Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

A concept is a meaningful summary of certain aspects of the world.

explanatory context

A concept is a theoretical idea, which in social science is usually linked in some way to empirical ‘reality’.


Concepts may remain theoretical or the researcher may attempt to transform them into measurable variables of one sort or another. This approach to conceptualisation is known as operationalism.


Definitive and Sensitizing Concepts

Definitive concepts are are defined in a fairly narrow, precise and clear manner. They give very clear prescriptions of what to look for in a research situation.


Definitive concepts are to be distinguished from sensitizing concepts, which are less explicitly defined and give a general sense of reference and guidance in collecting data and analysing it. Secondary sources, such as articles, novels, diaries, are valuable sources of sensitizing concepts.


The distinction between definitive and sensitizing concepts is in some way indicative of distinctive and contrasting methodologies in social science research. Blumer, to whom the distinction is attributable, has argued that concepts in the social sciences are essentially sensitizing and that the search for definitive concepts is misplaced.


analytical review


associated issues


related areas

See also

symbolic interactionism




copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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