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Lesson I-2

Integrating Conceptual Frameworks 

synthesize graphic
A conceptual framework provides one or more lens through which the research problem is viewed.  The lens can be a worldview, such as Marxism or democracy, that informs a study.  It can be theories, such as those of Freud, Piaget, and Kolberg, that explain certain phenomena in considerable detail.  It can be research perspectives such as those of social psychologists, cognitive scientists, and economists.  And it can be constructs used to conceptualize the phenomena of interest, such as reading comprehension, social isolation, and leadership. 

For instance "teaching" can be conceptualized as communication, information transfer, interpersonal interaction, cognitive apprenticeship, the fostering of human development, socialization, human capital development, oppression, and/or liberation.  The research questions that are considered interesting and promising depend partly on the conceptual framework adopted for a study.

Conceptual frameworks help the researcher view the phenomena of interest more acutely, to see details that otherwise might not be apparent.  It should be noted, however, that like a microscope or telescope, conceptual frameworks also narrow one's field of vision.  That helps limit the scope of a study, and no study can examine everything that might be applicable.  It can, however, also lead a researcher to miss important features. 

Most human and social phenomena have been researched with various different conceptual frameworks, although that may not be initially apparent if your search for literature is limited to terms used only in one conceptual framework.  For instance, "constructivism" is general addressed in research using the relatively new conceptual framework of cognitive science, but Socrates anticipated constructivism, and there is research using classical learning theory that addresses issues now commonly considered the domain of cognitive science.  If your literature search was limited to "constructivism" and related cognitive science terms, you will miss the other literature that addresses the same phenomena. 

Means of Integrating Conceptual Frameworks

The following are several means of integrating conceptual frameworks used in prior researches on a topic.

  • Portray: Map out the various worldviews, theories, research perspectives, and constructs that have been used on a given research topic, indicating the frequency of use, relationships among the various conceptual frameworks used, and potentially applicable frameworks that have not yet been used. 

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  • Trace History: Describe changes over the years in the conceptual frameworks that have been used.  Identify reasons for the changes, the derivations of the changes, and the consequences of the changes.

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  • Categorize: Classify the conceptual frameworks used into a taxonomy based on underlying characteristics of the frameworks. 

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  • Summarize: Identify the main commonalities in the conceptual frameworks.

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  • Undermine: For well established conceptual frameworks, especially those that have become conventional wisdom, check whether there are extensive hidden shortcomings that raise serious doubts about the merit of the framework.

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  • Synthesize: Suggest a new or refined conceptual framework, conserving some of the strengths of the existing frameworks and redressing some of their weaknesses.  Perhaps also draw partly on frameworks from other fields or topics of research. 
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