Conceptual definition is a research protocol where researchers describe their constructs by showing how they relate to other constructs, abstracts, or opinions. A conceptual definition addresses the interpretation of an idea in theoretical terms and captures it in a way that is easy to remember and apply. The phenomenon does not necessarily require a researcher to conduct any practical experiments or studies but instead utilizes the existing and past researches and associated work to explain the concept. In general, conceptual definitions provide a structure to develop appropriate measures of a theory, which leads to good empirical theory building. It assists in explaining how and why certain things exist or occur the way they do.
Operational definitions refer to the statement of procedures that a researcher will consider to measure a specific variable. It provides a precise, visible, and communicable meaning to a particular concept to ensure comprehensive knowledge. It does so by specifying how the notion is measured and applied within a specific set of circumstances. In research, a variable's operational definition allows other people to determine if the study has validity: if the researchers have measured what they intended to measure. It also defines and describes a specific term or phrase when applied in a particular context. It is necessary for research studies since a word or phrase may hold different meanings depending on the circumstances and cultures. Therefore, operational definitions enable other people to know what the researchers are talking about when they refer to something and reduces the chances of confusion during interpretation. Apart from validity, another critical aspect of operational definition relates to reliability: obtaining the same results even when done by different individuals and times.
A variable's conceptualization is an in-depth understanding of a variable by searching for the given variable's existing definitions, both generally and from respected academic and professional materials. In this case, the primary focus is on conceptualizing race, which entails the rational process of deriving meaning concerning the concept. It involves examining how an investigator or various researchers interpret the idea of "race" and whether their opinions and perspectives are captured in their published works. The concept of race relates to the notion that human beings are divided into various groups based on behavioral characteristics and inherited physical features.
The aspect of race and ethnicity is more of cultural interventions that reflect particular attitudes and beliefs imposed on different populations rather than biogenetics. The meaning of the term “race” varies with geographical or jurisdictional differences. For instance, in the United States (U.S), the term “race” refers to a group of individuals who possess common and sometimes visible physical traits such as skin color (Garcia, 2017). The outcomes of the categorization of racial groups relate to income levels, attitudes, health status and access, socioeconomic status, and political representation. However, it also leads to devastating consequences such as discrimination, stress, incarceration, and inequities.
Operationalization of a variable is when investigators conduct quantitative studies to spell out how a concept will be measured, including the procedures to gather data concerning the subject. In this case, operationalizing race entails identifying individuals using their color, ethnicity, and ancestry, place of origin, creed, and citizenship. The researchers, scholars, and scientists approach the concept of race by using racial and ethnic identifiers to describe populations and develop various policies. Also, race's operationalization can pay more attention to both racial experience and human biological diversity (Torres & Torres Colon, 2015). It entails placing individuals within the same ontological sphere.
The body is responsible for collecting information concerning race and Hispanic origin through the assistance and guidance of the United States (U.S) Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 1997 Revisions to the Standards for the grouping of Federal Data on Ethnicity and Race. It has made various alterations to the conceptualization and operationalization of race in the 2010 census.
First, the 2010 census defined an individual of Hispanic or Latino origin as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race” (Humes et al., 201). Secondly, the OMB continued with the trend that started in 1997 that requires the consideration of a minimum of five classifications of race: White, African American or Black, Alaska Native or American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (Humes et al., 2011). However, for the 2010 Census questionnaires, the Census Bureau received approval from OMB to use a sixth category, Some Other Race.
Thirdly, following its introduction in the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau continued with the idea of permitting people to recognize themselves with one or more races in the 2010 Census (Humes et al., 2011). Also, the Census Bureau introduced three alterations to the Hispanic origin queries for the 2010 Census. For instance, the agency made alterations in the structure of questions that individuals are being asked. For example, in 2000, the questionnaire's wording was, "Is this person Spanish or Hispanic or Latino? However, in 2010, the question changed to “Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin? (Humes et al., 2011).
Also, in the 2000 Census, the questionnaires required the individuals to mark using “X” to indicate that one is not Hispanic or Latino. However, in the 2010 Census, the questionnaires introduced by the Census Bureau did not provide any specific requirement for the sake of non-Hispanic populations. Lastly, the 2000 Census questions provided the respondents with the category of “yes, another Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino," but did not give any specific examples of Hispanic origin (Humes et al., 2011). However, in 2010, that was changed, and the body introduced six Hispanic origin groups, including Colombian, Nicaraguan, Spaniard, Argentina, Dominican, and Salvadoran.
On the other end, some changes occurred to the questions concerning race and ethnicity for the 2010 Census. For instance, there is a difference between the race question used in the 2000 census and 2010. In 2000, the question was, “What is this person’s race? Mark “X” one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be.” (Humes et al., 2011). In 2010, the question changed to “What is this person’s race? Mark “X” one or more boxes.” In the 2000 census, elsewhere, there were no examples in the race question for “Other Asian” and “Other Pacific Islander." However, in 2010, the Census Bureau added several examples, including Hmong, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, and Pakistani, for the "Other Asian" response category, and Tongan and Fijian for the Other Pacific Islander response category (Humes et al., 2011).
The Census Bureau and the OMB decided to make these critical alterations in how they ask and approach the concept of race and ethnicity for various reasons, such as improving the data's accuracy and reliability. The objective is achieved by widening the activity's scope and capturing information from American citizens' highest possible number. The agency aims at gathering information about the entire U.S population and account for every American citizen.
The agency's changes also focus on covering the individuals who claim that they cannot find themselves based on the descriptions outlined in the census forms. For instance, the sixth category of “Some Other Race” continued in the 2010 Census to cater to the individuals who had difficulties identifying with the other five classifications of race. Also, the changes in the wordings of the questions regarding Hispanic race and origin was done to capture the changes on Hispanic groups and the nation’s changing racial and ethnic diversity (Humes et al., 2011).
The Census Bureau and OMB revised the standards of Federal Data on race and ethnicity to reduce mismatch and confusion cases. In some instances, the agency categories do not necessarily match the individuals’ ideas of who they are. Therefore, this mismatch between the choices made and classes provided is likely to result in inaccurate data, primarily due to the Hispanics' growing population.
Lastly, the U.S Census Bureau adheres to OMB's guidelines, which defines and categorizes ethnicity into two groups: Hispanic or Latino, and Not Hispanic or Latino. It was done to separate race from Hispanic origin since they are two different concepts. The change aimed to recognize that Hispanics and Latinos can be of any race and should not be added to the percentage for racial categories.
Difference in Operationalization
The difference in the operationalization of race as a research variable can result in drawing different conclusions regarding race and Hispanic origin, depending on several factors. These factors include self-identification with the concept of race and view of race and assortment of different ethnic groups. For instance, unlike the previous census, the 2010 census maintained the 2000 category of “Some Other Race," which ensured that multiple races were not combined and congested in few classifications.
In doing so, the approach facilitates accuracy and reliability since the alterations to the questions provide specificity. Therefore, individuals from minority communities can be correctly represented and accounted for during various government planning. The introduction of more subcategories ensures accurate data collection, enabling researchers to draw valid conclusions about race.
Thus, these categories can also influence negative or misleading conclusions about the concept of "race" since the definition of the idea changes with individuals and circumstances. For instance, the five categories provided by the government agencies do not always match the people’s idea of who they are (Cohn, 2012). Therefore, most individuals who fail to identify the category that fits their race description often settle for the sixth option of “Some Other Race.” The trend is evident through the increase in the number of people choosing this category during the 2000 and 2010 census. As a result, the information and data collected during the process can trigger inaccurate and misleading conclusions concerning race and ethnicity.
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