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.


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core definition

Operationalism (sometimes called operationism) is the theory in the philosophy of science that presupposes that all physical entities, properties and processes can be defined as a set of operations by which they are apprehended.

explanatory context

Operationalism thus implies that science deals exclusively with things that can be observed and that any scientific statement, no matter how abstract, can be transformed into an equivalent statement referring exclusively to observations.


It is assumed that operationalism enables the establishment of the meaning of scientific concepts in accordance with the practice of scientific research (i.e. the 'scientific method') as exemplified in experimentation.


In psychology, behaviourism is an excellent example of an operationalist approach.


The initial approach to operationalism was propounded by P. W. Bridgman (1927) in his The Logic of Modern Physics. It was incorporated into the social sciences, particularly sociology, through the work of George Lundberg in the 1930s. Operationalism in sociology has been a cornerstone of the development of the quantitative approach.


Operationalism is much narrower than the more generally accepted view of operationalisation in so far as it suggests that a concept is nothing more than what is observable, so, for example, in operationism the concept of 'intelligence' is nothing more than what an IQ test measures

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also


multivariate analysis



Bridgman, P. W., 1927, The Logic of Modern Physics, New York, MacMillan.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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