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Rethinking concept analysis


  • Mark Risjord

    1. Mark Risjord PhD Associate Professor Philosophy Department and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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Title.  Rethinking concept analysis.

Aim.  This study reports ways to strengthen the epistemological foundation of concept analysis and to clarify its ontology.

Background.  Nursing methods of concept analysis were derived from philosophy. In applying the philosophical ideas to nursing, changes were made that weakened the method. As a result, concept analyses often do not produce meaningful results.

Data sources.  Essays in nursing journals that critique or develop methods of concept analysis and philosophical writing about language.

Findings.  Many methods of concept analysis presuppose that the meaning of a concept depends on context. This ‘contextualism’ has epistemological and ontological consequences. Epistemologically, justifying a proposed set of defining attributes requires showing that the attributes explain the contextual pattern of use. Ontologically, concepts change their meaning as the theoretical contexts change. This means that concepts can only be developed as part of larger theories. Theory development requires a commitment to moderate realism and so, concept development also presupposes moderate realism.

Conclusion.  There are two forms of concept analysis: theoretical and colloquial. Each has its own purpose and evidence. The two forms can be used together and some theoretical developments will require both. Concept analysis must be based either on scientific literature or on colloquial usage. Concept analysis is not prior to theory development, but it must be part of theory development. It makes the meaning of a concept explicit, so that it can be part of testable and practical nursing theories.