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In order to understand what conceptualization is, we must first understand what a concept is. A concept is an idea or image that we come up with when we think about some phenomenon. For example, masculinity is a concept, so if we are to understand this concept, we must ask ourselves what we think about when we hear this word. Specifically, what we should wonder about is a set of behaviors or images ascribed to this word. Therefore, the process of defining concepts is called conceptualization. Conceptualization consists of setting down clear, succinct definitions for the concepts we are studying. In order to produce the most adequate definition, we must take into consideration three most important aspects - roles, behaviors, and meanings. Taking these three aspects into account is how conceptualization works. For example, if we are to define the concept of masculinity, we can attempt to define it as a set of all social roles, behaviors, and meanings imposed on men in a particular society at a specific time.
Now that we know how to describe, or conceptualize, we must understand the process of operationalization. Operationalization is specifying the measurement of a phenomenon which we are studying. Operationalization means we move from the abstract level of conceptualization to the empirical level, where we focus on variables, a set of characteristics, rather than concepts. Unlike conceptualization which represents a general level (identification of necessary concepts), we move to the level of specificity, where we desire to know how we can measure the concepts we are interested in.
When we want to measure the concepts, we must make sure that we achieve reliability and validity. Reliability is a matter of consistency, while validity entails social agreement of a particular concept.
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