming, but conceptualization goes beyond that. Once we’ve brainstormed a bit about the images a particular word conjures up for us, we should also consult prior work to understand how others define the term in question. And after we’ve identified a clear definition that we’re happy with, we should make sure that every term used in our definition will make sense to others. Are there terms used within our definition that also need to be defined? If so, our conceptualization is not yet complete. And there is yet another aspect of conceptualization to consider: concept dimensions. We’ll consider that aspect along with an additional word of caution about conceptualization next.
• In Deductive research, conceptualization helps to translate portions of an abstract theory into specific variables that can be used in testable hypotheses.
• In Inductive research, conceptualization is an important part of the process used to make sense of related observations.
Concepts are mental images with labels like “chair,” “female,” “social class,” and “grade-point average.” The conceptualization process refines our concepts into attributes and variables, introduced in Chapter One. As we refine what we mean by a concept such as “social class,” for example, we also consider possible indicators of it (observations that would give evidence of low or high class) and different dimensions or aspects of the concept. Thus social class can be a matter of economics, prestige, power, etc.–different dimensions of the concept.