Concept analysis: the importance of differentiating the ontological focus


C. Duncan: e-mail:


Title. Concept analysis: the importance of differentiating the ontological focus

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to clarify the philosophical underpinnings of concepts and concept analysis and the implications of their use through the lens of particular ontological perspectives.

Background.  Information on the philosophical foundations of concepts from an ontological and epistemological perspective is not readily identifiable in the international literature. Although some authors have made reference to the ontological perspectives of specific concept analysis processes, none have addressed the implications of the realist or relativist perspective in relation either to the analysis process or the implications of a particular ontological perspective on the meaning and utility of a specific concept.

Method.  We describe the evolution of concept analysis and influence of ontological paradigms on specific analysis methods. Using an historical review of concept development within nursing thought, we decode the language of concepts and processes of concept analysis, outline the importance of the ontological foundation of concept development, and describe the impact of concept use.

Discussion.  The nursing literature is dominated by concepts created from a realist perspective. Although recent nurse–authors have introduced evidence-based data to facilitate the development of a number of concepts, they have held fast to the perception that the ‘best’, most adequate or mature concepts transcend context.

Conclusion.  The theoretical shift from context-bound empirical analysis of concepts belies the complexity of nurses’ work. Concepts are unapologetically context-bound. A concept that transcends context (based on realist ontology) will remain the same even when the context of praxis changes limiting its utility.