Explication Assignment

 
Concept Explication   

Your primary task is to identify as many different verbal/theoretical/nominal and operational/empirical definitions given to the concept by researchers in the field.  Additionally, you are required to make analytical distinctions between the various definitions as well as identify commonalities among them.  Finally, you should offer recommendations as to how the concept should be defined in order for it to be useful to scholars. Select one or more focal concepts and start a preliminary search of the literature. You may begin with terms you think you know something about, or want to know about.  Or pick terms that are widely used (e.g., concepts that appear often in the index of your theory textbooks) or ones that seem to be used in ways that interest you. This portion of the assignment involves two essential research skills:  literature search and analytical thinking.  When you do the literature search, keep in mind that you are looking for variety of meanings associated with a concept, not an exhaustive listing of all research articles using the concept in essentially the same way.  It is sufficient to cite one or two references for each use of a concept. Once you have collected the various definitions, try to construct conceptual groupings of meanings, or to define boundaries between different meanings associated with your focal concept.  Look for differences in the unit of analysis, or in the level of abstraction, or in the use to which the concept is put.  Is the concept assumed to be understood without definition, or do some authors attempt to define it?  Is it a variable, or could it be defined as a variable?  Does it have operational manifestations that are in opposition to its theoretical definitions?  Educate yourself about it.
Some Tips 
Once you have picked two or three concepts which you might enjoy explicating and developing measures for, please send me an email.  (During the course of the assignment, you may realize that you need to modify the concept or even change it.  This happens as often as not.  Therefore, it is wise to get started on the assignment right away). You may also want to think ahead to your proposal and explicate a concept that will come in handy while designing your study. (Therefore, it is advisable to consult with other members of your class while making a decision about which concept to explicate). 
Basic Example
While I have provided some example documents for you to reference in the Moodle, this is the basic approach to explication:
Take an abstract concept, say “Big Data” for example.
Conduct a literature review, critically describing the history and context of this concept.
Develop “theoretical definitions” — “Big Data is most commonly understood as ‘more data than humans can comprehend'(Source, year), or from the perspective of a technologist, ‘more data than conventional computational methods were able to process'(Source,year). EMC Chairman, President, and CEO Joe Tucci suggested that big data is best defined by example. “Big data would be the mass of seismic data an oil company accumulates when exploring for new sources of oil,” he said. “It would be the imaging data that a health care provider generates with multiple MRIs and other medical imaging techniques.”
Develop “operational definitions” — “Sujal Patel, president and founder of Isilon, had a more generalized operational definition. He defines “big data” as data blocks that require a new storage architecture, either because of their size, performance constraints, distribution constraints, and/or presentation requirements. One particularly useful element of this operational definition is in conceptualizing the scale in a practical, universal term. Big data is “big”, but operationally we refer to things like space requirements and clustered file system across multiple storage servers. A user can store a billion big data files across that single file system or allocated it in large chunks – for instance 100 Tbytes each – to different users or applications. Operational considerations of big data refer to information architecture, analytical processes, and particular applications.”
Develop a critical conclusion in your own words — Given your new understanding of this concept that you have explicated, what are the ways in which we can apply this in research design? When we say “big data”, what does that mean to readers conceptually and operationally? When I invoke the name of Big Data, what does that imply/demand/suggest about appropriate research methodologies, areas of literature to engage, and the nature of scientific and industry-level contributions in that problem space?

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